Blue Nights published 2011. South and West 2017. Both books published by Alfred A. Knopf.
Pages: Blue Nights, 208. South and West, 160.
Source: Both books are library copies.
Rating: Blue Nights excellent. South and West very good.
I watched Joan Didion’s bio on Netflix recently. I’d heard of Joan Didion but I’d not read any of her writings. I read these two books back to back: “South and West,” and “Blue Nights.”
“Blue Nights” was written as a reflection on the life of Joan Didion’s daughter, Quintana. The book begins with the memory of Quintana’s wedding. Didion shares pieces of their lives. It is not a full biography but specific memories about Quintana. In addition, Didion addresses the changes that come from growing older. And, she ponders the loss of her husband.
“Blue Nights” is as real as it gets in writing about the hard things of life. Didion is straightforward. Her perspective is a mix of thoughts and emotions. She does not detach from the pain. However, as a writer she is able to put on paper a precise view of these memories. In reflecting, she wonders how she missed certain aspects of Quintana’s personality and emotional tangles. Didion is a deep thinker. She is a person who analyzes what she sees and hears, and is able to transfer to paper these thoughts.
“Blue Nights” has deeply moved me. While reading, I reflected on certain aspects of my own life. For example, the death of my parents. Pain is relative to all humans. And when we speak of those painful times there is a familiarity and a oneness. To lose a child in death, holds unspeakable horror in living beyond without them. What does the beyond look like? It is a strange land that we don’t want to live in.
“South and West” is two notebooks of writings from Didion’s life.
The first is a travel notebook. Joan, and her husband, John, traveled by car through the Deep South in the summer of 1970. The journey began in New Orleans, Louisiana. Joan and John lived in California. The South seemed a foreign place. Their journey lasted about a month. She records her views from the car window, conversations with the locals, foods they ate, and the atmosphere of the environment.
I enjoyed reading this piece. The Deep South from her perspective seems a foreign land. It seems frozen in time. The thought patterns and the voices of the people are remarkably different from her modern, sophisticated, sunny California.
The second notebook is titled “California Notes.” The writing is brief, 13 pages. It began as a Patty Hearst writing. The time period is during the trials of Hearst, 1976. What began as notes for one book later led to being used in another.
This piece is so brief the only thing I want to remark on is it gave me a view of Didion’s early life. Her youth is explored but in brief.