|What is it about Meghan Daum’s work that makes you such an ardent fan?
Meghan has a way of speaking that is erudite, but not above the common reader’s intelligence. In other words, she uses 10-cent words, though not excessively and in a way that makes a reader want to use a dictionary and not put the book down. Meghan also involves people in her work the way Joan Didion draws her audience in. When you read Meghan, the same as Didion, you experience almost the exact same emotions in the exact setting at the exact cadence as both describe in their work. Readers almost jump into their skin. As a result, they can relate to the human element and want to continue reading.
What’s the most memorable line or passage from a Meghan Daum essay or column?
Though she has many memorable columns and lines, My Misspent Youth has, by far, probably produced the most noteworthy lines and passages for me – probably because I identify with it most, having moved to New York just after Meghan left it to write the Quality of Life Report. I think I was most moved by the following:
“Like a social smoker whose supposedly endearing desire to emulate Marlene Dietrich has landed her in a cancer ward, I have recently woken up to the frightening fallout of my own romantic notions of life in the big city: I am completely over my head in debt. I have not made a life for myself in New York City. I have purchased a life for myself.”
After I read this line, I knew that, like Meghan, I was the cancer-ridden, Dietrich-poseur social smoker, the romantic, big-city denizen and the purchaser of a life in New York City.
Do you finish every book you start? Are you a book borrower? a book lender?
Yes, I finish every book I start and that is the reason I get through so few books per year. I believe I owe it to the writer to read everything he or she has written and owe him or her the benefit of the doubt. Writers often surprise you throughout a book. I seldom borrow books — if I want it, I buy it. I lend books all the time, primarily because I want to help educate people and pass on good writing. Also, I buy too many books and need to purge sometimes.
What qualities (in columns or essays) do you value above all others? Do you think most authors and editors value the same qualities?
Above all else, I want the writer and editors of columns, essays and books to know more than I do about the topic at hand, but I don’t want them to gloat or be smug about their insight. As a reader, I want a writer to have a discussion with me as an equal, not as a subordinate who is in need of instruction — I am reading their work for pleasure, not an assignment. As a writer, I know this exchange is difficult to execute, so when a writer pulls it off, I am especially admiring.
I think there are some writers who manage to remain grounded, even as their work soars to the pinnacle of the profession. I think they have been humbled so much on their rise — by editors, by agents, by publishing houses and then by critics — it’s hard not to remain unassuming. Then, there are those who are corrupted by the adulation, and though they might try to retain their unpretentiousness, they cannot. I think Meghan Daum, thankfully, falls into the former category, not the latter – she is truly a writer’s writer. To see her read at a Manhattan bookstore is a lesson in modesty.
People would never believe that you love both of these authors, who are so very different: Jill Lepore and Meghan Daum.
Jill Lepore is a Harvard History professor who writes books and New Yorker articles about current events with a historical bent. Of course, Meghan Daum writes fiction, personal essays and current event columns for the LA Times. I am a fan of nonfiction in every form, sometimes factoid, sometimes memoir.