Monday, July 03, 2006

Joan Didion Is Awesome Even In A Thunderstorm, Maybe Even Better

Ben and I were in New York the last few days for a couple of readings, is why I’ve been absent. I never mention this ahead of time because I feel like, maybe it’s not the best idea to announce on the internet, that our home is available for burglary and pillaging. Anyway, we’re home and unpillaged, although New York tends to leave me feeling mentally pillaged and this time was no exception even though nothing exceptional happened. Readings went quite well, and we did the usual gallery/Not Le Gamin for crepes (even though it’s no longer called Le Gamin, it seems to be Le Gamin in every other way)/walk around a lot sort of thing, and Friday night we went to hear Joan Didion read in the park, with a discussion afterward with Philip Gourevich (pron, Ger-AY-vich, who knew) from the New Yorker. It had been a beautiful, breezy, sunny day, and so Nina and Ben and I brought blankets and a little picnic. They confiscated Nina’s Snapple and my Arizona diet green iced tea at the gate, but not Ben’s water, because ours were in glass bottles and Nina and I of course are suspicious types like everyone else there (attending, um a freaking reading) who might suddenly and without warning feel the need to throw our drinks at Joan Didion, which would turn out to be more than ironic considering we got inside to discover that Snapple was one of the sponsors of the event. In any case, Didion read a wonderful passage from an older piece about how she fell in love with New York, and it was lovely and touching – I’m pretty sure I’ve read it before, but it was about a different New York, one I remember from long ago, and one that I feel in many ways doesn’t exist any more – the details she chose about that New York were simple and exquisite and made me think about why I don’t so much hate New York as I do have a very complicated relationship with it that never completely worked for me but I can appreciate why it does for someone else because I remember some of those sorts of things too. It also made me think about how I always describe my relationship with Chicago as very much like a romantic love. That’s another essay, anyway, then she read a bit from her new book, which I can’t wait to read but which just blows my mind that her husband and daughter died less than 2 1/2 years ago and she’s written a whole book about it and is up there reading from it and her observations about it are kind of perfect and if I’d actually stayed to have her sign my book I’d have been unable to think of anything to say but I’m so sorry for your losses and bust out sobbing, so maybe it’s just as well, but it started to rain, just a sprinkle at first, then a passing shower, they went on with the interview part and she answered a few questions and Nina and I are both nodding, like when she talked about how she fell in love with reading and words as a kid, even stuff she didn’t necessarily understand if she just liked the sound of it. That was SO my experience with so many things I read that were theoretically far too advanced for me but that I just loved the words and the rhythm of.

Anyway, I think Gourevich asked about three or four questions before they called it quits because it was totally thunderstorming, and Ben got under one blanket and Nina and I got under the other to walk home (about ten or fifteen minutes through the park) but as soon as I stood up I busted out laughing so hard – I have no doubt it probably wasn’t as funny as it seemed to me at that moment, but the idea of the walk ahead, and us two lumps under this unwieldy blanket that was growing heavier and heavier with rainwater, and wasn’t keeping very much of us dry at all, I couldn’t even start walking I was laughing so hard. And I pretty much laughed all the way home. Even thinking about it still makes me laugh.

It could have happened anywhere, it does rain other places, here today for example, but it happened in New York, is my point. It may be a flimsy one, but nonetheless there it is.


carolyn said...

the new book is very good and made me cry on the El several times so I'm sure I too would have just started crying and apologizing for her loss had I gone up to talk to her.

the book is breathtaking. she's a goddess.

Kimberly said...

Hey there Betsy - been a long time since you, Langdon and I were changing diapers in the loft room. Anyway, I just finished reading Didion's latest book and I found myself just staring at the picture on the back cover thinking about the loss of her beloved husband and how I would feel - not to mention her daughter losing her father while in a coma. She writes beautifully and I am jealous to think you got to hear her read her own words - must have been an amazing experience.

Glad to see that you realized your dream of becoming a writer. I just ordered your books (kind of strange - I woke up thinking of you the other day and found you on Amazon!) and can't wait to get started!

teo said...

another voice here in favor of Didion's book. it's a beautiful read about a heartbreaking year, but it is SO worth turning the pages of that book.

Betsy said...

I'm psyched to read it but I started something else first that I'm enjoying.
Hi Kim! It sure has been a long time. I moved to Chicago ten years ago, and it was later that year. I hope you're well and happy and you like the books - let me know!

smussyolay said...

i am wholly in love with chicago; so much so that i still haven't managed to visit NY, which i am beginning to regret immensely.

Donny B said...

Ugh. I love Chicago but I really miss New York and hearing about your lovely picnic listening to Joan Didion read makes me miss it even more. I'm jealous. And, yeah, her last book - which is the only one I've read of hers so far - is very good. It's so spare and minimal, it's like walking through a beautiful, melancholy museum.