There is no writer I respect more than Joan Didion. This is a photograph of her with her husband John Gregory Dunne and daughter Quintana Roo taken in 1976 at their home in Malibu. Aside from the photographs of my own family – which I treasure – this is my favourite picture in the world. Look at the thoughtful expression on her face, the way she stands slightly apart from the two people she loves, the long sandy coastline below them. None of their hair seems trouble by wind so it must have been a still afternoon – rare at the beach. And even though mother and daughter wear short-sleeved sundresses, Dunne sports a turtleneck and jacket. Had he just arrived home? When the photographer left did they talk about their day’s writing (Dunne was a novelist and screenwriter)? Did Dunne pay more heed to his daughter that day than his wife?
I have a copy of this photograph pinned to the wall next to my desk. I never tire of looking at it.
If you haven’t read anything by Joan Didion, start with her collected journalistic essays in The White Album (1979) then read her novel Play It as It Lays (1970) and then her glorious, sharp, black account of the year that followed her husband’s death, The Year of Magical Thinking (2005). To read her work is enlightening and humbling.