The obsession with details and the cool recording of facts that distinguish Ms. Didion's writing and that I revere, freaked me out in her transcript of the death in 2003 of her husband, the writer John Gregory Dunne.

Has anyone read her White Album? Apparently it records from the edge of a breakdown. In the context of her intense sorrow, her compulsive compiling of minutiae--what Mr. Dunne had in his pockets, the medical literature on grief, the log book of their Park Avenue apartment--transcended technique and became coping mechanism. This reader gained a breathtaking look into a brilliant mind; astonishingly, even in suffering, Ms. Didion instructs: carry a notebook, always write it down.