The queen of the topical essay


Title: We Tell Ourselves Stories in Order to Live

By: Joan Didion

Somewhere in the no-man’s land between Journalism and Literature lies the country of the topical essay, and Joan Didion is its queen. In her non-fiction Didion combines a journalist’s eye for detail, the insight of a true intellectual and a novelist’s skill with language. Always politic but never polemical, always personal but never self-mythologising, Didion’s essays have a fascinating ability to capture the spirit of the time and place that she describes. Whether she’s writing about the system of dams in California, or the progress of feminism, or Joan Baez, Didion is always engaging, always insightful; her arguments are lucid, her perspectives authentic and compelling. She is a profound and thoughtful observer of the world we live in, and reports on it in a style that combines honesty with intellectual curiosity.

And then there’s the writing. Didion’s ear for prose is unmatched – every phrase, every sentence she writes cries out to be read aloud. Her arguments are concise and eloquent, her paragraphs flow with natural ease. So crisp and energetic is Didion’s writing that reading it sharpens your own appetite for language, leaves you hungry for words, aching to hit that keyboard and write for the pure physical thrill of it. If you want to know what really, really good writing looks and sounds like, this is the book to read.