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Joan Didion’s Favorite Books of All Time, in a Handwritten Reading List

A living anatomy of influences, from Brontë to Baldwin.

Having long lamented the dearth of reading lists by female cultural icons — amid a wealth of excellent but chromosomally skewed ones by such luminaries as Leo Tolstoy, Alan Turing, Brian Eno, David Bowie, Stewart Brand, Carl Sagan, and Neil deGrasse Tyson — I set out to find a worthy counterpoint. And what worthier addition than Joan Didion, one of the most singular and influential writers of our time, whose reflections on self-respect and grief are nothing short of life-changing?

Thanks to directors Susanne Rostock and Griffin Dunne, Didion’s nephew, who are making a documentary about her, I was delighted to obtain a list of the beloved author’s all-time favorite books. Given her strong convictions about the value of keeping a notebook, it’s at once utterly unsurprising and utterly delightful that the reading list is penned in her own hand, on a page of her notebook:

  1. A Farewell to Arms (public library) by Ernest Hemingway
  2. Victory (public library) by Joseph Conrad
  3. Guerrillas (public library) by V.S. Naipaul
  4. Down and Out in Paris and London (public library) by George Orwell
  5. Wonderland (public library) by Joyce Carol Oates
  6. Wuthering Heights (public library) by Emily Brontë
  7. The Good Soldier (public library) by Ford Madox Ford
  8. One Hundred Years of Solitude (public library) by Gabriel Garcia Márquez
  9. Crime and Punishment (public library) by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
  10. Appointment in Samarra (public library) by John O’Hara
  11. The Executioner’s Song (public library) by Norman Mailer
  12. The Novels of Henry James (public library): Washington Square, Portrait of a Lady, The Bostonians, Wings of the Dove, The Ambassadors, The Golden Bowl, Daisy Miller, The Aspern Papers, The Turn of the Screw
  13. Speedboat (public library) by Renata Adler
  14. Go Tell It on the Mountain (public library) by James Baldwin
  15. Notes of a Native Son (public library) by James Baldwin
  16. The Berlin Stories (public library) by Christopher Isherwood
  17. Collected Poems (public library) by Robert Lowell
  18. Collected Poems (public library) by W.H. Auden
  19. The Collected Poems (public library) by Wallace Stevens

Complement with Didion on telling stories, why she writes, her answers to the Proust Questionnaire, and Vanessa Redgrave’s gorgeous reading from the author’s memoir, then revisit the greatest books of all time, as voted by 125 famous contemporary authors.

Here is a delectable taste of the Didion documentary:

Published January 6, 2015




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