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1. The Year of Magical Thinking
2. We Tell Ourselves Stories in Order
3. Slouching Towards Bethlehem: Essays
4. The White Album: Essays (FSG Classics)
5. A Book of Common Prayer
6. Run River
7. Democracy
8. Vintage Didion
9. Where I Was From
10. The White Album
11. The Last Thing He Wanted
12. Play It As It Lays: A Novel
13. Miami
14. Telling Stories
15. Fixed Ideas: America Since 9.11
16. The Year of Magical Thinking:
17. Political Fictions
18. After Henry
19. Salvador
20. Reading Joan Didion (The Pop Lit

1. The Year of Magical Thinking
by Joan Didion
Paperback: 227 Pages (2007-02-13)
list price: US$14.95 -- used & new: US$3.99
(price subject to change: see help)
Asin: 1400078431
Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars
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From one of America’s iconic writers, a stunning book of electric honesty and passion. Joan Didion explores an intensely personal yet universal experience: a portrait of a marriage--and a life, in good times and bad--that will speak to anyone who has ever loved a husband or wife or child. ... Read more

Customer Reviews (557)

3-0 out of 5 stars Ponderous, cool, yet insightful at times view of partner's sudden permanent absence.
My expectations were high on this memoir and I was sorely disappointed.Her musings are too intellectual for me; I wanted some more feeling and less crystal-clear memories of the moments she shared with her husband.I never got a feel for what made the relationship so solid; she shared little of her feeling nature.It was stated in the book she was a cool customer at the hospital.Guess that wraps up her personality and I am not drawn to her in the least.

3-0 out of 5 stars Joan's Vortex
Joan Didion's husband suffered a fatal coronary on December 30, 2003, even as their recently married daughter lay critically ill in a NYC hospital. That is what this book is about. That is ALL it is about. Joan goes over the details incessantly and exhaustively in search of understanding what happened; at times, especially in the middle, the narrative gets bogged down. The author obviously has great love for both her husband, a fellow writer and her constant companion, as well as for her daughter Quintana, yet Ms. Didion never seems to veer off her path as dispassionate, though obsessive observer in this telling. You get a lot history of Joan and John's life over the whole course of their marriage as she is reminded of this event and that--and a lot of jet-setting and hobnobbing and name-dropping, but this is just part of her passion for detail. There isn't much about emotion or about magic, except for her observations of the ways that she was in denial about his death--such as not wanting the obituary, or not wanting to give away his shoes because he would need them. And there certainly isn't anything about faith or belief in an afterlife. The author makes certain that her readers understand that she doesn't go in for that kind of nonsense. What she does go in for is books. Not the self-help kind or inspirational kind--these she dismisses as "useless", but for the medical kind, for instance, and even the literary kind such as poetry. Her belief was that through reading and studying it out, death like all other aspects of life would yield to understanding and thus some kind of mastery.

The book was worth reading, though not as good as I had hoped. She does pose "the question of self-pity", yet seems to answer that what seems to be self pity is the normal state of mind of the one who is "left behind" by the deceased. Also emphasized is that the state of mind of one who is grieving is anything but normal, but rather a sort of deranged condition from which, however, one is expected to recover. I gleaned a few insights, and a desire to read more about this topic, as well as to write about my own loss as my mother has recently passed away. Yet the book left me rather unsatisfied in terms of conclusions learned from the experience. I do not wonder that John had expressed their lack of "having fun" to her some months before the event, and I am glad that he did convince her to go to France so that he could see Paris for "one last time" the previous month. I am saddened to learn that Quintana did eventually die in the year after the book's publication. I will probably read some other works by this author, and I will be curious to know what she will write next.

4-0 out of 5 stars Very Helpful
Having lost my husband 9 months ago, I found this book to be very helpful and have recommended it to my bereavement group.

5-0 out of 5 stars You sit down to dinner...
I suppose the first time I heard about Joan Didion was when she published this book and I read an article in a portuguese newspaper about it. Later I understood that a play had been based on it, having Vanessa Redgrave as the, only,I think, performer.
I must say that I do not have great interest in books which are written as
a help to cope with the unpleaseant and dramatic situations we all have to face sooner or later in life. My idea is that
each one of us has to find in himself the way forward. Friends and other people around us may help but, at the end of the day, we are the ones that have to face nights and have to get up every morning to make it through the day.
Also to have personal suffering and everything that goes with it displayed in a book is something most depressing and notvery appealling in almost all cases I can think of.
This August, entirely by accident, I found myself at a Barnes & Noble branch in N.Y. browsing through Ms Didion's book and ended up buying it, something that was very far from my mind whenI had entered the bookshop.
Well, Ms Didion's book is certainly about her husband's death, while their daughter was fighting for her life in hospital. That is true but there are a variety of reasons why I liked it. First her writing is extremely good.The book is also written in a way that not only it deals with recent, at the time, facts but also it is a sort of biography of writer and husband. The amount of medical information for the common reader is incredible and you never get the feeling that it should not be there. We follow her daughter's progress in hospital(though we are not toldif she fully recovered, probably not, since I have now read somewhere that she died not long after the book events). Andeverything with such a dignity!
Ms Didion was obviously in great suffering and yet the reader has to admire the way she is facing it. There were things to be done and she did them.
I must say that I remember to have read the book quickly and what I deeply retain is a great inner peace feeling.

2-0 out of 5 stars nice writing, but repetitive and myopic - would recommend her other work over this one
Unlike the scores of lauding critics, countless readers worldwide, and at least two good friends, I didn't like 'The Year of Magical Thinking' by Joan Didion.I've liked her work in the past, tremendously, and I found the writing in this book as ever lucid, and readable.I also think she makes a critical point about grief and mourning being a state of mental injury and incapacitation, that is not always recognised supportively either in medical or social circles (the goal being to stay strong and get over it after some seemly amount of time).I also found the passages about her relationship with her husband of 40 years fascinating, especially as they are both writers - and live and work in the same space the entire time they're together.

However, at the risk of sounding like an insensitive bitch, I found the rest of it tedious, repetitive, and in some cases myopic, to the point of being self absorbed.I completely agree that self pity is necessary and that mourning is for ourselves as much as it is for the person who's died.But IMHO, her repeated claims - that her feelings and thoughts on the matter are often unoriginal - are true.I've read a number of memoirs about death and dying and even the ones that weren't as well written as Ms. Didion's seemed to have more humility and feeling.Even the fictional novel 'On Love' by Alain de Botton which details the making and breaking of a romance - not exactly an epic topic, though the subject of every pop song in the world, and maybe that's the point - shows more clearly how even the small is linked to the large.Or the book, Ms. Didion herself quotes, 'How We Die' by Sherwin Nuland - achieves more grace and integrity in its compassionate clinical treatises.

As an example, take the vortex effect Ms. Didion describes at such length (in which everything and anything reminds you of the person you're trying to forget) - something any unrequited lover is familiar with.I don't deny her the feeling.I just object to the precious privileged way she presents it.

'How could I go back to Paris without him, how could I go back to Milan, Honolulu, Bogota?I couldn't even go to Boston.'

Even Boston.

I didn't expect Ms. Didion to be brave or humble or wise in the course of her terrible year, or any of the years after.But if she was going to write about it, I expected better. ... Read more

2. We Tell Ourselves Stories in Order to Live: Collected Nonfiction (Everyman's Library)
by Joan Didion
Hardcover: 1160 Pages (2006-10-17)
list price: US$32.00 -- used & new: US$18.97
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Asin: 0307264874
Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars
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(Book Jacket Status: Jacketed)

Joan Didion’s incomparable and distinctive essays and journalism are admired for their acute, incisive observations and their spare, elegant style. Now the seven books of nonfiction that appeared between 1968 and 2003 have been brought together into one thrilling collection.

Slouching Towards Bethlehem captures the counterculture of the sixties, its mood and lifestyle, as symbolized by California, Joan Baez, Haight-Ashbury. The White Album covers the revolutionary politics and the “contemporary wasteland” of the late sixties and early seventies, in pieces on the Manson family, the Black Panthers, and Hollywood. Salvador is a riveting look at the social and political landscape of civil war. Miami exposes the secret role this largely Latin city played in the Cold War, from the Bay of Pigs through Watergate. In After Henry Didion reports on the Reagans, Patty Hearst, and the Central Park jogger case. The eight essays in Political Fictions–on censorship in the media, Gingrich, Clinton, Starr, and “compassionate conservatism,” among others–show us how we got to the political scene of today. And in Where I Was From Didion shows that California was never the land of the golden dream. ... Read more

Customer Reviews (14)

5-0 out of 5 stars joan didion the girl 's .
un peu tôt je ne l'aie pas terminé ... Mais le fait que je le posséde justifie l'achat .
heu ... je plaisante .

5-0 out of 5 stars History Entered Through the Back Door
I had known about Joan Didion for some time before I finally read this omnibus collection of her work.I had come across a few of her essays in various anthologies and composition textbooks (usually the one on keeping a notebook, the dramatic discussion on the Santa Ana winds, or the piece on Hawaii from The White Album), and had always heard that she writes about California better than anybody except perhaps John Steinbeck. With this collection, I found I had in my hands an extremely intense body of work, so I'd finish one collection of essays and then return to read the next one after I'd spent some time away reading other authors.It took over a year of putting this book down and then returning to it, but now I'm done, and it's an emotionally exhausting but tremendously rewarding experience to have read her entire non-fiction output.

The first thing I noticed, once I had read just a few of her essays one after the other, was how original--and how widely imitated--her writing style is.I realized I'd been reading Didionesque reportage in the NY Times, The New Yorker, The Atlantic, The NY Review of Books, Harpers, The New Republic etc. for years and had never known it.All the stylistic devices--the opening, all-encapsulating yet at first glance maddeningly indirect anecdote, the jump cut narrative technique that inevitably circles back to a single arresting incident or image, the devastating short-long sentence juxtapositions etc.--are there from the beginning.The thing is, she started it all and has remained the central practitioner of the art.It's as if the most highly accomplished of short story writers has taken to reportage of current and cultural events with a literary vengeance, which is what I suppose that over-used term the "New Journalism" refers to.She leaves Tom Wolfe et al. in the dust though.

What emerges from the perfect blend of personal narrative and relentless reportage is a stunning, unofficial view of our post-WWII national history: we have America's uneasy transition from the straitjacketed, tract-housing idealism of the 50s into the uncertainty of 60s; a quietly lacerating critique of the Haight-Asbury San Francisco era; the nagging presence and perhaps unknowable consequences of American involvement in Cuba, El Salvador and Nicaragua, from the Kennedy-Castro days through to the waning days of the Reagan administration; and always the perverse (almost pathological) underbelly of the Golden State, from the fundamentalist, largely mid-western/southern border states origins of the post-WW II Inland Empire and San Joaquin valley, to her largely unsentimental memories of middle decades Sacramento, where she grew up.Indeed, California's various mutations, as described by Didion, seem to encapsulate the slippery and ungraspable nature of truth in our fabled post-nuclear age.One phenomenon that seems to hold so much of the work together--merging California with Washington--is Ronald Reagan.Didion's contempt for the man is palpable.She writes about him as actor, corporate spokesperson, governor of California and president, and it fits too that this man stands as one of the most image-driven, elusive and vacuous figures in twentieth-century American public life.

What is remarkable is how sustained the quality of the writing is.I found her 80's work on Central America, Miami and Cuba, which was quite a departure from her first two, more famous collections, to be fascinating in their evocation of conspiracies, drugs, mind-numbing violence and chaotic ideological warfare.While for me there's a bit of a drop-off with the "After Henry" collection, her reflections on American political life from the 1988 election through to the eve of the 2000 election (the "Political Fictions" collection) have a remarkable level of perspicacity and unity in their outlook. To me, Didion was the first to notice what is now recognized as a common fact of American political culture: that it is driven by a self-generated, self-perpetuating class of media professionals who have been successfully co-opted by the spin-meisters of both parties.As a class they are utterly disconnected from life outside the beltway, and they endlessly discuss among themselves--at great cost to the quality of political knowledge and discourse in our country--the nuances of the medium and never the merits of the message.

So, if you want a juicy sampling of our culture and history gleaned from the last fifty or so years, as seen through the merciless gaze of a writer who unerringly enters entire decades and cultural fields through the back door, this is the book you're going to want to read.As I said earlier, it's a very intense and demanding experience reading the 1000 or so densely packed pages the Modern Library has put together here, and there's no way you'll do it in one go.However, you'll return to it over and over until you're done, and will find it well worth the effort.

5-0 out of 5 stars One of our greats
This book came up while I was buying "Political Fictions" for a friend of mine, and I was worried I'd missed something, but actually it's every nonfiction book she's written up through 2003.I've savored every word of Didion's nonfiction since reading "Goodbye To All That" (the final essay of Slouching Toward Bethlehem) in a nonfiction class in college , and she's never let me down.It's not simply that Didion is one of our greatest writers, its that her style is so incisive and unforgettable because she works with only a whisper of the incredible effort and vision she creates, she undoes the reader with observations that don't appear to be observations - she makes her conclusions about culture, nature, and humanity the only conclusions, and she can devastate, over and over again, in a single sentence.It's crazy to think of all of the nonfiction books I've bought of hers fitting concisely into under 1200 pages, but how lucky for the people that own this book to be able to do what took me years to do - track down each piece and appreciate it separately (except for the uber-successful Year of Magical Thinking, which still requires its own purchase).I hope readers take the time to appreciate the differences in each work, to consider how time and how Didion's consciousness adjusted from one book to the next, but the important thing is that she continue to be read and enjoyed.Here, you can read a piece like "Goodbye to All That," or "Quiet Days In Malibu," or that devastating final chapter of Where I Was From to hear that beautiful, plaintive, liberating sad voice, and then follow it up with Salvador or "In The Realm of the Fisher King" or "Vichy Washington" and appreciate a cunning that rips into politics and the culture at large.One strange review on here stated that it was unlikely Didion's work would outlast her life much, and while I don't know that to be untrue (I mean, she's still alive), one thing I've loved about her is that any contextual writing she does - writing about Joan Baez in the 60's, say, or seeing Georgia O'Keefe in the 70's, or Miami, or El Salvador, or Reagan or Hawaii - feels current because it speaks to the human observation watching it occur, and because the culture we make up (the "stories we tell ourselves") around whatever's occuring always remain the same.I wasn't alive or cognizant when much of what she writes about occurs, but to me, Didion's one of the great writers that made me feel connected to the world, feel less alone, and feel thrilled at every topic she's discussed.

5-0 out of 5 stars Outstanding Selection
This is an outstanding collection of vintage and new Didion.It is a MUST have for Didion fans.

5-0 out of 5 stars A Keen Eye, A Beautiful Voice
I seldom read non-fiction, due to habit and training, mostly.However, when I read essays like these, I am as amazed and inspired as I would be by any great piece of fiction.Joan Didion's voice is clear, her eye sharp.This collection gathers essays from the 60's (a time I remember very well)up to and including the Bush Administration (a time I'd just as soon forget)and manages to combine history, social commentary and personality profiles into keen observations not only about the world at large, but also about herself as a part of that world.She moves from Las Vegas (I love her take on that place!) to California to Miami to El Salvador.All the while, as I read I stand in amazement at the way she writes.In his intro to the book, John Leonard says her "black album" is the "habitation of a brave heart and a radiant intellect, an ice palace and a greenhouse. . . to instruct us and the sentences we can almost sing."Certainly said better than I could have.If you can appreciate journalism as literature, you will no doubt enjoy these essays. ... Read more

3. Slouching Towards Bethlehem: Essays (FSG Classics)
by Joan Didion
Paperback: 256 Pages (2008-10-28)
list price: US$14.00 -- used & new: US$5.90
(price subject to change: see help)
Asin: 0374531382
Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars
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The first nonfiction work by one of the most distinctive prose stylists of our era, Slouching Towards Bethlehem remains, forty years after its first publication, the essential portrait of America— particularly California—in the sixties. It focuses on such subjects as John Wayne and Howard Hughes, growing up a girl in California, ruminating on the nature of good and evil in a Death Valley motel room, and, especially, the essence of San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury, the heart of the counterculture.
... Read more

Customer Reviews (35)

5-0 out of 5 stars A 60's retrospective...
It has been years since I read any Joan Didion, but I remembered her as an acute, honest observer of the human condition, who wrote incisive prose. Now that the `60's rank with the ancient history of the Peloponnesian Wars for over half the American population, I decided to re-read one of her classic works, and was not disappointed; in fact, her essays aged well, and resonated with my own life experiences.

The essay that lends its name to the title of this collection is the longest, "Slouching towards Bethlehem," concerning Haight-Asbury in 1967, and a title taken from a W.B Yeats poem.It is a sad, honest portrait, and Didion highlights the inarticulateness of those who washed in, seeking a new utopia. None of the portraits show much empathy, and some are justifiable frightening, particularly how the young children were being raised.And she foreshadows the dark side of what would become of the "summer of love."

Overall, the collection of essays is divided into thirds, with the first part focusing on various aspects of California. I felt the strongest one is "Some Dreamers of the Golden Dream," which concerns a woman who fled a fundamentalist existence in Manitoba, marries, pursues the "dream," and eventually burns her husband to death. There are other telling vignettes on John Wayne, Howard Hughes and Joan Baez, along with a "Comrade Laski."

The second section of essays are personal reflections, such as the thoughts on maintaining a notebook, and the third section is entitled "Seven Places of the Mind," in reality her reflections on visits to her "real" home in Sacramento, and others on Hawaii, Alcatraz, Newport, R.I., Guaymas, Mexico, her new home of Los Angeles, and NYC. Literary references abound, from the title given to the Sacramento piece, "Notes from a Native Daughter," and she thought it suitable to borrow Robert Graves' reflections on WW I to mark thoughts ofher youth in NYC, "Good-bye to All That." And proving that it all ties together somehow, I just purchased a book entitled "String Too Short to Keep," and in Didion's essay "On Keeping a Notebook," she says about a particular entry:"...about bits of the mind's string too short to use..."

The essays are replete with her observations on life, beautifully expressed: "As it happens I am still committed to the idea that the ability to think for oneself depends upon one's mastery of the language..." Concerning the "palaces" built by the obscenely rich of another gilded era, she says" "that the production ethic led step by step to unhappiness, to restrictiveness, to entrapment in the mechanics of living." In another essay, the one on the "hippies," she is assured that, at 32, there are "old" hippies too. And of her youth in NYC, after a long lunch with Bloody Marys and gazpacho,: "I was not then guilt-ridden about spending afternoons that way, because I still had all the afternoons in the world."

A wonderful, 5-star read, for one of those delightful, remaining afternoons. Thanks for the re-issue to FSG Classics.

5-0 out of 5 stars Slouching Toward Bethlehem
A wonderful collection of essays about America in the sixties. It gives a particularly interesting view of California during this period. And it's written in Joan Didion's masterful prose.

5-0 out of 5 stars Didion's Classic Essays
This is a must read for anyone who wants to study how to write personal memoir and essay writing.

I am reminded how important it is -- necessary, curative -- to have my own beliefs and opinions disrupted by this book.I love this book all over again, so much, that I am assigning this book to students in a critical thinking class at my college.I have used it successfully in the past, and have learned that contemporary readers have no trouble dealing with Didion's historical references.Historical references, I said with my jaw-dropped the first time a student complained about this.My thinking was that Didion is contemporary.And she is -- just read her.For an 18 year old born in 1991, the unrest of 1968 seems as long ago as the Civil War.To my colleagues, stop scolding students for using the internet.Bring it into any book discussion.In a "smart classroom," equipped with an online computer and a projection screen, I hot link any of Didion's lessor known references to the voices and people she mentions, captured by hand-held cameras and recording devices 41 years ago, uploaded more recently by cathode ray addicted teenagers onto their online social networks.Whew.Young readers are natural researchers; they spend most of their free time connecting bits of information.They are bored easily, too.That's why Didion is really great.She is as fresh and demanding and observant and as thankfully disruptive as they aim to be by pointing their cell phone cameras at the world, hitting click, then send.They like her for her daring and even more for her restraint -- something that few writers know how to use.I have to thank writer Tom Carson for his reminder of just how good Didion is -- and how current she is -- in his "Los Angeles Magazine" review of Evan Wright's book of essays, Hella Nation Hella Nation: Looking for Happy Meals in Kandahar, Rocking the Side Pipe, Wingnut's WarAgainst the GAP, and Other Adventures with the Totally Lost Tribes of America. I don't know if Amazon lets reviewers link to outside content, but I hope the company will allow me to credit my source.Tom Carson's essay is very good:
Carson's review makes me want to buy the books he mentions in hand or by the "kindle," a term that anyone who likes Didion has already worried to death.Carson puts Evan Wright's "Hella Nation" on the same shelf with Joan Didion's "Slouching Towards Bethlehem."Generally, I am disappointed by anyone saying that a new writer comes close to Didion.I am ridiculously angry, but not so this time.Evan Wright's account of our invasion of Iraq Generation Kill was outstanding, but for some reason I did not know his work as an essayist until I bought Hella Nation for medicinal reasons -- as an antidote to my television news addiction that occurred during the G20 Summit.The photograph on the cover reminded me of the G20 protesters in London who were being "kettled," almost as bad sounding as the term as "kindled," by the British police. Surely, Wright must have schooled himself on Didion.There is in my mind a mother - son bond between them.I am in no way a lurker at book signings, although I do attend them (politely, front row, nervous but prepared with a good question), but I do feel a visceral connection to writers' works.I organize "my writers" into a kind of family tree from which I remarkably descend, and rise out of myself.In short, I'm just another crazy fan.Truly, if I could had never read "Slouching Towards Bethlehem," I would be cheated from experiencing something magical in my otherwise dreary fate.Life without Didion would be like Jane Eyre NOT returning to Thornfield.What's next for this Didion freak?What else?I am going to read the other book Tom Carson places on his shelf with Didion (and Wright):Tony Horwitz' "Confederates in the Attic"Confederates in the Attic: Dispatches from the Unfinished Civil War.Any other suggestions?

5-0 out of 5 stars Classic and Wonderful
You enter a different world when you read this book (also Didion's White Album).It's not the California you see on television or People magazine; it's the gritty day to day California life, of the 1960's. ... Read more

4. The White Album: Essays (FSG Classics)
by Joan Didion
Paperback: 224 Pages (2009-11-10)
list price: US$14.00 -- used & new: US$7.25
(price subject to change: see help)
Asin: 0374532079
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First published in 1979, The White Album records indelibly the upheavals and aftermaths of the 1960s. Examining key events, figures, and trends of the era—including Charles Manson, the Black Panthers, and the shopping mall—through the lens of her own spiritual confusion, Joan Didion helped to define mass culture as we now understand it. Written with a commanding sureness of tone and linguistic precision, The White Album is a central text of American reportage and a classic of American autobiography.

... Read more

5. A Book of Common Prayer
by Joan Didion
Paperback: 272 Pages (1995-04-11)
list price: US$14.95 -- used & new: US$5.91
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Asin: 0679754865
Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars
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In this Conradian masterpiece of American innocence and evil set in the fictional Central American country of Boca Grande, two American women face the harsh realities, political and personal, of living on the edge in a land with an uncertain future. Writing with her signature telegraphic swiftness, the author creates a terrifying commentary on an age of conscienceless authority. ... Read more

Customer Reviews (11)

3-0 out of 5 stars Not for the Common Reader
My first Joan Didion fiction.The story is told by a friend of Charlotte.Charlotte's daughter is missing having joined revolutionary forces in a fictional Caribbean country.Charlotte seems to be in stupor while searching for her daughter.Charlotte is harassed by her ex-husband.Didion's writing doesn't follow a chronological frame.As a result, I felt as lost as Charlotte in a foreign country.Her writing style took an adjustment on my part, but I look forward to re-reading this work or reading other novels by Ms. Didion.

4-0 out of 5 stars "She died, hopeful. In Summary."
I may be too much of a lover of Didion's non-fiction works to take her fiction seriously.This being the third novel following detached and deluded female protagonists (after Run River and Play It As It Lays) into the extremes of their antipathy, it seems clear that, simply, her stories are too much work.A great Didion essay states its facts with such brutal lucidity, you barely notice the incisive, enraged, impassioned consciousness at their center.Her fiction makes you all too aware of the artifice behind the words, and though I believe A Book Of Common Prayer to be the best of the Didion novels I've read, I don't know that I fully bought the whole thing.

It begins strangely framed, like Didion's take on Cat's Cradle, an expatriate telling stories of other expatriates in Central America.Charlotte Douglass, the detached and deluded protagonist at its center, has details of great speculation - in the syntax of her storytelling and the odd personal attributes that get her, initially, under the investigation of a revolutionary government.But it's not until we visit her past in San Francisco, about her elusive daughter and two failed marriages, that the character really begins to come alive.Attached as Douglas's narrative is to the backdrop of a small revolutionary country, the story finds itself headed in an entirely different direction, quite successfully - it turns into Didion's That Obscure Object Of Desire rather than Didion's Cat's Cradle.There's a number of Didion's tendencies that still, I think, don't quite work in her fiction - her surprising leap into synopsis, her repetitive intrusion of key phrases, even her attempt to bookend the story in the same line seems a little (to be perfectly honest) stupid.But A Book of Common Prayer has undeniably more narrative verve than any of her previous fictional works - youmay, in a sense, not enjoy watching a clueless protagonist amidst a quietly revolutionary backdrop, but you begin to need to see it play out.

4-0 out of 5 stars Embrace the ambiguity!
This is a book that is hard to wrap your mind around. Didion does not tell you a clear story with well-defined characters and a plot-without-holes. Instead, the reader must do a little work here. It is what is not told in the story that is so fascinating. Didion appears to be making a comment on the impossibility of truly knowing other people's motivations, inner thoughts, and who they are at the core. All we can do as humans, and therefore in a sense informal anthropologists, is make assumptions from what we see, hear, and perceive. Sometimes we are correct; sometimes we are very wrong. But, that's okay. If you are the type of person who likes things neat and tidy, you will probably be disappointed. If you like books that make you draw your own conclusions, and perhaps feel ambivalent about most of the characters even to the end, then you will like this one. I tend to be the latter, so I did enjoy it.

5-0 out of 5 stars A Pleasure to Read.
This book has become one of my personal favorites.I found myself going back to the first chapter repeatedly to measure facts.A wonderful book to get lost in.

5-0 out of 5 stars The Revolution
In this uncommonly excellent prose, Ms. Didion describes an incredible scenario of a revolution in a Caribbean country.The country is dirt poor.There is no good water, there are no proper sewers and there are few good roads, except the one highway that leads to the house of El Presidente.

The people live in squalor and there are only a few people in this island of the damned who are in fact solvent.The story tells of the tale of an American lady, norteamericana, who comes to the island, for reasons even she herself does not know.Her life has been tragic and strange.Her child becomes an American revolutionary and is involved in the hijacking of a plan from California to Utah.She lives an underground life and has no connection to her parents, whom she rejects socially and economically.

Didion's reporting style writing is almost a perfect match for telling the story of this obscure countries political corruption and the insurgency that exists within.She uses her incredible ability to turn a phrase and then to use it multiple times for an emphasis that is extraordinary in painting the picture of the world about her.Charlotte Douglas has come here to figure out something, but what it is hard to tell.She seems to be adrift in the impoverished lands of Boca Grande which translates to "Big Bay" or also as Didion points out to "Big Mouth."

Those in charge do have big mouths and talk out of both sides of it.There is constantly a strange dance performed by the few landowning ruling class that is constantly trying to shift the balance of power on the island to accommodate their own personal purposes.In the ensuing revolutionary action, Charlotte is actually killed.She could have easily avoided this fate by leaving the country, but instead, she insists on staying and ends up shot and left for dead on the lawn of the abandoned American Embassy.

The beauty of the story is in the writing more than the events.With pure journalist style mixed with incredible fictional reality, Didion creates what could be typical of the Central American/Caribbean countries and their constant revolutions.Many get caught up in them and never emerge.Charlotte is one who does not emerge.

As modern fiction, the book has a style that is unique to Didion.The smoothness of the writing and the deadpan descriptiveness is purely hers.It is the one book that she has written that is truly appropriate for all Americans to read.The book is highly recommended for those looking to see great fiction encompass the horror of revolution. ... Read more

6. Run River
by Joan Didion
Paperback: 272 Pages (1994-04-26)
list price: US$14.00 -- used & new: US$7.96
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Asin: 0679752501
Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars
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Joan Didion's electrifying first novel begins with a murder on the bank of the Sacramento River--a murder that is at once an act of vengeance and a blind attempt to shore up a disintegrating marriage. Out of that act, Didion constructs a tragic and beautifully nuanced work of fiction. ... Read more

Customer Reviews (6)

4-0 out of 5 stars As Good a First Novel as FirstNovels Get
This first novel by one of modern America's prose-writing treasures is set in a part of California no one associates with the Golden State: the Sacramento Delta. The emotional and physical geography of the book blend seamlessly. Didion has since critiqued this book herself, in her much later prose reflection on California, "Where I Was From."She's a bit hard on her former self. This is a lucid, hard etched short novel on the same general theme as Tolstoi's "Anna Karenina":that is, how a uniquely unhappy family got that way. Didion is of an old California family. She takes no false pride in that, here or elsewhere. There is not a useless or spongy sentence in the whole book. Writers will be reminded of what they're supposed to be doing when they pick up a pen.

3-0 out of 5 stars Where she was from
There's a wealth of evidence in Run River (Didion's first book, published in 1963) that the world was to get one of its great writers, but it gets lost a bit in the story.Using a sort of end-of-the-golden era view of Sacramento land booms as its backdrop, it follows Lily and Everett, holdouts of the wealthy Knight and McClellan pioneer families that struck it rich in Northern California, an era described by Didion as "the cutting clean which was to have redeemed them all."Didion's sense of location and the specifics of the era is remarkable, so it takes little effort to be interested in the events, but set up as it is a framed story revolving around a murder, 20 years of backstory, and then the conclusion of the murder, she seems far too willing to make Run River an act of condemnation.I picked up Run River as a fervent reader of Didion's astonishing nonfiction works, and felt a little dismayed at first at my willingness to avoid reading the book.It's a feeling that goes away - the middle section of the book is filled with flawed, impish characters rendered in empathetic specifics, and is full of the humanely observed understatments that make Didion's best work so accessible (I am convinced no writer can devastate more with a seemingly average sentence - perfectly interrupted, of course).Still, returning to the murder at the end of the book, my reluctance returned, and I realized Didion's failure is to make the book a declaration of decay, to turn her events "tragic" (or, really, the stuff of nighttime soaps) in an attempt to critique the California pioneer identity.All this winds up doing is rendering the fates of her characters not all that important.Still, the book should be read for that glimmering center of the book, a time when its characters flaws are rendered rich with empathy - its chapters detailing Martha, Everett's sister, as she (miserably) attempts to conquer heartbreak with pioneering audacity shows Didion's characters as fascinating idealists, endearing in their quixotic fucntionlessness.

3-0 out of 5 stars Like A Meandering River
This first fiction story by Didion surely catches her at the beginning of her career as a fiction writer.Copyrighted 1961, it is her first fiction novel.The Didion reader will recognize it as an early work.It is meandering, difficult to follow and in fact, in some points, downright boring.

However, the seeds of a brilliant writer and observer of human behavior still shine through.The book is about human interactions, set in early California between about 1920 and 1959, the story traces a family and their quest for land ownership in the young State of California.

Her concentration is on the manner in which love is expressed in the family.She concentrates on the strengths of the loves and on the incredible weaknesses.Her depiction of a family in emotional shambles is clear.Her elucidation of a family in every type of crisis except financial, is stark. And her characterization of the intense philandering of both the men and the women in the family is revealing and unexpected to some extent; yet fully expected in another.

The book is recommended to Didion readers and is of interest in seeing how her style was refined and honed as she went on in her writing career.

5-0 out of 5 stars A Californian Elegy
This novel is early Didion, wonderfully lyrical and dark, passionate without sentimentality, and beyond conclusions.It is homage to James Jones, to William Faulkner, perhaps a little to John Steinbeck, but mostlyto a California now almost vanished.That California is mostly thesettlers' California, but it is also a California felt and knownaboriginally.She writes, as always, poignantly about things dying away:but the heirs live on and the Californian sun and hills, rivers and floods,carry on- the part of eternity we can know a little of.I liked this bookvery much, but the reader should be warned it is not a light read and notwritten as completely in Joan Didion's famously sharp style as her laterworks.

1-0 out of 5 stars Early Efforts an Excuse?
As a longtime Didion fan I was mildly disappointed with this text.It's cumbersome, swishy, and sloppy.It hints at phrases, and the sort of language she eventually uses later in her writing, but this early novel isexactly that...early.It shows promise, and is not entirely without wit,but it's weak and cumbersome plot, it's overwrought prose, and it'sharlequin voice were a disappointment given her profound later works. ... Read more

7. Democracy
by Joan Didion
Paperback: 240 Pages (1995-04-25)
list price: US$15.00 -- used & new: US$8.32
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Asin: 0679754857
Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars
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Moving between Honolulu, Jakarta and Saigon, against the historical backdrop of the final withdrawal from Vietnam, this novel is a bitingly funny, cumulatively devastating post-mortem of our national mores and institutions. A U.S. Senator, his wife, senatorial groupies and international arms dealing intersect with one another in this blistering indictment of American amnesia. ... Read more

Customer Reviews (7)

5-0 out of 5 stars A haunting, deeply affecting novel
"Democracy" is a powerful, even haunting story contemporary to the 1975 U.S. withdrawal from Vietnam.It follows the life of Inez Christian Victor, a US Senator's wife, who becomes disillusioned with the artificial, disingenuous world of her husband's political career.This becomes the catalyst for a personal unraveling, and ultimately, a discovery of her truer convictions.The reader is taken back and forth through Inez's past, her familial and societal conflicts, and especially her romance with Jack Lovett, an operative of a government agency dealing in arms procurement in southeast Asia in the 1950's, '60's and '70's. The cost to a culture of forgetting its history is clearly one of the main themes of the book, but there are others, all woven together in a rich tropical colored tapestry.
"Democracy" is one of my favorite novels, though for a long time I would have been hard pressed to explain exactly why.I have read it several times over the years and each time I find new things to appreciate in it.It has always seemed to me to be surprisingly moving, but as time has gone on seems now more personal, even more relevant, and for a twenty-five year old work of fiction that is impressive.
Don't expect a linear narrative, or a conventional style of writing.The book has neither.The author herself describes it as a book of "fitful glimpses" but in truth the writing is thoughtful, very tight and quite distinctive.I will always think of Inez in Kuala Lumpar, explaining why she remains there: "Colors, moisture, heat, enough blue in the air."A great Didion line, with just the right touch of romantic fatalism that admirers of her earlier work will appreciate.

4-0 out of 5 stars At The Edge of the American Century
Joan Didion's "Democracy" is worth reading for the style alone. There's nothing to match Didion at the top of her form, as in "A Book of Common Prayer" or "Salvador", and "Democracy" is as good as anything she's ever written: austere, pitiless, unblinking, tinged with irony dry as the finest gin. Here we are in Hawaii in 1975 as Saigon falls and the American Century unravels, and Didion moves back and forth between a tropic lushness and the chaos in Vietnam, telling a love story that reaches back to the days when Honolulu was still a dreamy colonial outpost and outward to the ugly side of American electoral politics. She sums up her characters-- and her countrymen --near the end: believers in the "American exemption", believers in the idea that individual wishes and efforts can change a world shaped by too much history and too many faceless forces. She gives us Jack Lovett, too, her central male figure-- player and fixer in the clandestine games of the Cold War in Asia, lover of the teenaged Inez Victor, rescuer of Inez's drug-addled daughter, who runs off in April 1975 to be a waitress in Saigon. "Democracy" should be paired with Didion's "The Last Thing He Wanted"--- both letter-perfect treatments of love and family and the frayed edges of empire.

2-0 out of 5 stars Bore-acracy
I have just finished reading this book as a selection by my book club. I've only read Didion's "A Year of Magical Thinking" and a few essays prior to this "novel".Joan should stick to essays and first person accounts. Democracy, as another reviewer stated, is a compliation of glimpses.Everything is glimpses and in order to fill it out to novel length, Didion puffs it up by adding herself as the novelist to the mix.
The novel is utterly pointless, the characters are thinly developed, even the heroine, the plot is aimless, and the timeline is staggeringly difficult to keep up with.Read something else by Joan Didion - not this.

4-0 out of 5 stars Glimpses Of Democracy
Didion's style in this book is truly arresting.At points, the reader is just stopped, in consideration of what the author has just revealed.Her book is interesting in its style.She does in fact talk to the reader several times through the book.She develops the characters in glimpses and the plot as well; as she moves through the story of her protagonist's life.She describes a prior attempt at Democracy, that did not come to fruition.And she mixes in a dash of American Democracy and its elections and nominations.

Set in circa 1975 mostly, it speaks about the end of the Viet Nam war, but through the side long glances of people who were involved, but not talking about the fighting.Her depiction of the era and the locales is very precise, despite its exposition in little bits and pieces.The story is gripping, although not suspenseful.The book surely does exhibit Didion in one of her best written fictional books.

As a journalistically styled piece the book does a very fine job of helping people start to understand the ephemeral attitude of the people and the country in the days of the war.Disillusionment abounds.Death and destruction and human suffering are implied, but not explicitly discussed.And the message, that of one who is always trying to find oneself, but may be lost in her own mind, is universal.

The book is especially recommended for readers who are interested in the late `60's early `70's era in America.The book is truly a fine piece of literature, surrounded by events and scenery, much more than driven by the plot.But the statement is well worth reading.

5-0 out of 5 stars Exceptional
Didion has a unique, powerful style. It reminds me of Joseph Heller's Catch 22 in its irony and suppressed rage, but Didion's prose is just so elegant."Democracy" is both a romantic and a political novel, with both themes beautifully intertwined.This is an exceptional work. Didion's heroine reminds one of several of her other heroines, coming from a background where she is expected to be an adornment and where the strains of playing that role take a psychological toll.In Democracy,the heroine is psychologically stronger than in some of the other novels,plays on a larger canvas, and is ultimately able to more successfully express her inner strengths andmorality.Interestingly, Didion injects herself into the novel as the narrator, and yes, Didion did work briefly at Vogue, and of course was both a reporter and a novelist.My guess is that the conceit of starting to write one novel, and ultimately writing a different one, was probably accurate. ... Read more

8. Vintage Didion
by Joan Didion
Paperback: 208 Pages (2004-01-06)
list price: US$10.95 -- used & new: US$5.98
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Asin: 1400033934
Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars
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Vintage Readers are a perfect introduction to some of the greatest modern writers presented in attractive, accessible paperback editions.

“Didion has the instincts of an exceptional reporter and the focus of a historian . . . a novelist’s appreciation of the surreal.” —Los Angeles Times Book Review

Whether she’s writing about civil war in Central America, political scurrility in Washington, or the tightl -braided myths and realities of her native California, Joan Didion expresses an unblinking vision of the truth.

Vintage Didion includes three chapters from Miami; an excerpt from Salvador; and three separate essays from After Henry that cover topics from Ronald Reagan to the Central Park jogger case. Also included is “Clinton Agonistes” from Political Fictions, and “Fixed Opinions, or the Hinge of History,” a scathing analysis of the ongoing war on terror. ... Read more

Customer Reviews (1)

5-0 out of 5 stars Essay Writing at its finest!
Everthing from the Patty Hearst case to uprisings in San Salvador to the Central Park Jogger case and political and international affairs through 2002 are covered in this spendid collection of essays. Didion's writing is some of the best I've seen (in essay form that is). She drives further and harder to the point of her message--supplementing it with quotes from a very extensive bibliography.

This is a case where, the longer the piece, the better, though all were very, very well written and formulated. I found her deptiction of Nancy Reagan in the "Fisher King" piece hilarious and her history of Central Park's construction/development very intriguing in "Sentimental Journeys."

This is truly a wonderful reader. ... Read more

9. Where I Was From
by Joan Didion
Paperback: 240 Pages (2004-09-14)
list price: US$13.95 -- used & new: US$6.57
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Asin: 0679752862
Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars
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In her moving and insightful new book, Joan Didion reassesses parts of her life, her work, her history and ours. A native Californian, Didion applies her scalpel-like intelligence to the state's ethic of ruthless self-sufficiency in order to examine that ethic's often tenuous relationship to reality.

Combining history and reportage, memoir and literary criticism, Where I Was From explores California's romances with land and water; its unacknowledged debts to railroads, aerospace, and big government; the disjunction between its code of individualism and its fetish for prisons. Whether she is writing about her pioneer ancestors or privileged sexual predators, robber barons or writers (not excluding herself), Didion is an unparalleled observer, and her book is at once intellectually provocative and deeply personal. ... Read more

Customer Reviews (20)

4-0 out of 5 stars Remembrance of a Past Time
Ms. Didion reflects on the California of her youth, the attendant mythology of the early state pioneers, robber barons and persistent cycle of dependence onfederal government funds,be they via the Southern Pacific RR in the 19th C. or defense industry through the 20th and into 21st C.Recommended!

2-0 out of 5 stars Not worth it.
I read the book in a California history class and learned nothing from it. The book is nothing but a tirade against California agriculture, industry, and culture.Her views are totally bias, and she focuses on isolated events in California's history.It's no worth the read.If you don't like California, you may like this book.

5-0 out of 5 stars Where we are all from
We all see the world through different eyes.This is what she saw.Such clarity and, in the end, so touching.

5-0 out of 5 stars Some dreamers of the golden dream
"A good deal about California does not, on its own preferred terms, add up."This sentence, which opens Didion's third chapter in Where I Was From, is characteristic of the sort of pummeling understatement and reserve that characterizes all of Didion's work - humble, free of ostentation, profound in implication.No, the California Didion presents does not add up - a place defined by a jettisoning pioneer spirit "destroyed" by its own sense of development, a place defined equally by class as it is by people who say sentences like "we don't discuss class here," a place , Didion's Sacramento specifically, both defined by and existing in spite of its geography.Her contradictions of place and identity take Didion from one heavily scrutinized example to another - the Spur Posse, Boeing, Douglas, pioneers on the Sierra Nevadas, prisons, insane asylums - and if Didion's argument of conflicted identity doesn't always connect in thinking later about her specifics, the reading is as fluid, as full-bodied in argument and fact, as merciless an investigation as anything she's ever written.Didion has long been defined by her identity to California, something that comes up in all of her writings, whether in New York or El Salvador, so to see her tackle it so specifically - at one point even deconstructing (with fascinating effect) her own first novel, Run River - is a thrill.What will be of most fascination, undoubtedly, will be the 4th section of the book, the short, devastating section detailing the death of Didion's mother, yet what makes this piece so compelling is the grand scale of Didion's research and work - her California becomes a grand exercise in characterization.Her description in this section is some of the most agonizingly evoked, rich, and understated work of her career, and if the sections preceding it - highly descriptive, full of research often much fuller and drier than expected - can seem aimless when thinking about them, the finest compliment I can give Where I Was From is that, in the effortless and moving reading of the book, it evokes exactly what Didion wants of California, of her, and of her mother, and no more.

5-0 out of 5 stars Enjoyed the book....but one passage bugged me about Yosemite Indians.
I always enjoy reading Joan Didion, but this observation about Thomas Kinkade kinda bugged me:

"This "Kinkade Glow" could be seen as derived in spirit from the "lustrous, pearly mist" that Mark Twain had derided in the Bierstadt paintings, and, the level of execution to one side, there are certain unsettling simi­larities between the two painters. "After completing my recent plein air study of Yosemite Valley, the mountains' majesty refused to leave me," Kinkade wrote in June 2000 on his web site. "When my family wandered through the national park visitor center, I discovered a key to my fan­tasy-a recreation of a Miwok Indian Village. When I returned to my studio, I began work on The Mountains Declare His Glory, a poetic expression of what I felt at that transforming moment of inspiration. As a final touch, I even added a Miwok Indian Camp along the river as an affirmation that man has his place, even in a setting touched by God's glory."

Affirming that man has his place in the Sierra Nevada by reproducing the Yosemite National Park Visitor Cen­ter's recreation of a Miwok Indian Village is identifiable as a doubtful enterprise on many levels (not the least of which being that the Yosemite Miwok were forcibly run onto a reservation near Fresno during the Gold Rush...."

Sorry, but the original Indians of Yosemite were actually Paiutes and not Miwoks. It is one of those big injustices in the world. You see the Miwoks were the ones who were the scouts and guides for the Mariposa Battalion who ran down and captured the original Yosemite Indians. Those were Mono Paiutes.


You can see by reading this book by Bunnell. It is very great book. But I always enjoy reading Joan's work.

... Read more

10. The White Album
by Joan Didion
Paperback: 224 Pages (1993-01-25)
list price: US$14.45 -- used & new: US$14.28
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Asin: 0006545866
Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars
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First published in 1979, The White Album is a mosaic of the late sixties and seventies. It includes, among other bizarre artifacts and personalities, the dark journeys and impulses of the Manson family, a Balck Panther Party press conference, the story of John Paul Getty's museum, the romance of water in an arid landscape, and the swirl and confusion of the sixties. With commanding sureness of mood and language, Joan Didion exposes the realities and dreams of that age of self-discovery whose spiritual center was California.
... Read more

Customer Reviews (19)

5-0 out of 5 stars wishes i could give this six stars
This book took me a while to read, not because it is thick(which it isn't) But because their was so much being said in Joan's writing style. She put alot of emotion and hidden meanings into her stories. She is so succinct at weaving words together, I could picture her in my head going through all these things. I really felt for her when she talked about getting physically and mentally ill from the constant run run of life. Maybe it is because like Joan , I am a sagittarius and sometimes need to go walking at the mall alone just to recharge my batteries.
Alot of people accuse her of being shy,boring,weird, and umemotionally detached .These people must have not read her essay decrying the woman's movement or the artwork of Georgia O' keefe.A boring person would have never went clubbing with Janis Joplin or Jim Morrison.
The only bad thing about it is I didn't know some of the events she was talking about ( such as the Sharon Tate murder) so, I had to look them up on wikipedia.
I hope you give this sensitive ,beach loving woman a listen, she has alot to say.

5-0 out of 5 stars A classic
One of the great essay collections of the late 20th Century. It, and Slouching Toward Bethlehem, made Joan Didion famous and established her credentials as an brilliantly original American writer and intellectual. These two books are not only to be read, but treasured. Put them aside and come back to them a few years later, and they're just as good as the first time you read them.

4-0 out of 5 stars As Good As Ever...
Joan Didion captured me with her "Year of Magical Thinking", which led me to discover her long after most everyone else. Many are put off by her personal lens through which she views her subjects and the very personal webs that she weaves that bring anecdotal narrative threads together unexpectedly to close a loop you never saw coming. I confess that I am one of those who are fascinated with insider views of the California Caltran highway system, the water control authority, and the lifeguards at Malibu. The book is nicely divided into three high level subject areas, allowing the reader to safely skim or skip at will...my highlights were the California pieces, along with The White Album and The End of the Sixties. These read as well as they did thirty years ago, and are poignant in
the context of the tragic events of her later life. If I didn't already own it, I'd buy the new edition in a minute.

5-0 out of 5 stars Great seller
Had to return this book but was pleased with the ease of return and contact from seller. Will use this seller again.

5-0 out of 5 stars In Ghostlier Demarcations Keener Sounds
The traditional essayist is a sense-maker and an imposer of order, and in order to make sense and impose order traditional essayists assume anauthorial command over their material (which is often their own lives, and/or their own historical period). But the really good essayists do not present themselves as authority figures who have the power to make sense of themselves and/or of the historical period they are living through. The good ones know that ages do not have names and that people remain mysterious, even to themselves.

Though there have been other essayist that share Didion's disdain for simplistic narrative, she really does not belong to any tradition of American essayists. But she's not a champion of the avant-garde either (not in the way Sontag was). I would say that her temperament is conservative (she wants things to make sense, to cohere) but never governed by or determined by any ideological preconceptions of how things should be or how we would like them to be. Her narrative style acknowledges and accomodates complexity and combats simplicity as well as undermines our desire to fully comprehend. Her work presents a challenge to what we know as well as our ways of knowing. Therefore reading Didion is unsettling, discomfitting. The essays succeed precisely because she does not try to name the thing that she writes about with nice clarifying titles or topic sentences, rather she presents her own competing impressions and competing ideas about the unnamable something that has her interest. What has her interest in THE WHITE ALBUM are the 1960's and early 70's and here she is very good at conveying her own singular impressions of that particularly chaotic time, or, more accurately, her own motions of thought and cognitive insecurities during that moment in time when no event or person encountered seemed to be operating according to rational or knowable laws. She is in many ways our poet of the irrational. Instead of presenting her observations in neat linear patterns that follow a single structuring logos, she presents them as the myriad fragmented interventions that they are. She leaves the sense-making, the imposition of order, to others. ... Read more

11. The Last Thing He Wanted
by Joan Didion
Paperback: 240 Pages (1997-09-02)
list price: US$13.95 -- used & new: US$2.50
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Asin: 0679752854
Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars
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Leaving the presidential campaign she had been covering for a major newspaper to do a favor for her father, journalist Elena McMahon finds herself trapped on an island in which intrigue, assassination, and arms dealing have superseded tourism as the major industry. Reprint. 60,000 first printing. NYT. "Amazon.com Review
Elena McMahon is a reporter for the Washington Post andthe unlikely inheritor of her father's complex and secretive life asan arms dealer for the U.S. Government in Central America. The year is1984, and as she flies to an unnamed island off the coast of CostaRica, she is oblivious to the spies, American military personnel, andthe consequences of her father's errors that await her. She's alsounprepared for the advances of Treat Morrison, an American diplomatwhose service under six administrations has made him a "crisisjunkie." Treat narrates this story, offering a unique perspectiveon Elena, a woman who abandons one life for another. ... Read more

Customer Reviews (13)

3-0 out of 5 stars Tedious and mannered
Didion is a masterful writer, but after reading this one I'm beginning to agree with another reviewer who felt she does better with nonfiction.The Last Thing He Wanted reminded me a lot of The Book of Common Prayer, with its odd, drifting, off-kilter women out of their league in out-of-the way, seedy, menacing tropical locations.In both cases there's a lot of mood, but not too much else.

The subject matter--a covert arms deal during the the Reagan years--seems dated to me; a sordid little chapter in American history that I have little interest in revisiting. I'm not sure why Didion felt it was a great premise for a novel when she wrote it more than a decade later.But, I thought, in the hands of a great writer, almost anything can be interesting.And Didion is a great writer. I loved The White Album, for example. But for me, her greatness lies in her spare, pointed, insightful, dry style. Here, her style is anything but direct; instead, she takes forever to convey what's going on, repeating phrases incessantly, burying the thin plot with self-conscious literary devices.I can enjoy style for the sake of style, but here, it just didn't work for me.I found it labored and difficult to little effect. It was too hard to care about anyone in the story enough to want to follow along with her gimmicky prose.I'll definitely read more Didion, but I'll think twice before reading another novel that's anything like this one.

5-0 out of 5 stars perfectly written
In my view, Didion is as close to perfect as any living writer, and this book represents the top of her form.It is a quiet book, its excellence pervasive but never showy.

The fact that this book has averaged three stars here says something about amazon but little about the book.Perhaps I shouldn't criticize - the level of discourse is higher than, say, youtube.

5-0 out of 5 stars Didion's no slouch!
This is a great read. I wasn't sure if I was interested in the subject (not a big fan of conspiracy theories or the mid-80's), but I wanted to read a Joan Didion novel and this is the one that was on the shelf. I loved it. Reading this novel is like being Elena McMahon/Elise Meyer for 227 pages; her dreams and memories, the catch-phrases. A definite must-read.

3-0 out of 5 stars What to Make of It, I Don't Know
I have read several of Didion's non-fiction essay collections and this was the second of the writer's novels for me, after "Play It As It Lays."Reading "The Last Thing" made me feel stupid, and thus I was relieved to see that it averaged only three stars and that I was not the only one who found the prose somewhat irritating and the non-linear narrative quite confusing (for me, this was compounded by the fact that after putting it down I was generally not in a hurry to pick it up again).While I cared about the heroine, Elena, I gave up caring when it was revealed that so-and-so was really someone else, chiefly because these revelations were usually delivered much after the fact and in a way that seemed airless.Similar to "Play It As It Lays" (which is told in a generally linear fashion), Didion is masterful at instilling a sense of profound dread in the reader as the main character's world unravels and foreshadows her ultimate fate.However, Didion's usual bag of tricks, such as beginning a series of sentences with the same clause, repeating a quote/thought almost obsessively ("We used to have a real life and just because I'm your daughter I'm supposed to like it and I don't"), and cryptic sentences didn't seem to work here.One wants her to just get to the point.If you have never read Didion fiction I would recommend you start with the classic "Play It As It Lays."If you read "Last Thing" first you may never read another Didion anything, and that would be a damn shame.

3-0 out of 5 stars For Didion fans only
Perhaps Didion has done as much as she can with her distinctive prose style,maybe she has gotten a little bored with it, and should have attempted something different.The protagonist is very familiar, as is her "almost" lover, and the narrator.The result is a book I can only recommend for those who have loved her previous novels - I fit in that category. It helps that the plot is actually pretty good.And whenever I am reluctant to let something go, I will remember Treat Morrison commenting "I mean you could add it up, but where does it get you".As good as anything in "Casablanca". ... Read more

12. Play It As It Lays: A Novel
by Joan Didion
Paperback: 240 Pages (2005-11-15)
list price: US$14.00 -- used & new: US$5.00
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Asin: 0374529949
Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars
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A ruthless dissection of American life in the late 1960s, Play It as It Lays captures the mood of an entire generation, the ennui of contemporary society reflected in spare prose that blisters and haunts the reader. Set in a place beyond good and evil-literally in Hollywood, Las Vegas, and the barren wastes of the Mojave Desert, but figuratively in the landscape of an arid soul-it remains more than three decades after its original publication a profoundly disturbing novel, riveting in its exploration of a woman and a society in crisis and stunning in the still-startling intensity of its prose.
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Customer Reviews (35)

5-0 out of 5 stars Like Eating with a Knife
This author won't spoon feed you, so don't expect it. Didion is like a skillful gin player; laying down the cards as she must, tossing what is (uninteresting or) not useful, away.

Play It As It Lays is a novel that doles out the plot in pieces, and the characters in passing glimpses. We don't much like the main character because she'll not let us know her. We sense her beauty is a tool but we don't even know for sure she is beautiful, she just acts like a beautiful woman, her spirit alone behind her skin, locked away and set free only when behind the wheel of her Corvette.

Didion's work is brilliantly played, so sophisticated and brutally distant.We see ourselves in her characters because they are played so close to the writer's chest, as if Didion is stealing from her own deck.

4-0 out of 5 stars Bret Ellis-lite
I know, I know, Ellis totally totally robbed Didion. There is no question. This book and Less Than Zero are like estranged cousins living similarly damaged lives in the same city. This book is arguably more subdued, as it takes place in the 60s and doesn't end with the kind of horrific imagery that the Zero does. It is brisk, semi-brutal (not really compared to Ellis) and more than a little harrowing. A woman is confounded, side-lined, and generally made to feel the pain of a male-dominated, coldly hedonistic culture. She must have an abortion, gets harangued on movie sets, wanders aimlessly, lies around in bed a lot feeling blue. It is depressing, for sure, but well written with a kind of needle-point clarity Ellis surely must have found intriguing, as he pilfered it for his own. If Less than Zero was too much for you, you might find something to "enjoy" here. It is pretty ennui-ridden, but is over quickly. A kind of void of a novel. You'll see.

3-0 out of 5 stars Never ask
"What makes Iago evil?" some ask. "I never ask."
The first line of dialogue from the zoned out protagonist, Maria Wyeth. I've always found it pretentious, but it describes Maria perfectly. Maria isn't curious. She doesn't ask. She's dazed and confused, and she plays it as it lays.
This book is as bleak and stark as the desert Maria circumnavigates in her purposeless drives across the freeway. Maria's husband is abusive, her daughter retarded, her friends creeps, alcoholics, and users. Things just happen to her. She gets pregnant. She has an abortion. Her best friend's husband commits suicide and by the end of the novel, Maria ends up in the loony bin throwing the I-Ching--a game of chance.Before you read this book, make sure you have a month's supply of anti-depressents on hand. You'll need them. Despite that, Didion's prose is compelling in its deadpan, anomic way.

5-0 out of 5 stars One man's humble opinion
This is as fine a novel as I've enjoyed in a while. I missed it when it first came out but was reminded of its existence by a friend. I'm one of those who keeps playing the game even after I've seen nothing and could not say why. I loved this book and would highly recommend it.

4-0 out of 5 stars Is "Play It As It Lays" relevant to modern culture?
We are reading this book in an online book club ([...]) in Dallas, and though "Play It As It Lays" is almost forty years old -- amazing to consider, really -- some think the ennui, narcissism, and boredom characterize American culture now. Maria is as hollow a character as I've encountered, and she "lived" at a time when abortion was a shameful, whispered event; when divorce was less commonplace but building; when sex and drugs were newly widespread, and feminism was taking hold. She was (oddly) independently wealthy, so she literally and figuratively could follow any road she pleased. And she followed almost all of them. Is Maria a creature of her times? Or someone who speaks directly to our culture now?I would like to hear your thoughts (on this site or follow to link above). ... Read more

13. Miami
by Joan Didion
Paperback: 240 Pages (1998-09-29)
list price: US$14.00 -- used & new: US$7.50
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Asin: 0679781803
Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars
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It is where Fidel Castro raised money to overthrow Batista and where two generations of Castro's enemies have raised armies to overthrow him, so far without success. It is where the bitter opera of Cuban exile intersects with the cynicism of U.S. foreign policy. It is a city whose skyrocketing murder rate is fueled by the cocaine trade, racial discontent, and an undeclared war on the island ninety miles to the south.

As Didion follows Miami's drift into a Third World capital, she also locates its position in the secret history of the Cold War, from the Bay of Pigs to the Reagan doctrine and from the Kennedy assassination to the Watergate break-in. Miami is not just a portrait of a city, but a masterly study of immigration and exile, passion, hypocrisy, and political violence. ... Read more

Customer Reviews (8)

2-0 out of 5 stars OK

This is a complex and detailed history chiefly of Cuban exiles in South Florida and the influence they have been able to wield regionally and internationally with and without the help of various U.S. administrations. In that sense, it is the story of two cities - Miami and Washington - and two peoples - Americans and Cubans.

I have an objection, though, with the stone-hard style in which this volume is so meticulously, even gorgeously at times, written. Didion strives to be so achingly academic that there is little real heart to this book and, worse, the result is a cold, humorless, colorless story that is at times an unappealing example of ideological abstractions and alphabet soup.

The author, in her conspicuously clean and parenthetical prose, apparently is so charged by the subject of her research that she has forgotten there are people on the other end - readers. It is, in that sense, a boring little disaster of a book.

2-0 out of 5 stars Outdated---Ancient History
Exiled Cubans in Miami up to 1987. This is real old stuff. I wonder why this book is still being published. Felt like a collection of shorter magazine--newspaper articles compiled to look like a real book. Many long, disjointed sentences. Could use an updating. There must be better books out there about this topic.

5-0 out of 5 stars Masterful detail
Didion produces a masterful detailing of Miami history through Cuban immigration and their rise to power in the city.Highly recommended.

5-0 out of 5 stars A Story Perhaps Only a Novelist Can Tell Well
The story of the Cuban exiles in Miami deserves to be told with drama and passion because that is what it has been.In this page-turner, Joan Didion captures the rejection and racism that the Cuban exiles first encountered in Miami when they emigrated from Cuba after Castro assumed power.She shows how some of the Cubans became successful businesspersons, political powerbrokers, shapers of local culture, renowned humanitarians and philanthropists, expert propagandists, able diplomats, drug runners, muggers, and internationally renowned terrorists.

We see the close relationship the Cuban exiles formed with the USA government, especially its clandestine agencies.We learn that in the 1960s Miami essentially became a CIA recruiting and operational-staging center.Didion tells us that the CIA had as much as 120,000 "regular agents" (full and part-time) stationed in south Florida.It had a flotilla of small boats (often used for terrorist raids on Cuba), making it the third largest navy in the western hemisphere at the time. It owned airline companies in the Miami area and holding companies that lent itself loans for covert operations."There were [also] hundreds of pieces of Miami real estate, residential bungalows maintained as safe houses, waterfront properties maintained as safe harbors" as well as "fifty five other front businesses" and "CIA boat shops," "guns shops," real-estate, travel and detective agencies (pp. 90-91).

Yet the relationship between the Cuban Americans and the USA has been a troubled one.Although the Cuban Americans find themselves dependent on the USA for maintaining their struggle against Castro, they also don't trust the government, blaming it for their loss at the Bay of Pigs and for adopting policies soft on Castro.Likewise, the USA finds some Cuban Americans helpful in its secret foreign adventures (Chile, Nicaragua, Angola, etc.) as well as a nuisance when these terrorist elements assassinate foreign diplomats, blow up airplanes and banks, and murder USA citizens.

Particularly poignant is Didion's description of the Cuban Americans' personal and often internecine struggle over understanding themselves as immigrants or exiles.These struggles have resulted in broken friendships, shunning, public ridicule, financial loss, bodily harm and death.

The book only covers Miami until 1987.I wish Didion would update the book, although it might be dangerous for her to do so.

This is a great read and well worth the purchase.

5-0 out of 5 stars Excellent perspective on Miami
I read this book so many years ago, but I just now realized I had never shared my opnions about it.I had lived in Miami for about eight years, and I think I was in my 5th year or so when I finally heard about "Miami" by Joan Didion.It was only after I had finally moved to the Beach that I happened upon it, at Kafka's.At any rate, it is an excellent book.I think about it every time I hear on the news about the bumbling CIA or news of Castro makes the NYTimes.Incidentally, 1987 also saw the publication of "The Corpse Had a Familiar Face," by Edna Buchanan, another equally excellent non-fiction book about this city.I also highly recommend "A Book of Common Prayer" by Ms. Didion. ... Read more

14. Telling Stories
by Joan DIDION
 Paperback: Pages (1978-01-01)

Isbn: 1125650443
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15. Fixed Ideas: America Since 9.11
by Joan Didion
Paperback: 56 Pages (2003-04)
list price: US$7.95 -- used & new: US$3.24
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Asin: 1590170733
Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars
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Novelist and essayist Joan Didion writes about the refusal of Americans to openly discuss and debate the Bush administration's new unilateralism toward both domestic and international policies since 9/11. This provocative and persuasive essay was originally published in The New York Review of Books, and garnered a tremendous response from the magazine's readers. In a preface commissioned for this book edition, Frank Rich, the popular op-ed columnist for The New York Times, echoes her argument with his own passionate analysis. Fixed Ideas is an incisive, timely political commentary from an American virtuoso. ... Read more

Customer Reviews (5)

5-0 out of 5 stars ThisisoneofthebestbooksavailableonBush'swar

As anyone looks back on the quagmire in Iraq, and increasingly so in Afghanistan, this book becomes ever more valuable as an example of the pre-war intelligence that challenged the rush to war.

Everyone knows of the "intelligence" failures about the "weapons of mass destruction" and the like.This slim book, well worth the new or used price, offers the other "intelligence".It is concisely the good intelligence of a prescient writer who cautioned against a headlong plunge into war based on foolish assumptions and the fatuous dreams of President George Bush and the neocons ("neocons" is short for "neo conservatives" and not for "new con artists" as rational readers might assume).

It's foolish to assert what President Al Gore would have done in the aftermath of a 9-11 attack;however, one element is certain:he would have paid heed to the voices of intellectual ability, as typified by Didion in this book.Vigorous and free-ranging debate was the policy during the Clinton administration, rather than ignoring the advice of senior military leaders and recklessly plunging into war to satisfy an ideological whim.

That's what makes this book so disturbing.War wasn't the only option in 2003;it isn't the only option now.In retrospect, any other choice than war would have been preferable.In retrospect, only a madman would send more than 3,000 Americans to their deaths, mostly at the hands of Iraqis who want all foreigners out of their country, but with some help from al Qaeda.

'Fixed Ideas' is really a misnomer;the reality, as Didion makes clear, is that "ideas" in America changed very dramatically after 9-11 to the detriment of democracy, free speech and rational debate.A few people retained the courage to speak out, or "write out" as in this book;for most, minds slammed shut and were locked with the hatred of revenge.She is absolutely right the new 'fixed ideas' were for war and against all dissent or rational questioning.

Didion presents a reminder that freedom is a value, one that should not be lost even when people face unknowable threats and fears.The neocon crushing of dissent is as dangerous to America as the Taliban crushing of free thought.New or used, borrowed or bought, 'Fixed Ideas' is as valuable today as in 2003;perhaps more so, because it is a cogent reminder of what we must rebuild.

5-0 out of 5 stars Not for the Bulk Buying Club apparently
I'm confused by the tone of the reviews.Perhaps it has to do with my not being the type of person who self-describes as "patrician" or the type who'd give a Joan Rivers' "book" on Jewelry five stars?
Or maybe it's because I don't bulk buy at Sam's Club?
I certainly don't purchase a book based on page numbers.
Didion's concise essay has all the hallmarks that have made her one of our finer written voices.Yes, the text is "only" forty-four pages.(And the price is "only" $7.95.)If you're attempting to fill the trunk of your car, this isn't your cup of "patrician" tea.
But if you're wanting to read what one of our foremost writers makes of a situation that shook the country and the official response that followed then this is a read you won't want to miss.
For those who might carp of the "length," it's worth noting that Didion can do more with one carefully crafted sentence than most authors can do with a lengthy chapter.
Quality isn't measured by page count and those who can grasp that and those who enjoy strong writing will enjoy this book.

3-0 out of 5 stars A look at post-9/11 America
"Fixed Ideas: America Since 9.11," by Joan Didion, features a preface by Frank Rich.The title page notes that the text is "as published in The New York Review of Books of January 16, 2003."The copyright page notes further that the book is based on a lecture given by the author at the New York Public Library on Nov. 13, 2002.It's a short book (44 plus xiv pages).

The book is an attempt to look critically at the "national pieties," or fixed opinions that seem to have gripped the U.S. national psyche since the terrorist attacks of 2001.Didion discusses the "death of irony," conflicting ideas and attitudes since 9/11, the "New American Unilateralism," etc.She also tries to put "the inevitability of going to war with Iraq" in historical context.

Didion's intentions strike me as admirable, but in the end I found the book to be lacking in profound new insight.Although she raises some intriguing issues, the text is oddly inert and ends abruptly.Still, it's worth reading if you're interested in the cultural debates spawned in the aftermath of 9/11.

3-0 out of 5 stars Beautiful essay, but does it deserve a whole book?
I'm not sure why this essay from The New York Review of Books of January 16, 2003 was made into a book.It's more like a pamphlet, and a short one at that.Of course Joan Didion is an icon of the American left and a prose stylist deluxe as well as a trenchant social and political critic.Perhaps what Didion has to say is of great importance and perhaps she says it very well.Clearly the unstated assumption of the essay--that we would in fact bring about a regime change in Iraq (that is, we would invade Iraq) has proven prescient.

Didion's essay is in three parts.The first part is mostly an observation on how the Bush administration is attempting to preempt criticism of its policies by labeling critics as somehow unpatriotic or worse.One of the nice points she makes is that the "war on terror" is a misnomer since terror is not a state but a technique. (p. 8)

In the second part she identifies the first "fixed idea."She is talking about the government ofIsrael.She writes, "Whether the actions taken by that government constitute self-defense or a particularly inclusive form of self-immolation remains an open question."She goes on to say that almost no one in the US dare challenge the fixed idea that we must support the actions of the Israeli government.She says that the question is seldom discussed rationally or at all (in her circle, it would seem) because "few of us are willing to see our evenings turn toxic." ( p. 23)That she herself has to bury this assertion into the very middle of her essay and to express it so obliquely reinforces her point perhaps more strongly than she might have imagined.

In the third part she reveals the second fixed idea, which she identifies as the "theory" behind the "regime change in Iraq" pronouncements made in 2002 by President Bush."I made up my mind [the President had said in April] that Saddam needs to go." (p. 36)The "theory" that Didion is talking about is sometimes called "The Bush Doctrine" or "The New American Unilateralism" or more bluntly, "The American Empire."The second fixed idea then is that "with the collapse of the Soviet Union" we have an opportunity and an obligation to move unilaterally and preemptively against our enemies as an imperial power might.

I'm not going to evaluate Didion's argument here--that is something you will want to do yourself--except to say that:

1) In reference to the rather high-handed attempt at managing the press and public opinion by the Bush administration, had the Democrats been in the White House post 9/11 they would have done something similar.

2) The actions of Hamas and the other Palestinian suicide/murder organizations make it difficult to take any side other than Israel's.If the Palestinian people had better leadership that would pursue their goals in the spirit and manner of, say, Gandhi or Martin Luther King Jr., they would find widespread (although not majority) support in the US; indeed, I believe, given world opinion, they would be successful.

3) Yes, we are indeed seeing the emergence of an American Empire.Whether we will have the wisdom to use our power so that we do not go the way of Rome in a relatively quick manner will depend on our ability to work with other nations for the betterment of the entire planet.This is something the Bush administration is not doing very well, but there is hope that the next administration will be wiser.

5-0 out of 5 stars Oh see what we cannot say
What has happened to freedom of speech in America?Why are we not publicly and openly debating the self-serving and undeomocratic policies of the Bush administration?Didion, in another fine essay on American life, asks these questions and tries to answer them.This is a fine book for anyone who worries about our nation proceeding out of control in its war for oil and corporate interests.Didion is clear in her concerns about why we have lost our powers of free speech and citizenship.A must read for anyone who cares about this nation. ... Read more

16. The Year of Magical Thinking: The Play
by Joan Didion
Paperback: 62 Pages (2007-05-15)
list price: US$12.00 -- used & new: US$5.97
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Asin: 0307386414
Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars
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“this happened on December 30, 2003. That may seem a while ago but it won’t when it happens to you . . .”

In this dramatic adaptation of her award-winning, bestselling memoir (which Michiko Kakutani in The New York Times called “an indelible portrait of loss and grief . . . a haunting portrait of a four-decade-long marriage), Joan Didion transforms the story of the sudden and unexpected loss of her husband and their only daughter into a stunning and powerful one-woman play.

The first theatrical production of The Year of Magical Thinking opened at the Booth Theatre on March 29, 2007, starring Vanessa Redgrave and directed by David Hare. ... Read more

Customer Reviews (4)

1-0 out of 5 stars Too much thinking, too little magic
My review is actually based on seeing the play recently here in DC. I found it interesting that one can receive either the play or the book with such dramatically divergent reactions. I would say my theater-going experience was quite in line with several of the negative comments about the book--

Sorry, but all I could think after seeing it was that every event in our lives isn't necessarily worthy of being turned into a play. There was no substantial message here and little entertainment value. The two plot lines - her husband's death and daughter's illness left you feeling that not enough time was devoted to either- just making the play seem flat or empty.

I'm sorry for her loss, but watching her go on and on about it was painful. It was more of a recitative of the agonizing details of the death and the days that followed. There was no breakthrough moment, no ups and downs to her monologue- just the same thing- did she ever get over it? At times it didn't seem as if she even really liked her husband. She expressed typical motherly sentiments about the daughter, but you weren't really convinced. It was as if there was more to their relationship than she was telling you, and that, whatever it was, it wasn't pleasant. My mother died in February, and I thought this play might have been in some way meaningful to me. It just wasn't...

1-0 out of 5 stars Grief
I have read most of Didion's books and so bought this at a used bookstore without knowing what it was about. Like many of the reviewers before me, the first few chapters describing her husband's death kept me reading, but by the middle of the book I found it a chore to pick up. The content became very repetitive and, as I moved through the pages, utterly hopeless in its tone. Having experienced grief myself and knowing the grasping for some truth that would tell me 'hold on, you will get through this,' I found no such message here and would not recommend this book to anyone grieving the loss of a loved one.

The other issue Didion dealt with at the same time as John's death was their daughter's mysterious illness. Unfortunately this issue gets lost in Didion's grief and there is no real outcome provided in the book. We know that Quintana got out of the hospital but nothing beyond that. The topic is simply dropped with no real emotion expressed by the author.

I feel that for a piece to be worthy of public consumption there ought to be something of value that readers can walk away with. Perhaps as a study of grief, Didion's book could rightfully find its way onto a handful of bookshelves, but as a general reader it is sorely lacking the author's trademark writing charm and expertise. In fact, it is poorly written. There is nothing magical here, except that someone gave the book a wonderful title that belies the meaning the author intended, that she suffered through a year of denial and as of the last page had not recovered from it. Now, almost 4 years after her husband's death, I hope Ms. Didion has found some of the peace she was obviously lacking when she wrote this book.

5-0 out of 5 stars About the moments that can change lives
The Year of Magical Thinking possesses hauntingly concise prose. It is a one-woman show that reads like having a conversation with Didion. The telling is intimate enough to make it feel as if it is an older and wiser sister telling you what you may likely confront in your lifetime. It is detailed enough to make tangible for theatergoers in New York City and Los Angeles face what one wishes was unimaginable. It is phenomenal enough to show why Didion is one of the best writers of our times and that there is seemingly nothing that she fails to find the words for.

That there will be a moment in time when you feel unquestionably safe--and the moment following, one of the most important people in your life may pass on. She tells the reader about how she handled the passing of her husband as a journey--from being the cool, methodical thinker, as his passage from this life was confirmed, to being unable to give away his shoes because he would need them when he came back, to being able to come to terms with his absence.

Her daughter fell ill before her husband passed. While her daughter is in the hospital in California, Joan Didion faces more than treading on doctors' toes and doing everything possible to pull her daughter through the illness. She also faces streets full of memories ready to take her away into magical thinking. In order to keep away from the memories, she takes well-planned routes from her hotel room to her daughter's hospital room. Didion tells the story of seeing her daughter come out of illness, and then being unable to protect her from falling ill again, and her passage from this life.

The play is not filled with an overwhelming sense of hope, but hope still finds a home in the play. While reading it I couldn't help but think of those I know who have passed on and how I would handle it if my own husband and daughter were to pass out of this life before me. I imagined the unbearable grief as I read. By the end of the play I could feel how to make it through, to survive something that one would rather not.

Armchair Interviews says: It is that quiet, affirming hope that Didion's play possesses.

4-0 out of 5 stars Privately Grieving Publicly...
The Year of Magical Thinking a Play by Joan Didion is based on her memoir. This play gives you a voyeuristic journey inside a woman's grief. Ms. Didion, a noted author and playwright lost her husband in 2003. Within a short period of time, less than two years later, she would also lose her daughter. That kind of loss is unimaginable to most people. We all have experiences with losing loved-ones, but rarely two in such a short span of time. Ms. Didion's prose is written quite sparely and almost from a distance but it is no less wrenching. She appears to view her pain from a distance while feeling the full impact of it.

The play starts out with this passage; This happened on December 30, 2003. That may seem a while ago but it won't when it happens to you. And it will happen to you. The details will be different, but it will happen to you. That's what I am here to tell you. I felt those words down in my very being. Though the words were simple, they were poignant, heartfelt and oh so true. Anyone who has ever lost a loved one will feel the impact of her prose.

After her husband John Dunne passes, Joan appears to be in a state of suspended expectation. The most difficult thing for her to accept is that he is not coming home. In fact for many weeks she expects him to return. It's sad to read how hard it is to accept her lost.

Shortly thereafter when her daughter becomes ill, she has something else to be concerned with. She immerses herself in research about her daughter's illness to try to fill the void in her life. It is wrenching yet dispassionate in so many ways reading about her daughter's illness and ultimate demise. Ms. Didion has exposed her love and pain in an amazing way.

In sixty-two pages this play takes us through a roller coaster of feelings. What impacted me so was how the words were never overwrought, but so strongly felt. I loved the way she evaluated the relationship she had with both her husband and her daughter. The simple what-if-onlys. The Year of Magical Thinking allowed me to realize there is no set way to grieve and that we all react differently. I recommend this play and the aforementioned memoir to Joan Didion fans and to anyone who has experienced the loss of a loved one.
Angelia Menchan

... Read more

17. Political Fictions
by Joan Didion
Paperback: 352 Pages (2002-08-27)
list price: US$14.00 -- used & new: US$2.98
(price subject to change: see help)
Asin: 0375718907
Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars
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In 1988, Joan Didion began looking at the American political process for The New York Review of Books. What she found was not a mechanism that offered the nation’s citizens a voice in its affairs but one designed by—and for—“that handful of insiders who invent, year in and year out, the narrative of public life.” The eight pieces collected here from The New York Review build, one on the other, to a stunning whole, a portrait of the American political landscape that tells us, devastatingly, how we got where we are today.

In Political Fictions, tracing the dreamwork that was already clear at the time of the first Bush ascendance in 1988, Didion covers the ways in which the continuing and polarizing nostalgia for an imagined America led to the entrenchment of a small percentage of the electorate as the nation’s deciding political force, the ways in which the two major political parties have worked to narrow the electorate to this manageable element, the readiness with which the media collaborated in this process, and, finally and at length, how this mindset led inexorably over the past dozen years to the crisis that was the 2000 election. In this book Didion cuts to the core of the deceptions and deflections to explain and illuminate what came to be called “the disconnect”—and to reveal a political class increasingly intolerant of the nation that sustains it.

Joan Didion’s profound understanding of America’s political and cultural terrain, her sense of historical irony, and the play of her imagination make Political Fictions a disturbing and brilliant tour de force.Amazon.com Review
This collection of eight essays covering U.S. politics between 1988 and 2000 is a critical look at what author Joan Didion calls "the ways in which the political process did not reflect but increasingly proceeded from a series of fables about American experience." The New York Review of Books originally published these writings, and they hit all the major events of the previous dozen years: the election of George Bush (the first), the emergence of Bill Clinton, the Republican takeover of Congress, Clinton's impeachment, and the 2000 race between George Bush (the second) and Al Gore. During this period, Didion worked and reworked a theme of political disconnect. In examining who cast ballots in 2000 (for the first time, more than half of all voters had incomes about $50,000), she notes acidly in her foreword: "That this was not a demographic profile of the country at large, that half the nation's citizens had only a vassal relationship to the government under which they lived, that the democracy we spoke of spreading throughout the world was now in our own country only an ideality, had come to be seen, against the higher priority of keeping the process in the hands of those who already held it, as facts without application." She puts it a bit more succinctly elsewhere by describing "the largest political party in America" as "those who did not vote."

Didion brings a novelist's eye to her project, and she delights in exposing fakery. In describing one of Vice President Bush's visits to the Middle East in the 1980s, she notes that his advance team requested that camels be present at every stop--so that photographers could capture the supposed authenticity of the trip. Many of the essays in Political Fictions are, at a fundamental level, book reviews--and Didion's observations can be withering. She calls Newt Gingrich's novel 1945 "a fairly primitive example of the kind of speculative fiction known as 'alternate history.'" The accomplishment of Washington Post journalist Bob Woodward, she says, is to have produced "books in which measurable cerebral activity is virtually absent." Her targets are not always other writers: "No one who ever passed through an American public high school could have watched William Jefferson Clinton running for office in 1992 and failed to recognize the familiar predatory sexuality of the provincial adolescent." Needless to say, Political Fictions is not a celebration of American democracy. It is more like an indictment. --John Miller ... Read more

Customer Reviews (20)

5-0 out of 5 stars Outstanding
A very centered approach to both parties through the election cycles, Didion has produced another masterpiece.

5-0 out of 5 stars At last: The real Ronald Reagan exposed!
Fed up for years and years with the fiction that Reagan's and the GOP's fantasts have spun about him, Joan Didion gives us the truth about that airhead. Yes, this book is worth buying just for the chapter on him, in my opinion. I'll never foget watching as his fans named buildings and freeways after him across the country, as if he were a founding father! Thanks, Joan, for breaking the mold!

5-0 out of 5 stars Shrewd and Absorbing Look At The Political Elite!
More than seventy years ago H.L. Mencken satirized the politicians of his day by counseling the American people that we had the best Congress money could buy. Even then many observers seemed to understand that power politics served the needs of the elite, not the man in the street. Yet gradually this trend toward a polity more and more exclusively organized and perpetuated for the sole purpose of benefiting a small upper class has become noticeably more decadent and extreme, and it is this trend toward extremism that noted social commentator Joan Didion takes issues with in this absorbing series of essays centering on the dangerous drift toward an elitist polity. Miss Didion is an author with an incredibly diverse background, and while she is primarily known for her works of fiction, she has also delivered some provocative and thoughtful best-selling non-fiction works such as "Slouching Toward Bethlehem". Here, with her set of essays, "Political Fictions", she demonstrates her wry and sardonic insight into the political machinations and creative politics that characterize the American polity. While the reading is enjoyable and edifying, her protestations sometimes get to be a bit much.

For Didion literally nothing is holy or sacrosanct, and she savagely lambastes the cynical manipulations she attributes to the political elite in this country, who she pictures assystematically and ruthlessly engaging and using their power in the act of exploiting current events in inventing what they then characterize as the political drama of democracy in action. And, to Didion's credit, she understands that nothing is really quite as simple as it seems on the surface. Thus she describes a cynical manipulation of a national yearning for a nostalgic view of America in what is a mind-boggling juggling of the truth. What she discovers in this search through the highs and lows of the political landscape is a solipsistic political view, engendered by an almost comically vapid attempt to pander to the public in an attempt to perpetuate their vulnerabilities in order to maintain power and control. It is difficult not to empathize with her observations, and to subscribe to most of what she says, especially her pointed observations of how much worse, i.e. how much more extreme and more vicious the political process seems to have become. Yet I have to admit to a bit of surprise at the level of shock she professes at finding the political process, especially as represented by the two political parties, to be a patently self-serving enterprise that both individuals and groups engage in to serve their own selfish interests.

Thus, in tracing the plethora of ways in which such themes as a imagined American past are manipulated in order to further the aims of the political powers that be, she expresses horror to find that the two major parties, in concert with the electronic media, have consciously worked to deliberately narrow the forces within the electorate to a small but manageable cadre. Finally, in disgust she explore the ways in which this state of affairs winds up spawning a ruling class that is oblivious to, and unconscious of, the needs and wants of the general electorate.This leaves the reader to wonder whether her expressed rage is a creative tool, or if, on the other hand, she really was so naïve that all of this genuinely surprises her. Perhaps she was on Holiday from Smith the semester they taught about H.L Mencken and his celebrated works regarding the American political system. Yet this truly is a worthwhile book and one I recommend, because it is entertaining and very well written.Ms. Didion has a unique way with turning a phrase on its ear and making the thought she is making most unforgettable in the process. Just be sure you understand before doing so that much of what she says seems a bit disingenuous given her reputation for considerable street smarts and basic common sense. Enjoy

5-0 out of 5 stars Dame Didion does it again
What can I say I might be biased since I consider the discovery of Joan Didion one of the highlights of my lifelong passion for reading. Still this is her best effort in years and the chapter on the obsequious power lunch journalism of the likes of Bob Woodward alone is worth the price of the Hardcover.Other lovelies are the spit out loud funny reading list of that misunderstood" historian and intellectual"(pun fully intended) Newt Gingrich which reads like the Who's Who list of the Bible Belt conspiracy crowd and as well as the beautifully constructed and persuasively argued" God's County" which clearly states that the bias in power is neither liberal nor conservative but lily livered and infantile and forever catering to the constituancy that sees the Virgin Mary on a pancake in a drive- in and thinks curlicues on Hallmark cards will bring family values and a spirit of gentleness back to our errand ways. The fifth star is for the purity of her language and the sheer beauty of her complex but always rational thought patterns.

4-0 out of 5 stars Skewering the politicos
I hope what Joan Didion, essayist extraordinary, learned from this adventure in pol land Americana (that her husband, John Gregory Dunne, "already knew," as she notes on the dedication page) is that there is not a dime's worth of difference between Republicans ... and Democrats ... in this democracy by capitalism.Well, maybe fifteen cents.How terribly, terribly impatient I got with Bill Clinton and the demos, that is until George W. took office and then I began to feel some nostalgia for good old fashion sexual malfeasance in lieu of the Incredible Shrinking Bill of Rights and a return to foreign policy as conceived by the CIA.

I think Miss Didion did indeed notice the similarities between the parties in this collection of political essays and journalisms, 1988-2000, most of which were first published in The New York Review of Books.She seems to find Dukakis, Clinton and Gore just as lame as George and George W., although in different ways. (Of course one does sense that overall there is just the barest leftward lean!)Sometimes however it is difficult to tell whether she is just observing the madness or satirizing it, so exquisitely sharp is her rapier.But take a hint from some of the titles, e.g., "The West Wing of Oz," "Newt Gingrich, Superstar," "Political Pornography," "Vichy Washington," "God's Country," etc.

Let's take especially the chapter on the one-time Speaker of the House of Representatives, the Republican congressman from Georgia ... to see what Miss Didion is up to.The chapter starts out innocently enough with a 213-word sentence (no semicolons!) detailing the "personalities and books and events" that helped shape the one-time presidential hopeful.Didion uses a technique here that might be called "damning by bizarre association." Thus one reads that Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson, etc., influenced the Honorable Mr. Gingrich, but so did Tom Clancy, "Zen in the Art of Archery," and the 1913 Girl Scout Handbook.One senses where Didion is going when a page later she describes Gingrich's method of developing "an intellectual base" by "collecting quotes and ideas on scraps of paper stored in shoeboxes" (quoting Dick Williams, author of "Newt!" on page 169).The cat is completely out of the bag when Didion notes some of Gingrich's publications, including the novel "1945," which Didion describes as "a fairly primitive example of the kind of speculative fiction known as alternative history."Didion goes on to give capsule reviews of "1945" and "To Renew America," taking some delight in Newt's fixation on numbers and outline forms, "seven steps necessary to solve the drug problem," "eight areas of necessary change in our health care system," etc. ending with the observation on page 179 that "we have here a man who once estimated the odds on the survival of his second marriage at 53 to 47."Didion calls this an "inclination toward the pointlessly specific...coupled with a tic to inflate what is actually specific into a general principle, a big concept."By the time Didion is through with Professor Gingrich, one sees that the epithet, "Superstar" is sarcastic and a delusion of the mind of a nerd fully grown.

Well, is this fair?I don't know, but it is kind of fun.However I recommend that you read this not for fun or for the edification that you might get from the material.Instead I recommend Joan Didion's political pieces as a study in style, as an education in how to slice finely and well, how to discredit and lampoon with class.Didion, when she writes about politics, is like Gore Vidal or Mark Twain being well-behaved at tea with a pinky aimed directly and unmistakably at the hostess.

Comparing this book to her now classic Slouching Towards Bethlehem (circa 1961) which includes the famous self-revelatory essay, "On Going Home," one notices that the novelistic and "affecting" style has disappeared.In its place we have a hard-nosed, but fancy, street journalism with the author somewhere in the background discreetly washing her hands.

... ... Read more

18. After Henry
by Joan Didion
Paperback: 320 Pages (1993-04-27)
list price: US$16.95 -- used & new: US$5.10
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Asin: 0679745394
Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars
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In her latest forays into the American scene, the author of Miami, Democracy, and Salvador covers ground from Washington to Los Angeles and from a TV producer's mansion to the racial battlefields of New York's criminal courts. And along the way, she reveals the mythic narratives that other commentators miss. ... Read more

Customer Reviews (4)

5-0 out of 5 stars All the news that fits, we print
Most of the essays in this collection are not only journalism but include studies of how journalism works. "Times Mirror Square" is a lengthy history of the "Los Angeles Times" and how the Chandler family used it to build up Los Angeles and their own fortunes (which were primarily based on land development and not on selling newspapers). "Girl of the Golden West" deals with Patty Hearst, an unremarkable young woman who became the center of a long-running media frenzy in 1974-1975 when she combined the roles of heiress, kidnappee, and bank-robbing revolutionist.

The most interesting essays in this collection deal with the question of how an event becomes newsworthy. In "Insider Baseball" Didion investigates why a presidential candidate (Michael Dukakis) playing catch is newsworthy. In "Shooters Inc." she follows President George H. W. Bush as he tours world trouble spots in search of a photo op. The last essay, "Sentimental Journeys", deals with (among other things) the 1989 Central Park Jogger rape case. This case got massive media attention, but there were 3,254 other rapes reported in New York City that year and most of those got little or no coverage, even though some were just as violent and horrifying as the Central Park Jogger case. The essay assembles some evidence on the causes for these disparities.

These essays were written the 1980s and the collection published in 1992, but they have aged well, as long as you realize that they no longer describe current conditions. The writing is a little bit topical and calls out many persons and events that were current when the essays were written but have now been forgotten, and this sometimes makes the writing hard to follow (Wikipedia is a good reference for looking these up).

This entire collection is included in Didion's nonfiction omnibus We Tell Ourselves Stories in Order to Live: Collected Nonfiction (Everyman's Library), and if you like Didion's writing the latter work gives you more for your money.

3-0 out of 5 stars California Dreaming
This book is a collection of Didion's essays from the late 1980s. It's organized into three parts: "Washington," "California," and "New York." Despite its geographical divisions, the book as a whole is rather uneven, tilting more toward West Coast themes. I wouldn't have thought of this as a weakness if the one essay devoted to New York themes didn't seem so wildly out of place here. Didion's piece on race and crime in the Big Apple is a distraction from an otherwise noirish narrative of life in Southern California since the 1960s.

Even the section on Beltway politics has a distinct California feel about it. Didion's essay on the 1988 presidential campaigns centers largely on Michael Dukakis's trip to Taft High School in the rural, central part of the state. Her observations on Nancy Reagan are also, predictably, informed by the Reagans' political roots in Orange County. In our age of 24/7 cable-news punditry, the experience of reading Didion's observations on politics is quaint but rewarding, a throwback to an older form of political commentary where critics were only beginning to come to grips with the mediated superficiality of American electoral politics.

"California" is by far the most compelling section of the book. The essay "Pacific Distances" threads together some insightful observations of West Coast living Didion wrote for the now-defunct *New West* magazine. "Down at City Hall" is an engaging profile of Los Angeles's iconic former mayor Tom Bradley. And "Times Mirror Square" is a bravura recollection of the history of the Los Angeles Times newspaper, set against the backdrop of Southern California's cycles of boom and bust throughout the twentieth century. This last piece provides an invaluable account of the business of print media in its most profitable years.

Overall, there's much to be gained (still) from Didion's collection today, especially if you're a fan of her casual yet pointed reporting style. But for the more general reader, I recommend approaching this book as an artifact of California history and culture, from the disillusionment of political radicalism in the 1970s to the rise of Reagan conservatism in the 1980s. Read in this light, you're likely to appreciate Didion's prose on its own terms. On the other hand, you'll probably find it a chore to read if you try to glean any special insight about "current affairs" from the book (one of the bookselling tags this paperback edition was marketed under). *After Henry* makes for decent, off-the-cuff history, but not for relevant cultural criticism per se.

5-0 out of 5 stars The story behind the story
It's interesting to read Joan Didion in some sort of rough chronological sequence, because I'm watching her mind and her writing develop as I go. Her earlier books, Slouching Towards Bethlehem and The White Album, are intensely personal affairs that use her own experiences to illustrate general features of 1960's America. They are brilliant pieces of work that have encouraged me to read everything else she's written, but they are also profoundly self-absorbed. Reading her earliest works, I feel like a therapist talking to someone who is stuck inside her own head; every time she tries to solve a problem, she finds some reason why she can't, and the chain of reasons ultimately leads in a circle back to her initial desperation. It's a good thing Prozac didn't exist then (only gin and hot water, and Dexedrine), or else we'd never have gotten works of such political and literary brilliance.

What's fascinating about those earlier books, and about After Henry (the most recent book of hers that I've read), is that there's at least one strong narrative line through all of them: they are books about the stories in which Americans enshroud the news. The White Album's title essay is famous for its opening line: "We tell ourselves stories in order to live." That's what appears in Bartlett's from The White Album, but it's basically vacuous without the rest of the paragraph -- a paragraph that summarizes, at an abstract level, every essay that she's written since (at least among the ones I've read):

"We tell ourselves stories in order to live. The princess is caged in the consulate. The man with the candy will lead the children into the sea. The naked woman on the ledge outside the window on the sixteenth floor is a victim of accidie, or the naked woman is an exhibitionist, and it would be "interesting" to know which. We tell ourselves that it makes some difference whether the naked woman is about to commit a mortal sin or is about to register a political protest or is about to be, the Aristophanic view, snatched back to the human condition by the fireman in priest's clothing just visible in the window behind her, the one smiling at the telephoto lens. We look for the sermon in the suicide, for the social or moral lesson in the murder of five. We interpret what we see, select the most workable of the multiple choices. We live entirely, especially if we are writers, by the imposition of a narrative line upon disparate images, by the "ideas" with which we have learned to freeze the shifting phantasmagoria which is our actual experience.

"Or at least we do for a while. I am talking here about a time when I began to doubt the premises of all the stories I had ever told myself, a common condition but one I found troubling. ..."

The White Album and Slouching Towards Bethlehem continue on this theme, at very concrete levels. Didion is our Virgil, giving us the slideshow tour of Hell and only rarely drawing out a lesson. The world doesn't make sense anymore; the center isn't holding, and the best she can do is to paint small pictures for us of what she sees. She'll let us make up our own stories.

After Henry comes 20 years later, and you can tell what the time has done. The essays are tighter, more didactic, less personal, less self-absorbed: her examples come from the newspaper, and are quite explicitly about the lessons we can draw. Only now she's drawing lessons about the media itself: here is the Central Park Jogger case, which the media rapidly distort from one woman's sufferings into some allegory about the city itself. The allegories try to paint New York as itself raped, itself violated, itself likely to rise from the ashes. The story is no longer about this woman. It is about a city, but a city that has never existed; the story ignores pervasive racial and class differences in New York, all in a very predictable (and probably unconscious) defense of the ruling power structure. The story can never make New York corrupt and frightening; it is only allowed to make the city courageous and "bustling."

When Didion wrote that essay ("Sentimental Journeys"), New York was on the decline and crime was rampant. Yet the stories the media produced bore no relation to the frightening empirical reality that New Yorkers (apparently) saw. Nor did the stories around the 1988 presidential campaign bear any relation to what Americans knew about their country, or how the political process actually worked.

A map of how stories form, fold in on themselves, and ultimately serve the needs of the ruling class, is what Didion brings to the table. Reading her is like taking a deep, relaxing breath after reading the minutiae of, say, the Plamegate scandal; her stories about media distortion have been true as long as she's been writing, and remain true up to today.

4-0 out of 5 stars Sentimental
Joan Didion is one of America's most gifted writers, and "After Henry" is no exception. Though at times her prose is lax, it is mostly pure and simple. "After Henry" is the perfect book of thoughts, essays for a rainy, Sunday afternoon. It is one of Didion's most heartfelt triumphs. Good ... Read more

19. Salvador
by Joan Didion
Paperback: 112 Pages (1994-04-26)
list price: US$14.00 -- used & new: US$5.99
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Asin: 0679751831
Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars
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In 1982, Didion traveled to El Salvador at the height of the ghastly civil war. From battlefields to body dumps, she trained a merciless eye not only on the terror but also on the depredations and evasions of our own country's foreign policy. ... Read more

Customer Reviews (11)

4-0 out of 5 stars A depressive read
... and, unfortunately, it's all true.

This is one of the few books that have the distinction of being one of *the* most depressive reads of my entire life, but it left quite an impact on me.It made me realize how much the people of El Salvador suffered everyday, how they lived in unbelievable fear seemingly each and every day of their lives, how they were (and remain) good people, and how Saint Raygun Ronnie Reagan and Company knew exactly what those death squads were doing to innocent people - and gave them a hefty chunk of American taxpayer dollars and military equipment regardless (along with training some of those squads in American military camps!).

After finishing the book, I'm surprised Joan walked out of El Salvador with her life.Reading about her watching a young guy being forced at gunpoint into a truck knowing what was going to happen to him, about how body dumps were actually quasi-tourist attractions, how clothes were ripped off the dead so the living wouldn't go without (because the citizens were that poor!), of the contrived cultural festival in one town and how young men didn't dare be seen (lest they be taken away later on), of how there are armed men everywhere one goes, and of how she, her husband, and a journalist got out of a very sticky situation one day after visiting a morgue (which, according to her, is very accessible in the country.I don't know if it's the same a quarter of a century later) where rebels (or "freedom fighters" in Reagan's jargon?) surrounded their car and wouldn't move.If the journalist, who was driving, scratched the armed mens' car it wouldn't have been pretty and if they sped away, again, there would have been a problem.(The journalist was able to slowly back up and not hit anything, thereby saving everyone's lives).

I read the book literally (not looking between the lines of what she was saying) and envisioned living in El Salvador under such fear and it was not a pretty feeling.I feel bad for every innocent Salvadoran who has had to live in such fear and lawlessness, only to have one of the most powerful nations on the planet give money and military equipment to the people causing all the misery!

El Salvador and its people deserve *way* better!

Joan did a much better job than anyone at the major magazines (such as Time and Newsweek) could have ever done - and that was to bring the feeling of fear, dread, and misery up close and personal for everyone to experience.- Donna Di Giacomo

2-0 out of 5 stars War Profiteer
I have lived in El Salvador now for over eight years.To visit El Salvador for three days and continue to make a profit on those three days -past- seems completely immoral to me, especially since the book remains in print and continues to influence the world's opinion of El Salvador.I find this completely unfair.Would it be possible for Joan or Oliver or anyone else that enjoyed an income from the events of 20+ years ago to come back and revise their assesment?It would probably cost them all of two or three thousand dollars for the trip, but of course, it would stop the thousand if not million dollars in sales of these recollections which were wish fullfilling fantasies to begin with.All of El Salvador suffered during this time, why perpetuate the suffering?And what about any three days in any given city in North America?Could'nt the "glass is half empty" scenario be drawn to horrify any sensible person from every wanting to visit there, simply by selectively clipping the daily paper?I think so.

5-0 out of 5 stars "The Exact Mechanism of Terror"
It would be false to say that I was ever truly familiar with the situation in El Salvador at any time, not truly, and what makes Didion's Salvador such an extraordinary essay is that it so thoroughly and eloquently elucidates a time and place, but does so with specifics that feel as endemic to any political crisis now, or any 100 years ago.In her first chapter, she describes her experience in El Salvador by saying "I came to understand, in a way I had not understood before, the exact mechanism of terror."Salvador is an extraordinarily precise evocation of El Salvador in 1982, of the failure of Reagan's policies there, but what makes it still relevant is exactly that evocation of mechanics, of the bodies at the morgue that add up but don't amount to a story, of the shudder of fear at the sight of headlights in a dark dining room, of the shifting game of verbiage that describes progress or failure or civil wars or assassinations.What I mean is that Salvador will move and feel familiar to anyone, and that, at the point she describes the particular failing of America that allows us to approach this conflict as "something of the familiar ineffable, as if it were taking place not in El Salvador but in a mirage of El Salvador," it will seem the most reasoned, obvious, and unsettling conclusion about national and international conflicts.

4-0 out of 5 stars A still life of death
Joan Didion went to El Salvador for a couple of weeks in 1982 and wrote this great short book about her experience. Her tale is not about the details of the civil war or the politics involved, but just the mood of the country during that slice of time. Senseless and violent murder pervaded, and she captured it vividly and brilliantly.

Being in El Salvador must have felt like never knowing that at any moment someone could step up from behind you and fire a bullet into your head. Could one ever get used to that? Used to bodies left every day on the side of the road? Used to them laying unclaimed because, if they were claimed, that person would be next? It really made me realize how much I take for granted living under the rule of law. Human life seems to be of such little value almost everywhere else.

The other thing Didion made me realize was that there was hope for my writing. She writes in huge, long, never-ending run-on sentences with scads of parantheticals and comma-separated interludes and explanations, as well as semicolon appendages (many whole paragraphs are only one sentence long), yet she gets away with it; there's hope for me.

1-0 out of 5 stars Salvador
I met Joan Didion the day she came to El Salvador. We talk for about one hour and though I find her a most inteligent woman, his ideas about the country and the civil war shocked me as completely fantastic, I thought that at the end of her visit, her ideas would be very different.
I was very surprised when I read her book several years ago. It was our conversation, as if it was written before she came to El Salvador. She first made her conclusions, then she came to the country to pick some anecdotes that fit them. Too bad. The book is a waste of paper and ink ... Read more

20. Reading Joan Didion (The Pop Lit Book Club)
by William Lombardi, Lynn Marie Houston
Hardcover: 159 Pages (2009-08-25)
list price: US$35.00 -- used & new: US$33.88
(price subject to change: see help)
Asin: 0313364036
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Reading Joan Didion is the ideal way to enter this extraordinary and versatile author's world—a world that counts among its citizens burned-out hippies, cynical and delusional players in the film and music scene, and even members of the Charles Manson family.

In addition to looking closely at major works of fiction, Reading Joan Didion also focuses on Didion the essayist, critic, andfounding member of the New Journalism Movement, which uses fiction-like narrative techniques to go deeper into subjects that traditional objective reporting allows. Also covered is the rich screenwriting partnership of Didion and husband John Gregory Dunne, and the overwhelming late-career success of The Year of Magical Thinking, written in the aftermath of Dunne's shocking death and completed just before the author's daughter also passed away unexpectedly.

... Read more

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