Joan Didion

I can’t quite remember how I came across Joan Didion. I think I saw reference to her packing list from The White Album featured in Vogue, reverently displayed as some kind of gospel of chic, because Joan has always been viewed by the critics as the pinnacle of disaffected-cool fashion.  Here’s part of it:

2 skirts
2 jerseys or leotards
1 pullover sweater
2 pair shoes
nightgown, robe, slippers

There was something so attractively minimalist, yet at the same time so subversive (the bourbon, later in the list there’s a typewriter), that I couldn’t help but look her up.  And so I read The Year of Magical Thinking, the devastating novel where she processes her husbands death in her strange, descriptive, pragmatic and stepwise style (I can’t bring myself to read Blue Nights), and was fascinated.  Her prose is perfect.  I’d never come across a style so technically perfect as hers.  And yet her constant peppering of high-end brands and name-dropping seemed to grate against something like the loss of her husband.  It irritated me, but I couldn’t stop reading.  It’s this name-dropping that has led her to be labelled a ‘perennial insider’ by critics for years.  Someone who doesn’t understand the masses, the middle classes.  And then I read The White Album just recently, and realised that it’s not that at all.

Joan and I have something in common.  In her work as a journalist, she was privvy to the worst of humanity, the most meaningless of bureaucracy, and the most narcissistic of human taste.  In my work as a doctor, I am privvy to the worst of humanity, the most meaningless of bureaucracy, and the most narcissistic of human taste.  And I understand how, when you intertwine those concepts together, they grate.  Because they are jarringly and nonsensically in opposition with each other, with our values, and our innate humanity.  And now I can’t get enough of her work.

The White Album is a collection of works that she’d previously had published in various magazines like Life and Esquire, and as a collection they are a jarring discourse on America in a transformative time.  Her critics have a lot to say about her, she seems to irritate them and I like to think that she likes that.  I highly recommend The White Album and The Year of Magical Thinking, I’ll probably follow this up with a list of her other books when I’ve read them!

Some more books for the pile!

A couple of books turned up in the post this week.

I started reading it before I realised they had forgotten about me at the chemist and got a fair way through it before realising they had forgetten about me.  Good grief this book picks you up and slaps you around a bit – it’s like watching your partner Grand Theft Auto except infinitely more interesting.

I started on this one a couple of nights ago when I was in a terrible mood over how much I’m working.  Michelle Au of The Underwear Drawer has blogged her way through medical school, residency, and motherhood and at all times has systematically deconstructed the myths of the medical profession (i.e. when you’re on the other side, it does not feel prestigious/glamorous/moneymaking/elitist/noble/any-other-altruistic-thing-you-can-throw-at-it), it feels like you’re being chewed up and spit out by a system keen on getting by on as little as possible).  The book starts off with her as a medical student trying to get a stool stample (yes, with their fingers!) from a 200kg person and had me nearly crying with laughter (and possibly with a little bit of wretched mania).  I’m nowhere near finished but her blog and her comics, and the beginning of this book means it’s a highly worthwhile read.  Highly entertaining – if you liked Scrubs, you’ll like this too.

And on my way to the dentist this morning where I was picking up a splint because guess who can’t stop grinding their teeth, I picked this up for $5 at a secondhand bookstore.

I have no idea if this is any good.  Apparently St Luke was a physician of ye olde days and in this book apparently does some soul searching.  It was written in 1959 and is in danger of being an overly romantic view of Roman Catholic times but I’ll give it a whirl, it was $5!

Now I’m off for a run.  Does anyone else get flu-like symptoms after they exercise and feel like it sets them back?  I do.  I googled it and found lots of other people do too and that their doctors didn’t believe them.  Well I believe you.  Although I’m only an intern and can offer you absolutely nothing to do about it other than to say ease off, but don’t stop.  We’ll see if I can take my own advice and actually get off the couch.  It’s a bit cold after all!