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We Tell Ourselves Stories in Order to Live

by Joan Didion

Other authors: John Leonard (Introduction)

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619527,190 (4.6)21
A compilation of essays and nonfiction writings spanning more than forty years includes the author's reflections on politics, lifestyle, place, and cultural figures, including such topics as Haight-Ashbury, the Manson family, the Black Panthers, California earthquakes, and Bill Clinton.



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Read 2015, favourite. ( )
  sasameyuki | Aug 13, 2020 |
This was a phenomenal set of non-fiction pieces. Didion astounds with her array of work on different subject manner, spanning decades and different issues seamlessly among each other. The writing is descriptive, evocative, and puts the reader at ease with its sense of knowledge and wisdom. She views things with a critical, knowing eye and, no doubt, is an expert in discovering things in the classical vein of journalism, revealing much about the nature of the United States and people in general.

4.25 stars- don't miss this one! ( )
  DanielSTJ | Jul 6, 2019 |
I have been working on this read for two and a half months, in between other lighter - literal and figurative - reading. I struggled with Miami and Political Fictions; the pair of them needing more familiarity with the politics around them than I have, I think. And Political Fictions was, perhaps, too recent to be interesting to me.

I enjoyed with varying degrees the other books in the anthology, most notably Slouching Toward Bethlehem. Didion's turn of phrase is astoundingly engaging, and even the three essays that dealt with freeways, State waterworks, and suburban shopping malls, construction and terminology of, were interesting and readable. I could wish that she examined some of her subjects with a more feminist lens.

The descriptions of Los Angeles will stay with me the most, I think. She paints such excellent pictures with her words. ( )
  JetSilver | Mar 31, 2013 |
Holy cow, this woman can write. And some of the sharpest political analysis out there. The stuff on Clinton and Gingrich is brilliant. ( )
2 vote ChloeEthan | May 26, 2009 |
Plunging in to the first page of an eleven hundred page book is always a little intimidating. Add to this that it is actually seven books (a collection of collection of essays) and the fact that I had no idea who Joan Didion was (let alone, why I even purchased the book). The fear of the unknown actually took a backseat to the fear of being bored for a VERY long time. However, within a few pages I was hooked. Excellent writing (not exactly the perfect style for what I like in essays – but that is a mere quibble) and an incredible breadth of subjects kept this book alive for me throughout the extended reading process.

And breadth of subject is an understatement. Then again, what can you expect from a collection of essays that begin in the 60’s and end at the present. And, as should be expected, each book has it owns merits. The first two are collections of essays that focus on the 60’s and 70’s and, while there is some of that counterculture shtick one expects, these essays have a decidedly different bent. Take the piece on Joan Baez. It is not so much about a person who is a star, not so much about a counter-culture icon, not so much about anti-war work, but rather about a person trying to do something different (most would argue, something good), trying to just be a good human being, and facing some interesting persecutions from Monterey. This is what happens in all the essays – it is not the story you expect to hear, but a story that is more interesting for its different approach. There is the fascinating little piece on John Wayne during the filming of “The Sons of Katie Elder” that doesn’t focus on The Duke as much as it does what surrounds him. There’s an article on the mansion Ronald Reagan had built to be used as the California governor’s residence, which is a precursor to the many essays on Reagan that show up later in the book. And the essay that titled the original book “Slouching Towards Bethlehem” does an excellent job of portraying the Haight-Ashbury scene without glorifying or condemning – it is more like reporting (with feeling) and you draw your own conclusions.

With the next two books in the collection I had more trouble. It is not that they weren’t as well written. It was that they each focused on one subject – interesting subjects – but more than I wanted to seem to commit with this style of writing. (All that being said, they are no less fascinating.) “Salvador” describes the author’s time in San Salvador in the early eighties – a very dangerous time for a very dangerous part of the world. It mixes the since of traveling in a third-world danger spot with analysis of the (hypocritical?) actions of the US. (The quote from “Heart of Darkness” which starts the book is not out of place.) “Miami” describes the experience of being Cuban in Florida, and explores exactly what the US has done before and since the Bay of Pigs. Again, in spite of my previous comments may imply, I learned a lot.

The next book in the collection “After Henry” begins to become more personal (although, it is misleading to indicate that there is not something “personal” in almost everything she writes). There is much in here about California, with sections on New York, and they provide different insights to what these cities/states/state of mind mean to the people who live in them.

“Political Fictions” is right up there with the best books in the collection. Ms. Didion became one of those who got to ride along during campaigns. Not a political writer, her take on the whole thing is very different than you might get somewhere else. And, not surprisingly, it is a little depressing in that she confirms what we all know, but refuse to admit – we are all manipulated and we don’t really matter. (Removing my cynicism hat now.) What is most interesting is that she seems to have been present when the most significant changes were taking place - the changes that have led us where we are today. (Whoops, I put the hat back on.)

By accident or by design, the book starts and ends with discussions of California, why it is the way it is and, accordingly, why Ms. Didion is the way she is. And, because there is way too much focus on this last point, the final book, “Where I Was From”, is the one that worked the least for me. Too many introspective essays about why she is who she is. Good writing, and of some interest, but a minor footnote to the other books in this collection.

I would suggest you not tackle this the way I did. I attacked the entire collection. Taking them one book at a time would probably provide a better chance for introspection about what you have seen. But taking on the entire groaning board has its own joys. Ultimately, as I look back, it was probably the title of the book “We Tell Ourselves Stories In Order To Live” that attracted me, and these are stories that make the author and reader both live ( )
3 vote figre | Sep 1, 2007 |
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Joan Didionprimary authorall editionscalculated
Leonard, JohnIntroductionsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
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A compilation of essays and nonfiction writings spanning more than forty years includes the author's reflections on politics, lifestyle, place, and cultural figures, including such topics as Haight-Ashbury, the Manson family, the Black Panthers, California earthquakes, and Bill Clinton.

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