On Keeping a Notebook (1966, and collected in Slouching Towards Bethlehem, 1968)


by Joan Didion (1934 - 0)

Full of puzzlement at cryptic jottings in her old notebooks, and the film-clip memories they eventually trigger, Didion’s essay is a meditation on modern consciousness, how to handle our past selves when they come knocking, and on a writer’s ways and means of meeting her objective surroundings.

Didion recognises her compulsion to record as being symptomatic of a personality type (rather like migraines in her 1968 essay, ‘In Bed’), emphasises the difference between notebooks and diaries, and confesses an essential self-centredness masked in polite adult life. This essay balances on the line between Didion’s journalism and autobiography.

Related recommendation: Didion’s ‘The White Album’ (1968-78) in the collection of that name; Walter Benjamin’s ‘Berlin Chronicle’ (1932); Joseph Brodsky’s ‘Less Than One’ (1976); Natalia Ginzburg’s ‘My Vocation’ (1949)

Origin: United States

Themes: Artistic Method, Vocation and Celebrity

Genres: Autobiographical

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