Blue Nights by Joan Didion gets new life…

Reading time: Less than 1 minute

This is my weekly installment of “writing about writing,” in which I scan the world to find websites, books and articles to help other writers. Today I discuss a joint event by Joan Didion and Vanessa Redgrave…

It took me 18 months to screw up the courage to read Joan Didion’s masterful book The Year of Magical Thinking. I have a hard time with stories that are both true and very sad (the book recounts the death of her husband, writer John Dunne) and I was worried it would make me feel bereft. I should have known better.

Didion is such a masterful writer that even her book about grief was not unbearably sad. Instead, I found it uplifting. A few years later, I felt the same way about her follow-up book, on the death of her daughter, Quintana, Blue Nights. That she could pull off two such similarly-themed books, after facing such trauma, strikes me as incredible. Nor were the books  repetitious or too personal. Instead, she mined fresh seams and produced two equally rich and deeply engaging texts about family, life and loss.

Now, she’s apparently done it again. Working with jazz trumpeter Jimmy Owens and actor Vanessa Redgrave (who also lost a daughter too early, actress Natasha Richardson), Didion had Blue Nights performed as a reading with music at the New York cathedral, St. John the Divine.

I adore such elegant intersections of art. If I had known in advance I would have wanted to fly to New York simply to hear this event. More realistically, I had to content myself with the recording available on the tremendous Brain Pickings website. The file is an hour and 37 minutes and the quality is only so-so. But the sound of the trumpet is magnificent and provides considerable heft to an event featuring Redgrave’s expressive voice and Didion’s magical words. How I wish I could have been there.

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