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.
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California belongs to Joan Didion.
“Discussion of how California has 'changed,' then, tends locally to define the more ideal California as that which existed at whatever past point the speaker first saw it: Gilroy as it was in the 1960s and Gilroy as it was fifteen years ago and Gilroy as it was when my father and I ate short ribs at the Milias Hotel are three pictures with virtually no overlap, a hologram that dematerializes as I drive through it.”
― Joan Didion, Where I Was From
“A place belongs forever to whoever claims it hardest, remembers it most obsessively, wrenches it from itself, shapes it, renders it, loves it so radically that he remakes it in his image."
― Joan Didion, The White Albumn
"California belongs to Joan Didion."
― Michiko Kakutani
Probably 3.5★. I liked it in parts, loved it in parts, felt let down by parts, but graded against her other greats (The Year of Magical Thinking, Slouching Towards Bethlehem, The White Album), it just doesn't quite hold up. Feels a bit cobbled together, but perhaps I'm being picky and petty.
In a 4-part book Didion explores the history and narrative of California, and like she is want to do, she kinda clears the table of myths, fables, and stories that people have constructed around place/time. She loves California, but recognizes in that great big state a bunch of contradictions and flaws that seem to be varnished over every couple of years. She loves California but wants it to be loved WITH the flaws, not with the bullshit. This involves a bit of journalistic deconstruction, revisionism, playful teasing, family history, re-reading of her own past writings, thoughts about death and family, property and family, and always, always California (especially Sacramento).
Anyway, mediocre, messy, meditative Didion is still pretty damn fantastic.
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Wonderful California Listen
Would you consider the audio edition of Where I Was From to be better than the print version?
Well, better, I don't know. But different, yes. I guess maybe better, because the narration was very good. I actually preferred this narrator to the celebrity Diane Keaton's reading of SLOUCHING TOWARDS BETHLEHEM.
What did you like best about this story?
I loved the exposé about the corruption in the prison system. I had no idea. Now, I do.
Which character – as performed by Gabrielle De Cuir – was your favorite?
It was first person and very well done. So she did all the characters very well. At first, I thought she was slow, but within ten minutes she was spinning an amazing character. I felt like she honored the author's intentions very well. I will look for other books by this reader.
Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?
No, it was better chapter by chapter since the subject/topics changed.
Any additional comments?
Fabulous book for Californians who want to learn more about their history. Didion is a fabulous writer, and I loved the narrator's take on her tone and irony. Well done.
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- Blair McCune
Narration Not Good
I really wanted to listen to this book, but the narration was just too bad. Joan Didion writes in such subtle and elegant prose. But for some reason the narrator felt the need to declaim each sentence. It would've been so much better to have had someone (anyone!) just read the book. Too bad!