Joan Didion on Keeping a Notebook
by Maria Popova “We are well advised to keep on nodding terms with the people we used to be, whether we find them attractive company or not.” As a lover — and keeper — of diaries and notebooks, I find myself returning again and again to the question of what compels us — what propels us — to record our impressions of the present moment in all their fragile subjectivity. From Joan Didion’s 1968 anthology Slouching Towards Bethlehem (public library) — the same volume that gave us her timeless meditation on self-respect — comes a wonderful essay titled “On Keeping a Notebook,” in which Didion considers precisely that. Though the essay was originally written nearly half a century ago, the insights at its heart apply to much of our modern record-keeping, from blogging to Twitter to Instagram. Portrait of Joan Didion by Mary Lloyd Estrin, 1977 After citing a seemingly arbitrary vignette she had found scribbled in an old notebook, Didion asks: Why did I write it down? What, then, does matter?