Joan Didion with her iconic Celine sunglasses (photo courtesy Stair Galleries)

Over the summer, it was announced that the personal property of the late and beloved author Joan Didion would head to auction this November, offering fans and collectors a chance to own a physical token from a titan of American literature. At this point, no amount of extravagance on the part of the wealthy should surprise us, and this auction’s proceeds actually went to a great cause — Parkinson’s research at Columbia University and a scholarship for women at the Sacramento Historical Society. Still, some of the prices fetched during the live online auction would lead even the most die-hard of Didion devotees to raise one perfectly sculpted eyebrow.

Some of the winning bids — like the $27,000 dropped on Didion’s trademark pair of Celine sunglasses in faux tortoiseshell, or $60,000 for a stunning mixed-wood J. Breuner partner’s desk — make a kind of vague sense, in terms of their direct relationship to Didion’s image and legacy as a writer. Others, like a broken clock that sold for $35,000 or a staggering $7,000 bid for a collection of 26 or so seashells and beach pebbles, left some observers scratching their heads. For $7,000, you could take a weeklong, four-star trip for two to Hawaii, and collect all the dang seashells you want, for free.

Oh, but these were Joan Didion’s seashells, you say? These seashells were collected by a deep thinker, probably while walking along a beach and staring at the ocean and thinking extremely deep thoughts. Probably, she had some of her most influential ideas while collecting these shells. That makes them worth roughly $250 apiece, right? Right??

Perhaps just as amusing as the hammer figures on some of these items are the responses to the sale on social media. Users are having a ball imagining the most hilarious items Didion could have owned and the prices they could have fetched — and if you look at some of the things that actually sold, it’s really not so hard to believe.

Other dubious high-ticket items from the actual auction included various lots of books from Didion’s collection, which fetched thousands of dollars, averaging out around $700 per book, regardless of author, edition, or condition. Small framed and sculptural works of art from her personal collection fetched well above their assessed value — but the subjectivity of worth for art at auction is already a tale as classic as Didion’s iconic and emotionally lacerating essays on the human condition.

The final cherry on top of this auction sundae — a flourish so narratively rich, if it was a work of fiction, no one would believe it — are two lots of blank notebooks, which sold for $11,000 each. One sees the appeal, since there is nothing more writerly than a stack of empty notebooks, just waiting for genius to burst forth, but there can perhaps be no more ironic commentary on the intoxicating power of celebrity than a five-figure bidding war breaking out over all the notebooks Joan Didion didn’t use.

This is, of course, idle speculation on the idle rich — one deeply hopes that nobody spent their life savings to try to hold some small piece of their hero. And since proceeds from the sale will benefit a cause dear to Didion — who died in 2021 at the age of 87 after a battle with Parkinson’s disease — we can at least know that the fervor over Didion’s material legacy is in the service of her values.

The Latest

Sarah Rose Sharp

Sarah Rose Sharp is a Detroit-based writer, activist, and multimedia artist. She has shown work in New York, Seattle, Columbus and Toledo, OH, and Detroit —...

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *