Reading Matters

Coming soon: New ‘notes’ from Didion

I’ve been married for almost 38 years, and only recently did my husband Lew Powell tell me that back in the early 1970s in Greenville, Miss., he had dinner with Joan Didion and her late husband John Gregory Dunne.

Excuse me?

Other people from the Delta Democrat Times were there, too, he said. And, no, he doesn’t remember a word Didion said. But, yes, she came through Greenville on her note-taking tour of Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama.

At last, this March, those notes will be published in “South and West: From a Notebook,” part Southern tour and part notes from Didion’s Rolling Stone assignment to cover the Patty Hearst trial in California.

As much as I admire Didion, I thought her more recent non-fiction lacked the intellectual seductiveness of her earlier work. Not so with Phillip Lopate whom I first met in his essay, “The Lake of Suffering,” about the “cruel year” he and his wife spent with their infant daughter in a hospital.

Lopate doesn’t miss, and I look forward to his “Mother’s Tale,” due this month. Based on tape recordings with his mother during the 1980s, Lopate tries to understand his mother’s pain and his own distrust of the woman he loved so much. His is a three-way conversation between his mother, his younger self and the man he is now.

I’ve mentioned that I was “flying” through Paul Auster’s latest novel, “4321,” due this month. I’m now 550 pages into this 900-plus page saga, and I’m slogging. He’s self-indulgent, oh-my-goodness-yes, forgivable only because he’s so intriguingly self-reflective. His main character, Archie Ferguson, leads four distinct lives (hence, 4321), except each Archie in involved with one Amy Schneiderman.

Turns out I’m not the only one fascinated by Abraham Lincoln’s macabre, late-night visit to his 11-year-old son Willie’s crypt in 1862. The quirky George Saunders unfolds his first novel, “Lincoln in the Bardo,” over the course of that one night and gives us a “thrilling exploration of death, grief and the powers of good and evil.” February.

You don’t want to miss Jonathan Chait’s “Audacity: How Barrack Obama Defied His Critics and Created a Legacy that Will Prevail,” but you might want to skip “The Meaning of Michelle,” in which 16 writers pay tribute to the First Lady, and some of them to her upper arms. The New York Times said Roxane Gay’s essay here reads as if it had been “dashed off in the back seat of an Uber.”

Leave it to my husband to tell me in a year or so that he’s been having lunch with Michelle.