Joan Didion Admits She Reads ‘The National Enquirer’
Are you shocked?
I certainly was when I read that. Joan Didion? She’s an icon. Brilliant writer, insightful observer, fearlessly honest – certainly not the type of person who would care “who has the best bikini body?”
But the more I think about it, the more it makes sense for where do ideas come from? Where does a writer go when she or he needs to refill his inkwell? Oh sure, you can pick up War and Peace but isn’t it tempting to riffle through a tabloid and read a story about a man who lived a double life and his legitimate son ended up falling in love with his illegitimate daughter? Isn’t that a plot?
Frankly, I think the Enquirer is full of nonsense but a lot of that nonsense is grist for the mill. Writers should not be snobbish or arrogant in their choice of reading – the mixture of high and low is very energizing and provocative. You need to read humor, biographies, poetry, culture, music so that your writing can capture the zeitgeist. Unless it’s an historical book, I want the writer to be engaged with the world even if the world is made up of people who want to look like the Octo Mom.
Many years ago, I remember arriving at a house where my son was doing a project for the Cub Scouts. Another car was waiting in the driveway so I got out of my car and walked over. The woman was reading The Star and the minute she saw me approach, she crumpled it up and threw it under her car seat (she didn’t do a very good job of “crumpling” as I knew it was The Star). I remember feeling embarrassed for her. Her taste in reading was quite revealing…extraterrestrials? Face lifts gone wrong? Palimony charges?
Then, I read Joan Didion’s confession. She started every day with the Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Daily News, the New York Post and the National Enquirer. She was and is smarter than I am –all the news that’s fit to print may not activate your imagination and if you’re a writer, that’s really what you’re banking on.