Blue Nights: a conversation with Joan Didion

Christopher Lydon of the excellent Radio Open Source speaks to Joan Didion, one of the greatest non-fiction writers and prose stylists of the past half century, about her latest book Blue Nights. The book is a follow-up to her acclaimed The Year of Magical Thinking; both are meditations on death inspired by the death of her husband, the author John Gregory Dunne, closely followed by the death of her adopted daughter Quintana.

Joan Didion is reading from her second smashing meditation on death, Blue Nights. And I’m her interlocutor and foil again onstage in Cambridge. With a woman of the considered written word, not the spontaneous spoken word, it’s a tricky job. And it didn’t solve for me the puzzle of Didion’s power. But how could I not share it, or you not respond?

Joan Didion’s a writers’ writer gone suddenly, in her seventies, rock star and phenomenon, meeting a hungry market for introspections on death both sudden, as in the case of her husband John Gregory Dunne and Didion’s 2005 best-seller, The Year of Magical Thinking; or slow and almost unfathomable death, which came to Didion’s adopted daughter Quintana Roo, at 39, and prompted Blue Nights. Six hundred readers bought books and tickets to hear Didion and pack the First Church in Harvard Square last night.

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Obama and the measure of Lincoln

In yet another insightful interview with Radio Open Source, Yale professor David Bromich analyzes the political failings of the US president Barack Obama. He observes:

David Bromwich

At a time of crisis you hope for something more than proficiency of maneuver. You hope for consistency of explanation and the kind of reassurance that can come to people in a democracy from actually learning from somebody who is leading them where they are headed. … It’s not beyond a capable president actually to give a lesson in history. What real leadership comes from is finding the principle and the action that goes with it on which people could agree though they don’t yet realize that they would agree, what they most care about it even though it hasn’t yet found words, what their longterm interests, not their present opinions are… [Leadership comes from] deciding what the commitments are, standing to them, and then repeating, phrase by phrase and precept by precept, what it is you believe and how B follows A and C follows B.

The Dimensionality of Reading

Arnold Weinstein is one of the greatest teachers of literature, and I owe my own rediscovery of the pleasures of reading in good part to him. He always brings riveting insights to familiar works, but without the tedious blather of theory. Enjoy this fascinating discussion with Weinstein from Brown University’s excellent Radio Open Source with Christopher Lydon.

Philip Weiss on the Arab Revolt

This is as good as talk radio gets. Our friend, the great Phil Weiss on Radio Open Source with Chris Lydon to discuss the implications of the Arab revolt and the changing discourse in the American Jewish community.

A Case of Exploding Absurdities

Christopher Lydon of the excellent Radio Open Source interviews Mohammed Hanif, the acclaimed author of A Case of Exploding Mangoes on the wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the murder of Salman Taseer and the sociology of extremism.

David Bromwich on Obama, the Establishment President

David Bromwich is the Sterling Professor of English at Yale, and easily the most astute observer of Barack Obama’s performance and character. He has written some of the most insightful articles on the Obama presidency in which he subjects Obama’s oratory and style to close textual and formal analysis, and highlights the various traits that are symptomatic of his approach to politics. In this wide ranging discussion with Christopher Lydon of the excellent Radio Open Source (based at Brown University’s Watson Institute) Bromwich brings his formidable analytical skills to bear on Obama’s langauge, the difference between his improptu and scripted speech, his attempts at humour, and what it reveals about the man. He also makes an interesting comparison between Obama’s style and that of former presidents such as Lincoln, Reagan and Kennedy.