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The White Album by Joan Didion

The White Album (1979)

by Joan Didion

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I’ve read two Didion books now, the other being “The Year of Magical Thinking,” her 2005 memoir of the year following the unexpected death of her husband. That book won, among other awards, the Pulitzer Prize. Sad as it was, I liked it more than “The While Album.” This book is about all things California. Well, all things related to the Beautiful People in California in the 1960s and 1970s. Didion knew many of these people and spoke of them as you and I would speak of the names of the streets we’ve lived on in our lifetimes. That part of this memoir was mildly irritating to me, but the payoff with anything Didion has written is the writing itself. It may be second to none. When I think of the Writers’ Club Joan Didion is in, I think of the likes of Tom Wolfe, George Will, people like that. It’s very special writing indeed, and it’s worth the price of admission. ( )
  DanDiercks | Nov 29, 2018 |
From the water and transportation systems of Southern California to Schofield Barracks and the Punchbowl Crater of Hawaii, from artist's to civil unrest, Journalist Joan Didion was there to cover it.
The selection of essays she as chosen for The White Album do not necessarily concern everybody but everybody who is concerned or just a little bit interested in the volatile and madcap late 1960's and early 1970's will find the collection fairly interesting and her prose slightly addictive. The focus is undoubtedly on California yet, that portion is, strangely fascinating. This could be in part for the people she's inserted into the essays. They give life to what, otherwise, for many non Californians, could have been a compilation of uninteresting stories. ( )
  Carmenere | Feb 1, 2018 |
"The beaches at Malibu are neither white nor as wide as the beach at Carmel. The hills are scrubby and barren, infested with bikers and rattlesnakes, scarred with cuts and old burns and new R.V. parks. For these and other reasons Malibu tends to astonish and disappoint those who have never seen it, and yet its very name remains, in the imagination of people all over the world, a kind of shorthand for the easy life. I had not before 1971 and will probably not again live in a place with a Chevrolet named after it."

I think that paragraph sums up, this collection of essays. A mosaic of snaphots, from the 60s and 70s, captured in Didion's deft, slightly aloof style, with razor-sharp insight and vivid imagery. Not every essay here sings, but there are plenty that do and she covers a lot of territory too, although the bulk, are centered around California. The collection opens with the title essay and it is a stunner. If you only want to read one, make it that one. ( )
  msf59 | Jan 21, 2018 |
I think what Joan Didion is very good at is setting the stage and making you feel present in the moment, even when that moment happened decades ago. She is cagey. She is writing for herself first, capturing those images and those facts in prose that will reflect the minutia back to you like a mirror. She is in every word, you can feel her presence, her careful crafting of each sentence, but she is elusive. So what is she saying? How did that make her feel? What is she getting at? Some of her essays beg to be read more than once, to be delved into time and time again. And this is what makes her brilliant - what she has to say isn't the point - it is how she says it. She has preserved the moment, the day, the decade in all of its glory or shame. She has laid the trivial beside the momentous and in doing so has made it timeless. It is not flat - it has dimension.

This collection, like most collections of anything has an unevenness. The brilliant shares space with the adequate and the puzzling. I wonder at why some of the entries were included. BUT the title essay is a gorgeous example of how to present a decade for consumption - she delivers to us the 60s by giving us a glimpse of her own life in that decade. Small vignettes that form a collage representing the whole. And the opening dialogue has become iconic:

“We tell ourselves stories in order to live...We look for the sermon in the suicide, for the social or moral lesson in the murder of five. We interpret what we see, select the most workable of the multiple choices. We live entirely, especially if we are writers, by the imposition of a narrative line upon disparate images, by the "ideas" with which we have learned to freeze the shifting phantasmagoria which is our actual experience.”

Divided into five sections, each with a theme, the collection contains a total of twenty essays. I liked most of them, and I loved several - the collection is worth having just for the title essay, in my opinion. Highly recommended if you like essays with the caveat that the title essay is by far the best of the bunch. ( )
3 vote Crazymamie | Jan 16, 2018 |
Fascinating reportage. An interesting collection, like reading something out of a time capsule. Possibly even more interesting for American readers, I enjoyed these essays. ( )
  essjay1 | Jan 11, 2017 |
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For Earl McGrath, and for Lois Wallace
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We tell ourselves stories in order to live. (The White Album)
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0374522219, Paperback)

First published in 1979, The White Album is a mosaic of the late sixties and seventies. It includes, among other bizarre artifacts and personalities, the dark journeys and impulses of the Manson family, a Balck Panther Party press conference, the story of John Paul Getty's museum, the romance of water in an arid landscape, and the swirl and confusion of the sixties. With commanding sureness of mood and language, Joan Didion exposes the realities and dreams of that age of self-discovery whose spiritual center was California.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:16:12 -0400)

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Essays on the author's experiences with American culture in the 1960s and 1970s.

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