Happy 79th Birthday, Joan Didion! As any longtime female fan of the iconic essayist, journalist and novelist will tell you, Didion's writing is as essential to a woman's literary education as Beverly Cleary, Virginia Woolf, bell hooks and Sylvia Plath are (each in her unique way, of course). The Gospel According to Didion inspires special devotion in women under 40, as many of Didion's most beloved personal essays and journalistic work concern her time in New York and California in her late 20s and early 30s. Whether she's describing Joan Baez's quirks or her own neuroses, Didion's prose is always resonant and, for many, addictively vivid. The precise observation, the nervous energy, the intellectual heft, the sudden, nearly paralyzing insight: Didion changes you.
Here's a list of nine Joan Didion essays every woman should read, ideally while still in her formative years, and a peek into what makes them unforgettable:
In short I tried to think. I failed. My attention veered inexorably back to the specific, to the tangible, to what was generally considered, by everyone I knew then and for that matter have known since, the peripheral. I would try to contemplate the Hegelian dialectic and would find myself concentrating instead on a flowering pear tree outside my window and the particular way the petals fell on my floor.