Journalist Joan Didion has died at 87.
I wrote in 2009:
I’m reading Joan Didion’s 1968 collection of articles, Slouching towards Bethlehem, one of the influential minor masterpieces of early New Journalism, along with Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood, Norman Mailer’s Armies of the Night, Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, and the works of Tom Wolfe.
Didion’s characteristic tone is that of an un-self-medicating Hunter S. Thompson. On a hot night in Death Valley, she writes:
There is some sinister hysteria in the air out here tonight, some hint of the monstrous perversion to which any human idea can come.
That kind of thing is a lot funnier coming from Thompson than Didion. But I shouldn’t make fun of her since Slouching Towards Bethlehem is, as she would say in her Hemingwayesque prose style, a good book. There is good writing in it, and good reporting. (For example, her depressing 1967 title story about Haight-Ashbury hippies was written three months before the Summer of Love).
In retrospect, I’d say I turned out more impressed with Slouching Towards Bethlehem than I sound here. The combination of Didion’s Old Money Republican Upper Crust hauteur and her subject matter of hippies allowed her to come up with some important insights.
For example, most discussions of San Francisco’s Summer of Love start with various intellectuals like Aldous Huxley, Timothy Leary, and Ken Kesey trying out LSD.
But Didion’s is more snobbishly down to earth: What makes Haight-Ashbury a very big deal is … girls, lots and lots of young girls on the loose and ready to be exploited. Who are these girls? Didion’s answer was that the hippie chicks pouring off the Greyhound buses in San Francisco in 1967 tended to be working class runaways from broken homes getting away from mom and mom’s handsy boyfriend, without recognizing that worse is in the waiting for them in San Francisco.
Here are links to her early articles for National Review.
Later in life she adopted a daughter who had some problems, which caused her to move from the right to the left.
And for all the New York Times subscribers who are both intense Joan Didion readers and who are also illiterate in English:
Joan Didion, una voz fuerte, brusca y distintiva en la ficción estadounidense antes de dedicarse al periodismo político y a escribir guiones, falleció el jueves a sus 87 años. https://t.co/JrQouHBuK4
— The New York Times (@nytimes) December 24, 2021