1. “We tell ourselves stories in order to live.” From her book of essays The White Album, which unflinchingly depicts the breakup of American society in the 1960s and ’70s, those eight words say more about art, politics and life than the majority of most published writing.
2. “Life changes in the instant. The ordinary instant.” From The Year of Magical Thinking, which chronicles Didion’s sudden loss of her husband (their daughter, also ill, died less than two years later), this gives you insight into how she did—and did not—deal with loss.
3. “It’s easy to see the beginnings of things, and harder to see the ends.” This line from Didion’s epic essay, “Goodbye To All That,” about how she fell delightfully in and out of love with New York City—and what Gotham meant to her as a twenty-something writing for Vogue—is a must-read.
4. “Character — the willingness to accept responsibility for one’s own life — is the source from which self-respect springs.” This tidbit of common sense, from her essay on self-respect, seems obvious, right? Yet such sage advice gets lost in the noise of our selfie-taking, omni-updating Kardashian culture.
5. “I think we are well advised to keep on nodding terms with the people we used to be, whether we find them attractive company or not. Otherwise they turn up unannounced and surprise us, come hammering on the mind’s door at 4 a.m. of a bad night and demand to know who deserted them, who betrayed them, who is going to make amends.” From Slouching Towards Bethlehem: Even in a place like New York City, forever refashioning itself at warp speed and encouraging its residents to follow suit, it pays to remember your roots.