Some books just don’t need to be published.
Joan Didion’s newest, South and West, is one of those books. I like Joan Didion, but this small book reads like an afterthought, an unnecessary side note to her other wonderful works.
Comprised of fragments from previously unpublished notebooks, “South” is a laundry list of observations, anecdotes, and conversations formed on a road trip Didion took through the South (Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama) in 1970. Didion’s notes do evoke the South, the heaviness of the air, deep porches, water moccasins, and the echoes of slavery are everywhere, but the section feels incohesive and incomplete.
The book weighs heavily on the South; “West” is just a few pages tacked on before the end of the book. These notes are even more fractured, jumping from memory to observation without much reason or deeper meaning.
Like my copy of Manguso’s 300 Arguments, nearly every page in this slim book is dog-eared; Ongoingness is full of passages I want to return to and sentences that bring on all the feels. In it, Manguso, an avid diarist, writes about the act of keeping a diary. For her, the diary is not only a record of life, but the proof of every day. In an attempt to live with complete awareness, to ward off death, she actively archives experience, builds a document that leaves a trace and pins down memory. This is not the diary itself, but a series of meditations on the act of writing daily, on the formation of identity and how it changes, on parenthood and aging, love and loss, and ultimately the ongoingness of time.
Manguso’s passages about being a new mother, nursing, and the body as vessel struck me at the core:
“In my experience nursing is waiting. The mother becomes the background against which the baby lives, becomes time.
I used to exist against the continuity of time. Then I became the baby’s continuity, a background of ongoing time for him to live against. I was the warmth and milk that was always there for him, the agent of comfort that was always there for him.
My body, my life, became the landscape of my son’s life. I am no longer merely a thing living in the world; I am a world.”
It’s so good.
So many dog-eared pages in this little book, so many bite-sized gems.
“The first beautiful songs you hear tend to stay beautiful because better than beauty, which is everywhere, is the memory of first discovering beauty.”
“I don’t love writing; I love having a problem I believe I might someday write my way out of.”
“I used to avoid people when I was afraid I loved them too much. Ten years, in one case. Then, after I had been married long enough that I was married even in my dreams, I became able to go to those people, to feel that desire, and to know that it would stay a feeling.”
“Like a vase, a heart breaks once. After that, it just yields to its flaws.”
I loved this book so much I went out and bought Manguso’s Ongoingness: The End of A Diary.
“It’s important to say what hope is not: it is not the belief that everything was, is, or will be fine. The evidence is all around us of tremendous suffering and tremendous destruction. The hope I’m interested in is about broad perspectives with specific possibilities, ones that invite or demand that we act. It’s also not a sunny everything-is-getting-better narrative, though it may be a counter to the everything-is-getting-worse narrative. You could call it an account of complexities and uncertainties, with openings.” -Rebecca Solnit, Hope in the Dark.
A necessary read for engagement, action, perseverance, and, yes, hope in the current political state.
We Should All Be Feminists is the book/essay that grew out of Adichie’s TEDx talk of the same name.
The premise? We should all be feminists. It’s really that simple. Adichie argues a case for feminism with personal stories, using her own experiences as a lens to examine gender inequalities and sexual politics. It’s a breezy 30-minute read.
Oh, and have you read Adichie’s Americanah? Go read it. It’s GREAT.