When women writers of my generation speak in awed tones of Didion’s “style,” I don’t think it’s the shift dresses or the sunglasses, the cigarettes or commas or even the em dashes that we revere, even though all those things were fabulous. It was the authority. The authority of tone. There is much in Didion one might disagree with personally, politically, aesthetically. I will never love the Doors. But I remain grateful for the day I picked up “Slouching Towards Bethlehem” and 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. It must be hard for a young woman today to imagine the sheer scope of things that women of my generation feared women couldn’t do—but, believe me, writing with authority was one of them. You wanted to believe it. You needed proof. And not Victorian proof. Didion—like her contemporary Toni Morrison—became Exhibit A. Uniquely, she could be kept upon your person, like a flick knife, stuffed in a back pocket, the books being so slim and portable. She gave you confidence. Shored you up.
∆ Zadie Smith on Joan Didion