from “After Life” by Joan Didion

“After Life” by Joan Didion was originally published in The New York Times.

 

Life changes fast. 
Life changes in the instant. 
You sit down to dinner and life as you know it ends. 
The question of self-pity.

Those were the first words I wrote after it happened. The computer dating on the Microsoft Word file (“Notes on change.doc”) reads “May 20, 2004, 11:11 p.m.,” but that would have been a case of my opening the file and reflexively pressing save when I closed it. I had made no changes to that file in May. I had made no changes to that file since I wrote the words, in January 2004, a day or two or three after the fact….

About Joan Didion

Joan Didion (born 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.

In 2002, Didion received the St. Louis Literary Award from the Saint Louis University Library Associates.

Didion has received a great deal of recognition for The Year of Magical Thinking, which was awarded the National Book Award for Nonfiction in 2005. Documenting the grief she experienced following the sudden death of her husband, the book has been said to be a “masterpiece of two genres: memoir and investigative journalism.”

In 2007, Didion received the National Book Foundation’s annual Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters. From the citation: “An incisive observer of American politics and culture for more than forty-five years, her distinctive blend of spare, elegant prose and fierce intelligence has earned her books a place in the canon of American literature as well as the admiration of generations of writers and journalists.” This same year, Didion also won the Evelyn F. Burkey Award from the Writers Guild of America.

In 2009, Didion was awarded an honorary Doctor of Letters degree by Harvard University. Yale Universityconferred another honorary Doctor of Letters degree on the writer in 2011. On July 3, 2013 the White Houseannounced Didion as one of the recipients of the National Medals of Arts and Humanities, to be presented by President Barack Obama. In 2010 Didion had complained that under Obama the U.S. had become “an irony-free zone”.

Sources

The New York Times Magazine.

 

from “When I Look at a Strawberry, I Think of a Tongue” by Édouard Levé

Read “When I Look at a Strawberry, I Think of a Tongue” by Édouard Levé in The Paris Review.

 

When I was young, I thought Life: A User’s Manual would teach me how to live and Suicide: A User’s Manual how to die. I don’t really listen to what people tell me. I forget things I don’t like. I look down dead-end streets. The end of a trip leaves me with a sad aftertaste the same as the end of a novel. I am not afraid of what comes at the end of life. I am slow to realize when someone mistreats me, it is always so surprising: evil is somehow unreal. When I sit with bare legs on vinyl, my skin doesn’t slide, it squeaks. I archive. I joke about death. I do not love myself. I do not hate myself. My rap sheet is clean. To take pictures at random goes against my nature, but since I like doing things that go against my nature, I have had to make up alibis to take pictures at random, for example, to spend three months in the United States traveling only to cities that share a name with a city in another country: Berlin, Florence, Oxford, Canton, Jericho, Stockholm, Rio, Delhi, Amsterdam, Paris, Rome, Mexico, Syracuse, Lima, Versailles, Calcutta, Bagdad….

About Édouard Levé

Édouard Levé (January 1, 1965 – October 15, 2007, Paris) was a French writer, artist and photographer. Levé’s first book, Oeuvres (2002), is an imaginary list of more than 500 non-existent conceptual artworks by the author, although some of the ideas were taken up as the premises of later projects actually completed by Levé (for example the photography books Amérique and Pornographie).

Levé traveled in the United States in 2002, writing Autoportrait and taking the photographs for the series Amérique, which pictures small American towns named after cities in other countries. Autoportrait consists entirely of disconnected, unparagraphed sentences of the authorial speaker’s assertions and self-description, a “collection of fragments” by a “literary cubist.”

His final book, Suicide, although fictional, evokes the suicide of his childhood friend 20 years earlier, which he had also mentioned in “a shocking little addendum, tucked nonchalantly…into Autoportrait.” He delivered the manuscript to his editor ten days before he took his own life at 42 years old.

Sources

The Paris Review.

 

from “Joy” by Zadie Smith

Read “Joy” in You Might Find Yourself by Zadie Smith

 

It might be useful to distinguish between pleasure and joy. But maybe everybody does this very easily, all the time, and only I am confused. A lot of people seem to feel that joy is only the most intense version of pleasure, arrived at by the same road—you simply have to go a little further down the track. That has not been my experience. And if you asked me if I wanted more joyful experiences in my life, I wouldn’t be at all sure I did, exactly because it proves such a difficult emotion to manage. It’s not at all obvious to me how we should make an accommodation between joy and the rest of our everyday lives.

Perhaps the first thing to say is that I experience at least a little pleasure every day. I wonder if this is more than the usual amount? It was the same even in childhood when most people are miserable. I don’t think this is because so many wonderful things happen to me but rather that the small things go a long way. I seem to get more than the ordinary satisfaction out of food, for example—any old food. An egg sandwich from one of these grimy food vans on Washington Square has the genuine power to turn my day around. Whatever is put in front of me, foodwise, will usually get a five-star review.

Sources

You Might Find Yourself.