We Tell Ourselves Stories in Order to Live: Collected Nonfiction (Everyman’s Library)

ISBN: 0307264874
ISBN 13: 9780307264879
By: Joan Didion John Leonard

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Reader's Thoughts

Anne Walbridge

Joan Joan Joan! God the woman can write! Some of her essays get a little tiresome as she tries to shock, but you have to remember she was writing them back in the '70s.

Volkan

Collection of non-fiction writings by Joan Didion. Really appreciated the sections "Slouching Towards Bethlehem" and "The White Album". I admire her writing style but disagreed with some of the content, particularly that morality is subjective ("On Morality"). Didn't really pay attention to her "Political Fictions" part of the book.

Angie

This is the most amazingly clear writing that I've ever read. Didion writes what she observes, clearly and precisely. She doesn't use judgmental words, but since she writes so clearly about her subjects, we can get an idea of what she thinks about said subjects.I'm not yet finished with this collection, but will tell you that as a younger baby boomer, reading "Slouching Toward Bethlehem" gave me a better, nonglamorous picture of the sixties than anything else I've ever read. As an aspiring writer, this is someone I wish to emulate.

Tessa

My soulmate is a 74 year old woman.

Kombeh

I love everything about Joan Didion: her '60s-era coolness, her dark glasses, her vague feminism but I mostly love her writing. I envy it, and tried so hard to imitate it but never succeed. The next best thing is reading all of her essays in one big volume.

Ian

Amazing, brilliant, timeless...and just a little hard to lug around (not to mention that smallish font). I'm just gonna find the individual volumes that comprise this and read them when I'm in the mood for some gorgeous, depressing prose.

Esther

Huge collection of her articles I've been leafing through for the past few months. Its so good though I stopped just reading at home and taken to lugging this 1000+ page hardback around with me to read on my commute to work. Her indepth writing on the Clinton/Lewinsky/Ken Starr debacle is brilliant.

Marissa

Ok, so I got three quarters of the way through the book, but after reading through the first couple sections in Political Fictions I finally just gave up and "accidentally" left the book at my parent's house. Certainly, Joan Didion is really insightful and there is some very beautiful writing in the book. Unfortunately, way too much of her best work is concentrated in the first two parts of the collection which are introspective, while also having a certain time capsule effect of the era she was documenting. After The White Album, she meanders through the political conflicts going on in El Salvador and Miami in a way that was both difficult to understand as someone not fully aware of all the background nuances of the time period and just generally not nearly as strong of writing or thought on the issues. All of Didion's political writing is kind of miserable to read. For one thing, unlike with her earlier works where she found a way to combine her very personal, semi-autobiographical reflections with larger cultural and political issues, her later work is bloated with lethargy and it is often unclear what she's doing covering stories like this in the first place other than to appease her publisher. When she writes about her coverage of presidential elections she writes with a bemused tone about how little connection she feels to the political process and how out of place she is trailing along with the campaigns. As a reader, you can't help but wonder along with her since the writing is full of jaded, bitter, fatalism more than anything else. As you read the chronological progression of the work you can't help but sense her becoming more and more numb to her surroundings and more and more hopeless about what meaning, personal or not, there might be in any of it.

Jon

This is the last book to have rocked my world. Before this I'd only read "The White Album" and upon beginning this book I felt the same thrill that I felt discovering some of my other favorite authors, people like Harry Crews or Dennis Cooper. Didion is quite unlike the writers I tend towards. She's much more a child of the New Yorker reading, grad school attending, fans of Saul Bellow and more recently David Foster Wallace set, if that makes sense to anyone besides myself. People consider her sparse. I consider her wordy, but in a good way. She's got a way for pentrating the blood/brain barrier with her sentences. Her non-fiction has a way of feeling like fiction and vice versa. She's got a way of summing up the crux of her stories with these haulting beautiful sentences that seem to come out of nowhere. I'd say that her story endings can feel a bit abrupt at times though. Read this big fat book.

Jake

Joan Didion is the Shakespeare of things that don't quite add up. Situations where what's being said and what's being done are at odds and places where the postcard picture hides ugly, painful truths. Her non-fiction is the opposite of easy reading: the sentences uncurl slowly, and sometimes you don't quite know where she's taking a paragraph or a page until the last few words, when suddenly everything stabs into focus. And given the length of this book (1122 pages), the time-span it covers (forty plus years), the enormous geography (an incomplete list: New York, California, Mexico, Hawaii, El Salvador, Miami, Washington), and the range of subjects (crime, politics, hydrology, civil war, personal history, social history, and more), you might expect it to be a difficult read. But you'd be wrong. Didion is engaging start to finish, as good a writer at 75 as she was at 35, or vice-versa. I'm not sure if there's any subject she could make dull- if one exists, it's been omitted here. And at the end of it, you feel like she has held up a mirror to our times: fractured, weird, often unhappy, but ultimately worth having lived.

Allyson

Interesting reading, well-written, but to me only mildly-relevant because of generational difference.

Dan

The worst thing about the book is the clunky title, which seems to mean less and less the longer one thinks about it. For me the essays I was most interested in were the ones about politics and culture like Miami and Political Fictions, less so the personal ones such as Goodbye to All That and Where I was From. She's an amazing writer who doesn't bother with a lot of backstory--gives the reader the credit for knowing already what it is a reader ought to know.

Sarah

okay, so i skipped two whole books in here. 1100 pages of disappointment with the world, however magically phrased, is a lot. i just need to move on with my life, so i'm putting it on the read shelf. don't judge me.

Danielle

Since this collection is really half a dozen books in one, I have been reading it in bits since last fall... it's pretty amazing and this junk is totally going to get 5 goodreads stars once I wrap it up. Loved reading 'Salvador', Didion's chilling series of reports from El Salvador in th 80s. Am currently reading (and loving) 'Miami', which highlights to strange history and complexities of a city that is a bridge between two continents. Engrossing stuff - this woman is a genius.

Marthe

All of Joan Didion's nonfiction writing on place, politics, lifestyle, and cultural figures from the 1960s to 2003 together in one volume? What a dream. Her devotion to detail, shrewd observations, and concise, lyrical language does it for me EVERY TIME. In order of my appreciation: "Slouching Towards Bethlehem" captures the counterculture of the sixties, its mood and lifestyle, as symbolized by California, Joan Baez, Haight-Ashbury. Her profile of Joan Baez (“Exactly where…she wants to be seems an open question, bewildering to her”) to Bill Clinton’s impeachment (what she calls “Vichy Washington”). "The White Album" covers the revolutionary politics and “contemporary wasteland” of the late sixties and early seventies, in pieces on the Manson family, the Black Panthers, and Hollywood. Civil war in "Salvador," Miami’s complicity in the Cold War, 1980s political culture in "After Henry," the destruction of American democracy in Political Fictions and the realization that California cannot fulfill dreams in "Where I Was From."

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