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


It's an awful experience to read Didion, for other people become insufferably dull in comparison to the time spent in her pages. Great writing is fatal in that way. Didion simply destroys the semblance of feigned interest that I have to engage with others, by setting a standard to which no one, not even she, can live up to.

Aric Cushing

Incredible. The nonfiction piece 'Dreamers of the Golden Dream' I have read over and over through the years. An incredible depiction of California desert life, and the 'true crime' murder of a dentist. I cannot do it justice here because I am writing quickly, but this POSITIVELY is a MUST READ, if not just for the first nonfiction piece in this voluminous collection.


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.


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.


I rarely read short stories, but I made an exception for this one - for a book group. It's actually not short stories, but essays -- which seem to be a combination of reporting and musing about things and events. She is a terrific writer and the first section in the book is an old collection called "slouching to Bethlehem" that she wrote in the 60s and it is interesting to hear her comments about the 60s knowing what happens in the ensuing 40 years.


My soulmate is a 74 year old woman.


"Remember, writers are always selling somebody out." Didion reminds us of this in the opening to her collection of all her previously published nonfiction. And as you read you get the sense that Didion is indeed offering us an honest account of the people and situations described, regardless of how her interviewees may have hoped to have been portrayed.

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.


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.


When I was in high school, I read "Goodbye to All That," which still captures the feeling of being young and in New York. I can't think rationally about Joan Didion and I don't want to. This collection shows a lifetime's worth of experiences filtered through clear prose.


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.


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.

Abby Sominski

I love Joan Didion, I read 'the year of magical thinking' first and all her other stuff afterward, I recommend anything of her's to anyone who asks me what I recommend. This collection conveniently ties it all together ... her writing is masterful!

Tiffoknee the 3rd Conner

Ah, where to begin when it comes to Didion. I adore her. Plus, when she was younger she was totally smokin'! I sh*t you not. Go google some photos of the broad. Hottttttt! And intelligence. I'm a bigger sucker for intelligence. I've read a few of the books in this collection on their own, but once this collected essay edition came out I peed my pants. All of this Didion in one place? It's like a dream come true for me.


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.

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