I came across Joan Didion the person by way of a YouTube video served up by the algorithm because I’d been watching a series of #writinginspiration videos. I don’t remember what she was speaking to in the video itself, but it had intrigued me enough to look up her Wikipedia page. There I discovered the existence of a documentary on her. I watched it and again I remember little of import other than it motivated me to read one of her books. I reserved After Henry though the university interlibrary loan system and read it in a determined push to finish it before 2023.
(Reading the paragraph above, I think I need to do a better job of documenting how I arrive at consuming certain books. The initial spark and resulting illumination that leads to an eventual reading seems important.)
Assuming After Henry is a prime example of Didion’s form over a period of many years the dry truthy voice in her writing was instructive. It is such a plaintive, matter-of-fact tone that I felt like I was reading the words of a true, no-nonsense authority. Like those long form articles from the golden age of newsprint that bordered on and sometimes outright invaded the territory of the essay: columns you’d skim and maybe your eyes would glaze over to the point where you wouldn’t continue to page 4 where it went after it exhausted its initial allotment of space. Presented in book form, however, I found the words eminently readable, if a little dense and challenging at times. Didion didn’t write sentences that were meant to be read out loud; the average reader simply wouldn’t have the capacity of breath to finish them. But she wrote supremely crafted sentences, which led to paragraphs of the same quality. As informative writing goes it’s beautiful, and there’s a lot there that anyone with a journalist bent can benefit from.