Thursday, November 06, 2008

"I can't imagine dying without this book"

Literary critic John Leonard died from complications from lung cancer yesterday. Leonard's reviews of Joan Didion in the New York Review of Books (he wrote the intro to an Everyman edition of her non-fiction) are my favorites among his many, many works of criticism; he picks up exactly what I love about her work. As I read the NY Times obituary (note the obituary's final anecdote about his voting on Tuesday) just now, I remembered the final paragraph of his review of The Year of Magical Thinking:
If Joan Didion went crazy, what are the chances for the rest of us? Not so good, except that we have her example to instruct us and sentences we can almost sing. Look, no one wants to hear about it, your death, mine, or his. What, as they listen, are they supposed to do with their feet, eyes, hands, and tongue, not to mention their panic? If they do want to hear about it—the grief performers, the exhibitionists of bathetic wallow, the prurient ghouls—you don't want to know them. And maybe craziness is the only appropriate behavior in front of a fact to which we can't ascribe a meaning. But since William Blake's Nobodaddy will come after all of us, I can't think of a book we need more than hers—those of us for whom this life is it, these moments all the more precious because they are numbered, after which a blinking out as the black accident rolls on in particles or waves; those of us who have spent our own time in the metropolitan hospital Death Care precincts, wondering why they make it so hard to follow the blue stripe to the PET scan, especially since we would really prefer never to arrive, to remain undisclosed; those of us who sit there with Didion in our laps at the oncologist's cheery office, waiting for our fix of docetaxel, irinotecan, and dexamethasone, wanting more Bach and sunsets.

I can't imagine dying without this book.

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Blogger Ben on Mon Nov 10, 08:26:00 AM:
Several obits have excerpted from a 2007 speech:

for almost 50 years, I have received narrative, witness, companionship, sanctuary, shock, and steely strangeness; good advice, bad news, deep chords, hurtful discrepancy, and amazing grace...

At an average of five books a week ... I will read 13,000. Then I’m dead. Thirteen thousand in a lifetime, about as many as there are new ones published every month in this country.


How different to be a film critic, who has a decent chance of experiencing all the great works of the medium in one lifetime!