How would you describe Joan Didion’s style as a writer? Cite passages and give your opinion of the style in each, keeping in mind her remark in the essay “On Morality,” from Slouching Towards Bethlehem, that her “mind veers inflexibly toward the particular.”
What evidence in Didion’s works suggests her lifestyle? Does your knowledge of how she lives affect how you judge her stated or implied opinions?
In the preface to Slouching Towards Bethlehem, Didion says that, because of her appearance and her manner, people fail to understand the harm she can do them and that her readers should remember that “writers are always selling somebody out.” What evidence, if any, do you see in her writings that she sells people out?
In the essay “On Keeping a Notebook,” from Slouching Towards Bethlehem, Didion writes that she tells “what some would call lies” and adds the comment, “not only have I always had trouble distinguishing between what happened and what merely might have happened, but I remain unconvinced that the distinction, for my purposes, matters.” Do you believe those ideas go beyond her writer’s notebook and apply not only to her novels but also to her essays?
In the essay “On Morality,” Didion says that the only kind of morality she trusts is “wagon-train morality.” She gives as an example of an incident in which, after an automobile accident, a nurse drove an injured young woman far across the desert and mountains to a doctor while the nurse’s husband stayed behind to protect a young man’s dead body from coyotes. Consider several of Didion’s writings and explain whether the main persons in those writings observe or violate that kind of social code.
In Political Fictions, Didion says that the “genuflection toward ’fairness’ is a familiar newsroom piety, in practice the excuse for a good deal of autopilot reporting and lazy thinking but in theory a benign ideal.” How do you think Didion, a reporter herself, would define reportorial fairness as it applies to her? How do her remarks about fairness affect your opinion of her nonfiction or her fiction?
Do you think many people outside academic life in the twenty-second century will read Didion’s books? Why or why not?