Women Memoirists: A Rediscovery
By Maisie Clarke and Hayley Cadel
In this issue, the Trends team dissect the renewed interest in female memoirists, with a particular focus on Joan Didion and Eve Babitz. This renewed interest can be credited partly with the popularity of social media channels on BookTok and Bookstagram but also due to their publishers reissuing their books, helping new readers discover their work for the first time. Despite the fact that the pair have different writing styles, they are often talked about in similar contexts. This is due in part to their discussion of 1960s and 70s California and the fact that they were writing at similar times, and also due to the frankness of their writing style.
The work of Joan Didion that has potentially received the most praise since its release in 2005, and especially has found a place in the hearts of the Gen Y and Z population today, is The Year of Magical Thinking. Exploring love, loss and illness, Didion is able to capture the intense but universal feeling of grief as she relives the death of her husband and the simultaneous comatose state of her daughter. Analysing these overwhelming emotions is tricky despite their universality. As humans, we experience life individually but Didion has the ability within these pages to find the essence of these raw emotions and share them with relatability and clarity. The most notable anecdote is that of the Californian writer being unable to get rid of her deceased husband’s shoes as there is a belief within her that he may return – a heart-breaking thought. The Year of Magical Thinking has won a multitude of prizes including the Pulitzer Prize for Biography or Autobiography in 2006, and has now become a popular choice for many younger readers.
It is clear that this book has been an integral means of support for those experiencing grief. The last few years have been tumultuous for many people across the globe but especially for young people. Young people have had essential parts of their childhood experiences robbed due to social distancing and isolation measures, whilst also getting to grips with becoming an adult and dealing with grief in a COVID-19 world. Potentially, writers such as Joan Didion have provided a sense of comfort and security in their profuse mixture of emotions, especially when considering her other works such as The White Album. Providing a sense of escapism and nostalgia, this 1979 collection of essays explores pivotal moments of the 1960s such as the rise of the Black Panther Party and the Manson murders. Didion dedicates an essay to her experience with the rock band Doors, as they waited during a recording session for the band’s lead singer, Jim Morrison, to arrive – an account which provides an interesting insight into both the 60s and the culture of Rock ‘n’ Roll. It is unsurprising with the increase of remakes of old movies and YA literature which focuses on celebrity culture, such as the novels of Taylor Jenkins Reid, that this particular work of Joan Didion has been a hit among readers today. Overall, it is evident that Joan Didion’s writing will continue to keep the next generation of readers hooked.
A seminal book by Eve Babitz on the other hand is, Slow Days, Fast Company: The World, The Flesh and L.A. which is a collection of stories focusing on L.A., it encompasses stories of the famous, semi-famous and wannabe famous. By writing stories from the recent past, they are both relevant to the reader but also invite them into a different world. With readers craving a fresh and unique perspective, it is understandable why both authors have enjoyed a renewed popularity. Both Babitz and Didion have been credited with writing in accessible language which can be enjoyed by a modern audience.
Both authors have developed a cult-like following – in part due to their popularity on social media sites. Readers remain fascinated with the female voice from this time period, and their candid writing style resonates. Furthermore, both were prominent women in the 1960s and 70s and knew about the world of celebrity, making their books intriguing to readers today, in a way reminiscent of old Hollywood. It is this image of old Hollywood which has today been romanticised and draws readers to discover both authors, in a way akin to The Valley of the Dolls by Jacqueline Susann. And for those rediscovering, there is a huge back catalogue to sink into!
Overall, the works of Joan Didion and Eve Babitz have resurfaced for many reasons. Whether it is finding comfort in the swing of the 60s or seeking drama by exploring the femme fatales of 70s Hollywood, the memoirs and accounts of these two influential women can provide that and more. It is clear that their resurgence in popularity will continue in the future and the we urge you to partake in their admiration.