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text 2017-05-25 17:39
The White Album: Essays by Joan Didion $1.99 Love this book!
The White Album: Essays (FSG Classics) - Joan Didion

In this landmark essay collection, Joan Didion brilliantly interweaves her own “bad dreams” with those of a nation confronting the dark underside of 1960s counterculture.
 
From a jailhouse visit to Black Panther Party cofounder Huey Newton to witnessing First Lady of California Nancy Reagan pretend to pick flowers for the benefit of news cameras, Didion captures the paranoia and absurdity of the era with her signature blend of irony and insight. She takes readers to the “giddily splendid” Getty Museum in Los Angeles, the cool mountains of Bogotá, and the Jordanian Desert, where Bishop James Pike went to walk in Jesus’s footsteps—and died not far from his rented Ford Cortina. She anatomizes the culture of shopping malls—“toy garden cities in which no one lives but everyone consumes”—and exposes the contradictions and compromises of the women’s movement. In the iconic title essay, she documents her uneasy state of mind during the years leading up to and following the Manson murders—a terrifying crime that, in her memory, surprised no one.
 
Written in “a voice like no other in contemporary journalism,” The White Album is a masterpiece of literary reportage and a fearless work of autobiography by the National Book Award–winning author of The Year of Magical Thinking (The New York Times Book Review). Its power to electrify and inform remains undiminished nearly forty years after it was first published.

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review 2016-08-26 13:24
My review of Icelandic phenom Sjón's masterpiece is live

My new #review is live today. MOONSTONE: The Boy Who Never Was is truly jaw-dropping. From the review, "Sjón operates equally lyrically when describing the antiquated views of the doctor and the simple survival techniques of Máni."

 

Farrar, Straus and Giroux gets 5 full stars because they chose Victoria Cribb to translate this book. Clearly she is fearless! This is a must-read for anyone interested in #LGBTQ lit.

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text 2014-04-15 23:24
#ReadWomen2014 Seriously. Do it.
Vampires in the Lemon Grove -
Changing My Mind: Occasional Essays - Zadie Smith
The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P. - Adelle Waldman
The People of Forever Are Not Afraid - Shani Boianjiu
The White Album: Essays (FSG Classics) - Joan Didion

I heard in a recent interview with one of the writers of the movie Noah explained that they cast all white males because they wanted it to be about the "everyman". It is a ridiculous justification for what probably amounts to a giant oversight. I bring this up because we all have our blind spots and when we are called out on them we could turn out awkward, self-serving justifications or we can take the opportunity to reflect and grow. Read Women 2014 gives us all an opportunity to make inroads on one of these "oversights".

 

I nearly wrote off this movement when it first came to my attention. I thought it was nice, something I might share on my wall, but I am a pretty modern reader. I followed female authors like Zadie Smith and Karen Russel, I am a pretty even-handed reader, I thought. Then I took a minute to actually look at my to-read shelf, aka, the Grand Order of Old White Guys. 

 

I could try to justify it, I do understand that so much of the Western Canon was developed during a period when white males decided they were the only ones that could do that sort of thing, and since they had all the powerful positions everywhere, it remains the vast majority of what was handed down to us. This is not to say that the works that we have inherited are bad, there is a reason my shelf is full of them, but that perspective is necessarily limited. Reading them is fine, but it becomes damaging when we hold on to that mode as the default; when they start seeing white male as the obvious iteration of the "everyman".

 

Read Women 2014 is a great moment to try to change that mode of thinking. It's a chance to throw off old stigmas, when I was a teen Jane Austen seemed to girly, a stance that was deservedly shed along with my Nickelback albums and baggy jeans. I am, as most of you surely are as well, far beyond that, but I still never got back around to reading any Jane Austen. I intend to fix that this year. 

 

It is a way to break the inertia. I have no compelling reason to have read Brian Jay Jones's biography of Jim Henson over Karen Russell's Vampires in the Lemon Grove. They are both good books, but, in fact, the latter is much more interesting. I picked up Jim Henson because I like the muppets, but I could have easily picked something else, and that is where we can make a difference. If I take a moment, in every bookstore and library, and try to find something from a female author, then maybe something will sink in; maybe my future shelves won't look quite so much like Norwegian national hockey team. 

 

I know we're pretty far into 2014, but I am hoping to catch some new eyes, and keep the momentum going into the summer. Since we can make the biggest change going forward, I have tried to get living female authors. I will link some here.

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review 2014-01-17 00:59
A collection of essays on 1960s California
Slouching Towards Bethlehem: Essays - Joan Didion
"Our favorite people and our favorite stories become so not by any inherent virtue, but because they illustrate something deep in the grain, something unadmitted."


All the essays are insightful and well written. However, I like some more than the others. So, I am only going to talk about those I like here. My favorite are Some Dreamers of the Golden DreamWhere The Kissing Never StopOn Keeping Notebook, and Goodbye to All That.

"The easiest kind of relationship for me is with ten thousand people,"she said. "The hardest is with one."

I love this quotation from Where Kissing Never Stop, where Didion wrote about Joan Baez and her school. The "she" here is Joan Baez talking about her feeling during concerts.

On Keeping Notebook is meaningful in ways that I feel as if she speaks my mind. I have the habit of keeping notebook where I jot down random sentences that looking back, there are times when I actually don't remember what they even mean or why I write them down. But like all memories, they all eventually come back to me. Also, Didion wrote that, essentially the notebook is all about "I", which I wholeheartedly agree.

Goodbye to All That is definitely my favorite piece in this book. It speaks how I feel during the years high school and college. I am from a small village and spends those years in what is known in my country as "The City". No matter how long I stay there, it is never home. I'm glad I've found this and I know I'll read it again when I feel lonely out there. 

Now, I'll be honest, I've never heard of Joan Baez or most of the places mentioned prior to Slouching towards Bethlehem which makes me like these essays more. They give me quite a handful of things to learn and read on. They also act as a time machine and give insight into what it's like in 1960s through the eyes of Didion.

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review 2013-09-05 00:00
Slouching Towards Bethlehem: Essays - Joan Didion Joan Didion is an insightful and skeptical thinker, an astute ironist, and a beautiful prose stylist: Slouching Towards Bethlehem exemplifies her craft. While all of her essays are exemplary in form, some fall by the wayside of memory, and even only a week removed from my first foray in Didion, only a few remain with me with any moving power. Slouching Towards Bethlehem skirts the two worlds of my known (intimacy) and my unknown (distance): what it means to be a twentysomething, a skeptic, a thinker, an observational outsider-insider, a reader, and the world of the 1960s: the vestigial mirage of the American dream, and the fairy-dust optimism particular to California (and to drug-addicts).

I had held off reading Didion for a while, because more than I knew about her writing, I knew about her celebrity. The Joan Didion of 2013: the sheepish-looking neuresthenic of the upper-upper crust, with silver tableware and imported china, damask upholstery on ormulu footed furniture, does not invite sympathy nor empathy. She has become her own horror, a self-damaging neuralgia grown completely inward into herself. But the Didion of Slouching Towards Bethlehem (and, I hope, The White Album which I plan to read sometime soon) is a different sort of woman: one which balances the Janus faces of reflection: inward as well as outward. Much of this collection is a reflection on external, cultural phenomena: a murder case in Southern California, the alluring celebrity of John Wayne, the apotheosis of marriage in Las Vegas, the drugs and counterculture of San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury, and she develops a personal narrative about it: how she is affected by these phenomena, and what it meant to be exposed to them. Her essays have a literary flair, which court Fitzgerald-esque lyricism and Hemingway-an precision, exactness: her essays are thoroughly American, of an American rhythm and tempo, with a focus on the corroding core of the "American dream."

A particularly resonant essay, "Goodbye to All That" describes Didion's eight-year sojourn in New York City, when she was twenty up through twenty-eight.
one of the mixed blessings of being twenty and twenty-one and even twenty-three is the conviction that nothing like this, all evidence to the contrary notwithstanding, has ever happened before.
As a twenty-three year old (recently initiated, adieu, twenty-two) I understand the conviction that what one feels, one is the first to feel, perhaps the only one ever to feel: all emotions feel unique, curried with the salt of freedom. If young childhood is the realm of dominant solipsism, young adult hood is the era of narcissism, egoism. It is necessary, I think, to go through this deeply narcissistic phase: we must, at sometime, be the true heroes of our life stories: alone and valiant like Odysseus. At twenty-something, the consequences of our actions are minor, we are yet-formed, yet-completed, we are free to fall and free to rise, but still free to be forgiven. In this period of our lives we must design and build a genuine ego, to replace the mask of entitlement and privilege of youth. Everything which is new is new only by our point of reference: ourselves, and impossible to conceive the true universality of it in the present. Literature, history, makes us feel often that we are not alone, that what we are feeling is rooted in something which is universal, eternal: but we still believe that we have a unique strain, an undiscovered permutation of the human condition.

Didion's essays On Self-Respect, On Morality, On Keeping a Notebook reveal the narcissistic compulsions of young adulthood: an age wherein we pen (figuratively and sometimes literally for the diary-inclined) the narrative of out life-stories, and also develop the character which we will assume. What draws people to literature, to story-telling, to TV and movies, is our desperate need for linearity in life. We understand the beginning-middle-end mentality, the rhythm of narratives is very comforting to us. We are a profoundly moralizing species, and narratives help us find meaning, even if it is artificial, created, posed: it comforts us to think that every action has an equal and opposite re-action, we are comforted by the abstract concept of justice, and the practice of it when it is in our favor. Didion acknowledges this compulsion:
I know something about dread myself, and appreciate the elaborate systems with which some people fill the void, appreciate all the opiates of the people, whether they are as accessible as alcohol and heroin and promiscuity or as hard to come by as faith in God or History.
As humans, we need some escape, or if not escape overtly, some structure which guards us from the brutal chaos of reality. We conceive of ourselves heroes, we are heroically justified, our self-respect buds, we become a solitary wanderer, discoverer, thinker, inventor: we measure ourselves by our potential, not necessarily by our accomplishments.
To have that sense of one's intrinsic worth which constitutes self-respect is potentially to have everything: the ability to discriminate, to love and to remain indifferent. To lack it is to be locked within oneself, paradoxically incapable of either love or indifference.
Self-respect, according to Didion, is a "moral nerve" - those with self-respect "have the courage of their mistakes. They know the price of things." It is in the golden era of our lives, our twenties, when we are forced to pay for things: our material needs with money, and our mistakes with our self-respect. There is not currency so valuable as self-respect, and no wealth which is harder to regain when it has been lost.

I was moved, was empathetic, to what Didion has to say about her life, particularly her more personal essays. Her descent into neurotic inwardness is perhaps the extreme condition of her reflexive mastery in her earlier essays and works: for it is this aspect which shines. She is coolly self-aware at the age of thirty-two, where she has become a prisoner of her own privilege and self-communion in her later years.
I think we are well-advised to keep on nodding terms with the people we used to be, whether we find them attractive company or not. Otherwise they turn up unannounced and surprise us, come hammering on the mind's door at 4 a.m. of a bad night and demand to know who deserted them, who betrayed them, who is going to make amends. We forget all too soon the things we thought we could never forget. We forget the loves and the betrayals alike, forget what we whispered and what we screamed, forget who we were.
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