Today is the 79th birthday of Joan Didion, the writer whose incantatory prose is nearly eclipsed by her status as the ur-girl crush of reading women everywhere. Among Didion’s many qualifications for the title: embodies chic Californian minimalism, basically lived the plot of The Bell Jar, gave writers permission to hate New York, made angsty fragility poetic (undoubtedly inspiring future generations of anorexia memoirists), and most important, turned being small, feminine, and shy — all handicaps in a man’s world — into the ultimate professional advantage.
Because of this Vogue-ish exterior, Didion (and especially her early writing) seems to leaves the deepest impression on girls, who are generally starved for examples of adult women who are simultaneously smart and desirable. But her crush factor (like her writing) does not age. I never fantasized about making my own skirt-suit, for example, until I read that Joan Didion wore a “sun-faded white sleeveless skirt-suit,” as Boris Kachka reported, “fashioned from the raw silk curtains in her old house in Brentwood.”
So vivid is Didion in the female public intellectual’s imagination, she appeared almost fully formed in Heather Havrilesky’s recent Bookforum review of Nora Ephron’s posthumous anthology, as a kind of icy foil to Ephron’s self-deprecating BFF schtick. “It’s oddly easy to imagine the two of them together,” Havrilesky writes, “Ephron making cheerful attempts to draw Didion out while Didion silently picks the sunflower seeds out of her salad.”