June 4, 2012

blue nights

yesterday i read Blue Nights by Joan Didion. i have not read much of her work; a few years ago i read The Year of Magical Thinking and enjoyed it - her writing is beautifully crafted. blue nights is a quick read, and the content is heavy. i recommend it - her prose (which nears poetry) is stunning. she reflects, in this book, on the life and loss of her daughter who died young. this is certainly a sad book - do not read it if you don't want to feel sad. but it is, for anyone who appreciates writing, reflection, or grief - a good read.

this excerpt is from the very beginning of the book; i am compelled to share it because of how beautifully she invokes this particular and impermanent moment as the seasons change - the metaphor that is so deeply embedded (always) in the skies that surround us:

In certain latitudes there comes a span of time approaching and following the summer solstice, some weeks in all, when the twilights turn long and blue. This period of blue nights does not occur in subtropical California, where i lived for much of the time I will be talking about here and where the end of daylight is fast and lost int he blaze of the dropping sun, but it does occur in New York, where I now live. You notice it first as April ends and May begins, a change in the season, not exactly a warming-- in fact not at all a warming-- yet suddenly summer seems near, a possibility, even a promise. You pass a window, you walk to Central Park, you find yourself swimming in the color blue: the actual light is blue, and over the course of an hour or so this blue deepens, becomes more intense even as it darkens and fades, approximates finally the blue of the glass on a clear day at Chartres, or that of the Cerenkov radiation thrown off by the fuel rods in the pools of nuclear reactors. The French called this time of day "l'heure bleue." To the English it was "the gloaming." The very word "gloaming" reverberates, echoes-- the gloaming, the glimmer, the glitter, the glisten, the glamour-- carrying in its consonants the images of houses shuttering, gardens darkening, grass-lined rivers slipping through the shadows. During the blue nights you think the end of day will never come. As the blue nights draw to a close (and the will, and they do) you experience an actual chill, an apprehension of illness, at the moment you first notice: the blue light is going, the days are already shortening, the summer is gone. This book is called "Blue Nights" because at the time I begani it I found my mind turning increasingly to illness, to the end of promise, the dwindling of the days, the inevitability of the fading, the dying of the brightness. Blue nights are the opposite of the dying of the brightness, but they are also its warning.

- Joan Didion, Blue Nights


  1. oh how lovely. i'll be looking for this at the library.

  2. i read Play It As It Lays and some of The Year of Magical Thinking last year and enjoyed her writing. it is sad though. i don't think i knew her daughter died also. man, she has certainly dealt with a lot of death in her life. this book seems like it would be a good read. thanks for the suggestion!


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