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Quotes of the day: Joan Didion

Published Friday, December 04, 2015 @ 5:16 PM EST
Dec 04 2015

Joan Didion (b. December 5, 1934) is an American author best known for her novels and her literary journalism. Her novels and essays explore the disintegration of American morals and cultural chaos, where the overriding theme is individual and social fragmentation. A sense of anxiety or dread permeates much of her work. (Click here for full Wikipedia article)


A place belongs forever to whoever claims it hardest, remembers it most obsessively, wrenches it from itself, shapes it, renders it, loves it so radically that he remakes it in his own image.

Anybody who talks about California hedonism has never spent a Christmas in Sacramento.

Ask anyone committed to Marxist analysis how many angels dance on the head of a pin, and you will be asked in return to never mind the angels, tell me who controls the production of pins.

Grammar is a piano I play by ear. All I know about grammar is its power.

I don't think anybody feels like they're a good parent. Or if people think they're good parents, they ought to think again.

I never had faith that the answers to human problems lay in anything that could be called political. I thought the answers, if there were answers, lay someplace in man's soul.

I never had much interest in being a child. As a way of being it seemed flat, failed to engage.

I no longer want reminders of what was, what got broken, what got lost, what got wasted.

I think we are well advised to keep on nodding terms with the people we used to be, whether we find them attractive company or not. Otherwise they turn up unannounced and surprise us, come hammering on the mind's door at 4 A.M. of a bad night and demand to know who deserted them, who betrayed them, who is going to make amends.

I was no longer, if I had ever been, afraid to die: I was now afraid not to die.

I was raised an Episcopalian. And I did not and I don't believe that anyone is looking out for me personally.

Life changes fast. Life changes in the instant. You sit down to dinner and life as you know it ends.

Memories are what you no longer want to remember.

My only advantage as a reporter is that I am so physically small, so temperamentally unobtrusive, and so neurotically inarticulate that people tend to forget that my presence runs counter to their best interests.

Nothing I read about grief seemed to exactly express the craziness of it; which was the interesting aspect of it to me- how really tenuous our sanity is.

Novels are like paintings, specifically watercolors. Every stroke you put down you have to go with. Of course you can rewrite, but the original strokes are still there in the texture of the thing.

Of course great hotels have always been social ideas, flawless mirrors to the particular societies they service.

One of the things that happens to people in grief is they secretly think they're crazy, because they realize they are thinking things that don't make sense.

Quite often you want to tell somebody your dream, your nightmare. Well, nobody wants to hear about someone else's dream, good or bad; nobody wants to walk around with it. The writer is always tricking the reader into listening to the dream.

Self-respect is a question of recognizing that anything worth having has a price.

Strength is one of those things you're supposed to have. You don't feel that you have it at the time you're going through it.

Style is character.

The fancy that extraterrestrial life is by definition of a higher order than our own is one that soothes all children, and many writers.

The future always looks good in the golden land because no one remembers the past.

The impulse to write things down is a peculiarly compulsive one, inexplicable to those who do not share it, useful only accidentally, only secondarily, in the way that any compulsion tries to justify itself.

The West begins where the average annual rainfall drops below twenty inches. Water is important to people who do not have it, and the same is true of control.

The willingness to accept responsibility for one's own life is the source from which self-respect springs.

The writer is always tricking the reader into listening to their dream.

There's a general impulse to distract the grieving person- as if you could.

To believe in 'the greater good' is to operate, necessarily, in a certain ethical suspension.

To free us from the expectations of others, to give us back to ourselves- there lies the great, singular power of self-respect.

To make an omelette, you need not only those broken eggs but someone 'oppressed' to beat them: every revolutionist is presumed to understand that, and also every woman, which either does or does not make 51 percent of the population of the United States a potentially revolutionary class.

We forget all too soon the things we thought we could never forget.

We imagine things- that we wouldn't be able to survive, but in fact, we do survive. We have no choice, so we do it.

We look for the sermon in the suicide, for the social or moral lesson in the murder of five. We interpret what we see, select the most workable of the multiple choices.

We tell ourselves stories in order to live.

What's so hard about that first sentence is that you're stuck with it. Everything else is going to flow out of that sentence. And by the time you've laid down the first two sentences, your options are all gone.

When we start deceiving ourselves into thinking not that we want something... but that it is a moral imperative that we have it, that is when we join the fashionable madmen.

Writers are always selling somebody out.

You aren't sure if you're making the right decision- about anything, ever.

You had to feel the swell change. You had to go with the change. He told me that. No eye is on the sparrow but he did tell me that.

You have to pick the places you don't walk away from.

Was there ever in anyone's life span a point free in time, devoid of memory, a night when choice was any more than the sum of all the choices gone before?


(December 5 is also the birthday of Werner Heisenberg and Walt Disney.)

Categories: Joan Didion, Quotes of the day


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