For a writer like me to review a writer like Joan Didion seems downright ridiculous. Didion is an icon, a legend—a writer of novels, memoir and nonfiction that will be studied by journalists and writing students long into the future.
But there’s a new Joan Didion collection being published this month—Let Me Tell You What I Mean, a slim but wide-ranging volume containing a dozen essays that offer a glimpse into Didion’s mind and writing process—and I’m urging you to check it out. Organized chronologically from 1968 to 2000, the 12 pieces, never gathered together until now, showcase the author’s unique style, wit and voice.
The essays touch on a vast array of topics, from newspapers to Martha Stewart, from watching Nancy Reagan pick flowers to being rejected admission into Stanford. Within her writing, Didion explores the issue of writing itself. Those, in fact, are the most illuminating.
“In many ways, writing is the act of saying I, of imposing oneself upon other people,” Didion writes, “of saying listen to me, see it my way, change your mind.”
Didion’s writing in this collection, as always, is incisive and captivating. She does implore you to see it her way, like her report on a meeting of Gamblers Anonymous, where overuse of the word “serenity” made her get out fast—“and for several days after that meeting,” she writes, “I wanted only to be in places where the lights were bright and no one counted days.”
Fans of Didion’s work will appreciate the revealing nature of this latest collection. And newbies will realize what the fuss is about.