Joan Didion on the $10 bill? LA bookstore ignites online campaign.

A graphic designer at LA's Book Soup prompted public enthusiasm for Didion's appearance on the new currency with a handwritten note on a chalkboard. 

Kathy Willens/AP/File
Author Joan Didion poses for a photograph in her New York apartment, Thursday, Sept. 27, 2007.

With a woman set to join Alexander Hamilton on the $10 bill by 2020, pundits of every ideological stripe have debated who the lucky lady should be. But now the independent Hollywood bookstore Book Soup, which touts itself as LA’s premier independent book seller to the great and infamous, has a novel idea for the face of the newly designed note: the acclaimed author Joan Didion.  

The mastermind behind the hashtag #Joanontheten was Rob Bieselin, a graphic designer at Book Soup who first prompted public enthusiasm for the idea with a handwritten note on a chalkboard in front of his store, the Hollywood Reporter noted Tuesday.

Ms. Didion, an iconoclastic novelist, essayist, and screenwriter best known for works such as the 1970 novel ‘Play It As It Lays’ and a skew of iconic nonfiction essays and collections, is "a big L.A. voice and a best-seller at the store”, Mr. Bieselin told the Reporter, justifying his choice. “People react to her image the same way for her literature and essays," he added. But while the proposal seems to be picking up some social media steam, not everyone is such a strong supporter. 

To be sure, those who love Didion do so passionately, and few who come across her work have mixed reviews. As an example, a September essay in the Atlantic on Didion’s latest biography was entitled ‘The Elitist Allure of Joan Didion: A big biography looks at the author’s legacy of cool’.

“For most writers, cool is a word that rarely tops the list of personality descriptors. Neurotic and introverted are generally in heavier rotation. For women writers, you can add solipsistic and confessional,” wrote Meghan Duam for the Atlantic. “Maybe that’s why Joan Didion, who’s been called all those things but for whom cool is surely the most frequently applied adjective, has never been just an inspirational figure. She has been an object of aspirational longing.”

“Revered (worshipped, in many cases) as much for her glamorously aloof public persona as for her infectious, revolutionary-in-its-time prose style, Didion was—and remains—famous in a way that writers seldom are anymore (and, though some of today’s embittered literary types like to believe otherwise, seldom were even back then),” she added.

But with this level of notoriety comes a healthy dose of skepticism, especially from critics who say the literati should cut the clichés and get over themselves.

In a piece for the Cut following the 80-year-old Didion’s appearance in an ad for the French luxury goods brand Celine, journalist Molly Fischer penned a warning to young women about why devotion to Didion is really a trap.  

“Worshipping Didion has always been a tricky business,” she wrote. “If, as Didion wrote, ‘one of the mixed blessings of being twenty and twenty-one and even twenty-three is the conviction that nothing like this, all evidence to the contrary notwithstanding, has ever happened to anyone before,’ then proudly identifying with her work falls into the same group of coming-of-age non-anomalies as loving silent city streets at dawn.”

“She is idolized because she doesn’t appear to have idols. To gush over Joan Didion seems like a misreading,” she then chided.

But brushing all criticism and praise aside in an essay for Vogue marking the arrival of Didion’s 80th birthday, Nathan Heller describes why the writer continues to matter to this day.

“It’s her careful craft across a broader spectrum than most writers have available, her skill in making work that acts not only on the way you think but on the way you feel,” he wrote. “Airplane pilots speak of ‘angle of attack’, and, in Didion’s best nonfiction, the angle is precise both intellectually and emotionally. Her defining quality isn’t candor or conviction but unusual, almost unrivaled, compositional control.”

While it’s unlikely Didion’s face will ultimately appear on the $10 bill  ̶  unless, of course, you count the printed version Book Soup is currently giving away to its customers with every purchase  ̶  the proposition has gained momentum on social media, demonstrating her persistent appeal.  

Meanwhile, it is uncertain what Didion’s opinion of the proposal would be. But if her 1968 essay collection "Slouching Towards Bethlehem" could provide a clue, there is nothing to suggest she would be opposed to the appearance.  Equating money with the personal freedom she prized, Didion wrote:

“The secret point of money and power in America is neither the things that money can buy nor power for power’s sake … but absolute personal freedom, mobility, privacy. It is the instinct which drove America to the Pacific, all through the nineteenth century, the desire to be able to find a restaurant open in case you want a sandwich, to be a free agent, live by one’s own rules.” 

After a public comment period, the Treasury Department will announce who will appear on the new bill later this year. It will go into circulation in 2020. 

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