Although she lives now in New York, Joan Didion was for many years the quintessential L.A. woman, depicting the unsettling contradictions of the Left Coast lifestyle in such novels as Play It as It Lays and the landmark essay collections Slouching Towards Bethlehem and The White Album. Whether she was interviewing members of the Manson family, hanging out with the Black Panthers or acting like a fly on the wall as the Doors (whom she famously called "the Norman Mailers of the Top 40") recorded their third album, Waiting for the Sun, Didion brought quintessential, era-defining moments to life by combining an unsparing, unsentimental journalist's perspective with often-searingly poetic prose. Over the decades, she's wrestled with big issues, from the labyrinthine ways of Tinseltown to the messy civil war in El Salvador, but in recent years Didion has taken on her mightiest foe yet: mortality. After the publication of her elegiac 2005 memoir, The Year of Magical Thinking, where she tried to come to terms with the sudden death of her novelist-husband, John Gregory Dunne, Didion was sucker-punched with the tragic loss of their daughter, Quintana Roo, which she recounts in her new book, Blue Nights. She artfully contrasts her two longtime homes by describing L.A. as a place "where the end of daylight is fast and lost in the blaze of the dropping sun," while New York has such "blue nights you think the end of day will never come." But the end of day really does come, as Didion soon realizes with acute insight: "I found my mind turning increasingly to illness, to the end of promise, to the dwindling of the days, the inevitability of the fading, the dying of the brightness." ALOUD at Vibiana, 214 S. Main St., dwntwn.; Wed., Nov. 16, 8 p.m. (213) 228-7025, lfla.org/aloud/.
Wed., Nov. 16, 8 p.m., 2011