Joan Didion shares a list of her favourite books
Didion's 19 most treasured titles...
Buro 24/7 have got our hands on a charming hand-written list from Joan Didion's own notebook, outlining 19 of her favourite books. Joan is a bonafide Buro 24/7 heroine whose journalistic and writing career has been recognised with the National Medals of Arts and Humanities and the National Book Award to name but a few of her impressive accolades.
At 80 years of age the writer who started her career as a staffer at American Vogue has recently been revealed as one of the faces of Céline's Spring/Summer 15 campaign. There is no limit to her coolness.
Following the release of a teaser for a documentary that her nephew, actor and film maker, Griffin Dunne is making about his iconic aunt with the help of Susanne Rostock, a charming hand-written list of her all time favourite books has been released, and such a list from America's most celebrated writer of her generation must be shared.
Didion's peers Tom Wolfe and Hunter S. Thompson are not featured but the titles chosen by the 'voice of moral authority' range from Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment to poetry collections from Auden and Lowell and two books by Harlem born novelist James Baldwin. Many of the books feature themes of morality and loss, ideas that Didion explores a lot in her own writing, from first hand experience. Here is the full list:
1. A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway
Likely inspired by Hemingway's own experience as a red cross ambulance driver in Italy during WW1. A Farewell to Arms is a story about the American lieutenant Frederic Henry, assigned to the ambulance corps in Italy where he meets nurse Catherine Barkley and falls in love. The story deals with themes of fighting and the displacement of populations during the war. Like Didion, Hemingway was also a journalist before publishing his first novel.
2. Victory by Joseph Conrad
Set on a tropical Island in Indonesia, Victory is told in stages through the perspectives of the central characters who all meet their death in some way through the course of the novel. Conrad weaves a web of deception in the novel that also touches on themes of passion and grief.
3. Guerrillas by V.S. Naipaul
Set on an unnamed, remote Caribbean island populated by a mix of ethnicities, but dominated by post-colonial British, it is thought that Naipaul modelled the setting on his native Trinadad. Guerrillas is a novel of colonialism and revolution, death and political and spiritual failings.
4. Down and Out in Paris and London by George Orwell
This is the first full-length work by the English author George Orwell who went on to become a leading political voice to speak out against the 'establishment'. It is a memoir in two parts on the theme of poverty in the two cities. The first part is an account of living on the breadline in Paris. The second part is a travelogue of life on the road in and around London and was inspired by Orwell's own experiences living in the two cities.
5. Wonderland by Joyce Carol Oates
Oates wrote in a 1992 afterword that Wonderland among her early novels was "the most bizarre and obsessive" and "the most painful to write". Connections to a piece of work that Didion can undoubtedly relate to since writing The Year of Magical Thinking.
6. Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë
The one and only published work from Emily, sister of Jane Eyer author Charlotte. The book's core theme is the destructive effect of jealousy and vengefulness both on the jealous or vengeful individuals and on their communities.
7 . The Good Soldier by Ford Madox Ford
Set just before World War I broke out, The Good Soldier is narrated by the character John Dowell, half of one of the couples whose dissolving relationships form the subject of the story. Dowell tells the stories of those dissolutions as well as the deaths of three characters and the madness of a fourth, in a rambling, non-chronological fashion that leaves gaps for the reader to fill for themselves.
8. One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Márquez
The multi-generational story of the Buendía family, whose patriarch, José Arcadio Buendía, founds the town of Macondo, the metaphoric Colombia. The novel was initially published in Spanish during the Latin American literary boom of the 1960's and 1970's and has since been translated into more then 30 different languages.
9. Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Crime and Punishment focuses on the mental anguish and moral dilemmas of Rodion Raskolnikov, an impoverished ex-student in St. Petersburg who formulates and executes a plan to kill an unscrupulous pawnbroker for her cash. Its a mammoth 700-page achievement and is one the most famous literary works of any Russian author.
10. Appointment in Samarra by John O'Hara
This novel charts the self-destruction of the protagonist, Julian English, over the course of three days. Once a member of the social elite English perpetrates a series of seemingly irrational acts that lead to his own demise and ultimate suicide.
11. The Executioner's Song by Norman Mailer
Mailer was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for this work, which depicts the events surrounding the execution of Gary Gilmore by the state of Utah in the USA. Mailer gives a stark portrayal of the real life killer, Gilmore, and the anguish surrounding the murders he committed. The book also took a central position in the national debate over the revival of capital punishment by the Supreme Court as Gilmore was the first person in the United States executed since the re-instatement of the death penalty in 1976.
12. The Novels of Henry James
Clearly unable to select a favourite Didion has elected to put the full collection of novels by Henry James on her list. James was an American writer, widely acknowledged as one of the key figures in the 'realism' style of writing.
13. Speedboat by Renata Adler
This story of a young female newspaper reporter coming of age in New York City was originally published serially in the New Yorker; it is made out of seemingly unrelated vignettes, which add up to an analysis of urban existence. It is an overwhelming favourite with critics the world over.
14. Go Tell It on the Mountain by James Baldwin
This novel by Baldwin, like Notes of a Native Son touches on the issue of racism in America but central to the story is the role of religion, specifically the church, in the lives of the African American community and the conflicting role it played in his life, serving as a source of inspiration but also moral hypocrisy.
15. Notes of a Native Son by James Baldwin
Baldwin's first non-fiction book is a collection of ten of Baldwin's essays, which had previously appeared in such magazines as Harper's Bazaar magazine, Partisan Review, and The New Leader. The essays mostly tackle issues of race in America and Europe and describes Baldwin's own experiences of growing up in that environment.
16. The Berlin Stories by Christopher Isherwood
This is a collection of two stories, both of which are set in Berlin in 1931, just as Hitler was moving into power. Berlin is portrayed by Isherwood during this transition period of cafes and quaint avenues, grotesque nightlife and dreamers, and powerful mobs and millionaires.
17. Collected Poems by Robert Lowell
Lowell was an American poet born during World War I whose poetry was often inspired by members of his family. Something Didion shares with him.
18. Collected Poems by W.H. Auden
Another poet, widely regarded as one of the very best of the twentieth century, who uses themes of morality in his writing. Auden also used nature and human relationships as the subjects of his poems.
19. The Collected Poems by Wallace Stevens
A fellow National Book Award-winning writer who was educated at Harvard University and took to writing later life after a career as an executive in an insurance firm.
Take a look Didion's handwritten list below: