in the essay i just read, she was sticking it to nancy reagan. now she is deconstructing the new york story, one line of contrived narrative at a time. her prose is breathless, her lines of argument incredibly well reported if not always so well reasoned. a very interesting read at a time when political reportage is a bit lackluster.Jamie
I'm going to try this new thing where I just do capsule-style reviews. Here's a go:I'd only previously read "The Year of Magical Thinking" by Didion--and, considering my admittedly non-existent experience with having lost loved ones, didn't connect to it in the way so many seem to have (at least on an emotional level). Nonetheless, I found her prose style there to be breathtaking, and it's in full form in this short collection. Vintage Didion collects essays from several books--three from "After Henry," three from "Miami," two from "Salvador," one from "Political Fictions," and one based on a lecture concerning September 11th. Truly, every essay was spot-on, though Didion really confronts me with the fact that I'm pathetically unsavvy with politics. The essay on NY and the Central Park Jogger case was perhaps one of the best non-fiction essays I've ever read. Though it's clear she's done her research and doesn't mind showing as much, it comes across as astute rather than showy, fluid rather than stuffed full of other people's facts and writings. Her logic is fascinating to watch, in the sense that she moves from the most micro-level observations into smart arguments about much much larger questions. Thus, the Central Park Jogger case becomes an essay on ideologies of crime and class, specific to NYC over the past 150 years, but reaching outward, as well. And then she sweeps back into her initial arresting claims. The essay on good ol' Bill's sexual exposure in "Clinton Agonistes" was particularly provocative, as was the Sept. 11th essay, and the one on Patty Hearst. I think I was swimming too deep in the Salvador/Miami pieces, but they too are beautifully written and argued.I'm really looking forward to moving through more of her work--and as a close friend tells me, I'm an awful idiot and a bad Lit PhD for not having read her novel "Play It As It Lays." Any case, this is probably a great introduction to Didion--at least to her more politically-minded work. I'm trying to think of lovely descriptors for her, but the one that sticks out most for me at the moment is 'shrewd'--she's got a hawk's eye to everything she mentions, and watching her follow through that sightline into an argument is inspiring. Read it, for sure.teresa
Trying to fill in the total empty space in my reading under the didion heading. Here is a short collection pulled from her varied writings. So far, so good. I liked her non-fiction pieces on Patricia Hearst and El Salvador. Time will tell. The back blurb claims that Didion "expresses an unblinking vision of the truth." hmmm. I don't even know what that means.Michael Jr.
If you haven't read much from Joan Didion, this is a good place to start. Vintage Didion covers a selection of her more powerful essays over a period of almost 40 years.You'll notice, as you read, the strong skepticism that Didion brings to her journalistic essays. It's not that she necessarily has a political bend in one direction or another, it is that she is committed to looking around and fully rendering the context of each event she reports on, complete with historic details showing how the past has led to each moment she captures. This necessarily leads to her having some visible levels of contempt for people who would ignore details, gloss over the uglier connections between institutions, or impose a narrative on events.Not only does Didion commit herself to exploring the "wide view" of an event in order to show the confluence of viewpoints and past actions that influence the choices made during historic moments, she does so with the sense of a Gideon--an almost-too-wise observer who is there not to render judgment herself, but to observe the imposition of an inevitable judgment dictated by the circumstances of our actions. Her knowing contempt for the selfish, magical thinking that both leads to tragedy and prevents our learning from it is simply the fatigue of an observer who has witnessed similar events to these before and who can not believe that the people around her do not remember the confluence of power, privilege, and short-term thinking that bring about the new iterations of tragedy, exploitation, and genocide that she finds herself covering.Didion's voice should not be the only one you listen to if you're reviewing the political landscape of the last half century, but she is definitely a voice you should be listening to. Her easy way of separating the narrative we agree to impose on events from the events themselves is unbelievably necessary to a balanced understanding of the complex relationship between power and cultural forces, and the ways that both are exploited in order to shape the world to fit the collective desires of a relatively few individuals.I would recommend moving from here to Political Fictions or Salvador, but not immediately. Your appreciation for (and recognition of the limitations of) Didion's style and voice will be better if you approach her work in context, by taking the "big picture" view for yourself and mixing your approach to her work with a large variety of other essayists and historians of the latter half of the twentieth century. The only way to truly appreciate essays that are this steeped in the culture of their times is by developing a sense of the writer's own view, and to do that you need to immerse yourself in the voices that surrounded her on the pages of the various publications where these articles originally appeared.Michael Libby
Collection of Didion's work from Miami, After Henry , Salvador, and Political Fictions. Missing selections from her most famous book, Slouching Towards Bethlehem , but that is OK, I have that one and have already read it. If your are interested in reading about 60's and 70's counterculture from someone who was there and documenting it with a passionate eye, Didion is for you...and this collection is notable for it's attempt to give an overview of her work.tallulah
borrowed from kian.i read it on the plane and on the beach.the briskness of the writing made it ideal for vacation reading.it also made me realize how uniformed i am of news events from my earlier life. even the clinton administration was largely a mystery to me.Jake
I think Joan Didion is at her best when she's talking about California- about its culture, its news, or her history there. Her strength decreases the further from California she gets: she's pretty good writing about New York (which, I think, is closer to California than much of the country in between), and less good writing about Miami and El Salvador. This collection of essays spans all of those territories, and about twenty-five years in her career, from the late 70s to about 2003. The highlights involve crimes: the Patty Hearst case, the Central Park Jogger case, 9/11. She's also got a few good ones about politics- mostly about the major scandals in the Reagan and Clinton administrations. Nothing here is as earthshaking as her classic essays "Goodbye to All That" or "Some Dreamers of the Golden Dream", but they're all solid, interesting pieces. Good enough that I'm considering buying her omnibus "We Tell Ourselves Stories in Order to Live" to get the rest of the books that these essays were pulled from.Paul Childs
A good, short, collection, covering about 20 years (only one post 9/11 piece). The older pieces read now as first person history, but always with an edge and extremely well written. A good place to start if you haven't read her before.Shelley
oh, how i love didion...Bonnie
Love her political writings.