My Favorite Books — a list by Joan Didion

The late writer and journalist Joan Didion was easily one of the finest wordsmiths of her era—inspiring the next generation as well.

Author Zadie Smith remembers encountering Didion’s writing for the first time. She remarked, “…[I] realized that a woman could speak without hedging her bets, without hemming and hawing, without making nice, without poeticisms, without sounding pleasant or sweet, without deference, and even without doubt.”

Didion’s clarity of voice came from her internal fortitude and her biography, but also from deep study of writers who came before her like Ernest Hemingway. She told The Paris Review that Hemingway “taught me how sentences worked.”

She continued, “When I was fifteen or sixteen I would type out his stories to learn how the sentences worked. I taught myself to type at the same time. A few years ago when I was teaching a course at Berkeley I reread A Farewell to Arms and fell right back into those sentences. I mean they’re perfect sentences. Very direct sentences, smooth rivers, clear water over granite, no sinkholes.”

A voracious reader, here is a list of Joan Didion’s favorite books—the ones that taught her how to be a better writer:

My Favorite Books — a list by Joan Didion

  1. A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway
  2. Victory by Joseph Conrad
  3. Guerrillas by V.S. Naipaul
  4. Down and Out in Paris and London by George Orwell
  5. Wonderland by Joyce Carol Oates
  6. The Good Soldier by Ford Madox Ford
  7. Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë
  8. One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez
  9. Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
  10. Appointment in Samarra by John O’Hara
  11. The Executioner’s Song by Norman Mailer
  12. Speedboat by Renata Adler
  13. Go Tell It on the Mountain by James Baldwin
  14. Notes of a Native Son by James Baldwin
  15. The Berlin Stories by Christopher Isherwood
  16. The Novels of Henry James: Washington Square, Portrait of a Lady, The Bostonians, Wings of the Dove, The Ambassadors, The Golden Bowl, Daisy Miller, The Aspern Papers, The Turn of the Screw
  17. Collected Poems by Robert Lowell
  18. Collected Poems by W.H. Auden
  19. The Collected Poems by Wallace Stevens


Joan Didion, 1922-2007

Photo: Jill Krementz

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