Joan Didion on the Basement Floor


Ten minutes before lying down on the concrete floor of the WORD basement, I have a conversation about how it seems like some reviewers can’t help but compare essayists to either Susan Sontag, Joan Didion, or both, and that’s it. I think about how that isn’t such a bad comparison, but I wish they used other points of reference. I take one sip of wine because I’m driving, I nibble on a donut, then another nibble, then I realize I’ve had an entire half. I listen to a bunch of people talk about how happy they are that BEA is over, I watch a girl unroll a yoga mat, and then I hear another person talking about Didion right as the lights go out.

I don’t want to get that into it since I’m friends with the people behind the event billed as Laser Didion, but in some strange way, I was both transported back to the past, and saw what could be the future at this event that consisted of a Joan Didion audiobook reading over a soundtrack of Max Richter, Dan Deacon, and more, while a rudimentary and inexpensive laser shot dancing colorful lights onto the ceiling of the WORD basement. I say the past, because I immediately thought of the sort of brain dead fun that people pay money to “experience,” like Pink Floyd laser light shows, but also the present and future because it was a different way to experience literature; not a live reading per se, but work being read to a live audience, literature as a group experience, by somebody who isn’t really there. And it was really moving, hearing a disembodied voice read “On the Morning After the Sixties” with dreamy music playing almost in time with it and the lasers. I wouldn’t say the piece took on a new meaning to me, but it was a different way to take it in, on my back on the floor, looking up at the swirling and dancing colors.

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