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Let Me Tell You What I Mean

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From one of our most iconic and influential writers: a timeless collection of mostly early pieces that reveal what would become Joan Didion's subjects, including the press, politics, California robber barons, women, and her own self-doubt. Here are six pieces written in 1968 from the "Points West" Saturday Evening Post column Joan Didion shared from 1964 to 1969 with her hu From one of our most iconic and influential writers: a timeless collection of mostly early pieces that reveal what would become Joan Didion's subjects, including the press, politics, California robber barons, women, and her own self-doubt. Here are six pieces written in 1968 from the "Points West" Saturday Evening Post column Joan Didion shared from 1964 to 1969 with her husband, John Gregory Dunne about: American newspapers; a session with Gamblers Anonymous; a visit to San Simeon; being rejected by Stanford; dropping in on Nancy Reagan, wife of the then-governor of California, while a TV crew filmed her at home; and an evening at the annual reunion of WWII veterans from the 101st Airborne Association at the Stardust Hotel in Las Vegas. Here too is a 1976 piece from the New York Times magazine on "Why I Write"; a piece about short stories from New West in 1978; and from The New Yorker, a piece on Hemingway from 1998, and on Martha Stewart from 2000. Each one is classic Didion: incisive, bemused, and stunningly prescient.


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From one of our most iconic and influential writers: a timeless collection of mostly early pieces that reveal what would become Joan Didion's subjects, including the press, politics, California robber barons, women, and her own self-doubt. Here are six pieces written in 1968 from the "Points West" Saturday Evening Post column Joan Didion shared from 1964 to 1969 with her hu From one of our most iconic and influential writers: a timeless collection of mostly early pieces that reveal what would become Joan Didion's subjects, including the press, politics, California robber barons, women, and her own self-doubt. Here are six pieces written in 1968 from the "Points West" Saturday Evening Post column Joan Didion shared from 1964 to 1969 with her husband, John Gregory Dunne about: American newspapers; a session with Gamblers Anonymous; a visit to San Simeon; being rejected by Stanford; dropping in on Nancy Reagan, wife of the then-governor of California, while a TV crew filmed her at home; and an evening at the annual reunion of WWII veterans from the 101st Airborne Association at the Stardust Hotel in Las Vegas. Here too is a 1976 piece from the New York Times magazine on "Why I Write"; a piece about short stories from New West in 1978; and from The New Yorker, a piece on Hemingway from 1998, and on Martha Stewart from 2000. Each one is classic Didion: incisive, bemused, and stunningly prescient.

30 review for Let Me Tell You What I Mean

  1. 5 out of 5

    Violeta

    Joan Didion: Why I Write Of course I stole the title for this talk, from George Orwell. One reason I stole it was that I like the sound of the words: Why I Write. There you have three short unambiguous words that share a sound, and the sound they share is this: I I I In many ways, writing is the art of saying I, of imposing oneself upon other people, of saying “listen to me, see it my way, change your mind.” It’s an aggressive, even a hostile act. You can disguise its aggressiveness all you wan Joan Didion: Why I Write Of course I stole the title for this talk, from George Orwell. One reason I stole it was that I like the sound of the words: Why I Write. There you have three short unambiguous words that share a sound, and the sound they share is this: I I I In many ways, writing is the art of saying I, of imposing oneself upon other people, of saying “listen to me, see it my way, change your mind.” It’s an aggressive, even a hostile act. You can disguise its aggressiveness all you want with veils of subordinate clauses and qualifiers and tentative subjunctives, with ellipses and evasions – with the whole manner of intimating rather than claiming, of alluding rather than stating – but there’s no getting around the fact that setting words on paper is the tactic of a secret bully, an invasion, an imposition of the writer’s sensibility on the reader’s most private space. I stole the title not only because the words sounded right but because they seemed to sum up, in a no-nonsense way, all I have to tell you. So there, let’s say it in a no-nonsense way: Didion is not an acquired taste. Either you are taken with her from the start or you decide that she’s not for you and move on. Her sentences do not get better or different with time, neither do her themes. She retains a tone and attitude that either resonates with you or not. She writes non-fiction that, for the most part, reads like fiction. I didn’t come up with this – although I wish I had; Hilton Als did, the writer of the foreword of this latest collection of older essays. Whatever fiction is to be found in her writing is not direct, hungry for your attention, eager to adapt to traditional structure so as to cater to all kinds of reading tastes (he didn’t say this, I do.) Rather, it’s hidden, insinuated, glimpsed behind sentences that appear to be casually constructed; the more you read her, the more you realize how laborious her idiom is, how much she has pondered over each and every word. You only have to see how reverentially she dissects the first paragraph of Hemingway’s “A Farewell to Arms”, in essay no 11, to understand how hard she works on her own syntax. That is what’s so cool about her style (and I’m not only talking about her writing here): her deceptive effortlessness. Much has been said about her aloofness, her detachment, a certain apathy that runs through her work. Aloofness is defined in my dictionary in a number of ways. One of them is: The quality or state of lacking curiosity. That, she isn’t. And an other: A state of preoccupation. That, she definitely is. Again, it’s a matter of taste; I’m attracted to her alleged dispassion because it counterbalances my own sentimentality. I’ve learned not to question her involvement; she is involved, she always is, she just doesn’t throw it in your face, along with her judgment. She observes, she reports, she doesn’t explain. But she certainly paints the picture she set out to paint. Read “Pretty Nancy” (Reagan, wife of the then-governor of California), essay no 5, and see for yourselves how eloquent her impartial gaze at the Nancy-meets-the-press scene is. Twelve previously uncollected pieces of her work here, written from 1968 to 2000. Truth be told, they are not always distinctly connected. Their subjects range from San Simeon (Randolph Hearst’s personal Xanadu), …an imaginative idea that affected me, shaped my own imagination in the way that all children are shaped by the actual and emotional geography of the place in which they grow up… to a 1968 Las Vegas reunion of WWII veterans ( Perhaps it was hard to bring quite the same urgency to holding a position in a Vietnamese village or two that they had brought to liberating Europe.) From Robert Mapplethorpe’s photographs ( There was always in his work the tension, even the struggle, between light and dark. There was the exaltation of powerlessness.) to what Martha Stewart’s success represented at the time essay no 12 was written in 2000 ( This is getting out of the house with a vengeance, and on your own terms, the secret dream of any woman who has ever made a success of a PTA cake sale.) The best, for me, are those concerning the craft of writing (specifically) and the process of creating something from nothing (in general). “Nothing” applying to the ideas and pictures in the artist’s head. Was I interested in all of the topics? No, not especially. But it’s not the themes; it’s the writing that fascinates me and in the end manages to engage me in the subjects themselves. Of the twelve, three left me cold and all the rest appealed to me in various degrees. Not a bad count at all. If only for the two essays on the craft of writing, “Why I Write” and “Telling Stories”, this is worth reading. I opened the review with an excerpt from the former. I think I’ll close with one, decidedly longer, from the latter. If you aren’t convinced, sample and evaluate. Or skip it altogether. Otherwise, enjoy: Short stories demand a certain awareness of one’s own intentions, a certain narrowing of the focus. Let me give you an example. One morning in 1975 I found myself aboard the 8:45 a.m. Pan American from Los Angeles to Honolulu. There were, before take off from Los Angeles, “mechanical difficulties”, and a half hour delay. During this delay the stewardesses served coffee and orange juice and two children played tag in the aisles and, somewhere behind me, a man began screaming at a woman who seemed to be his wife. I say that the woman seemed to be his wife only because the tone of his invective sounded practiced, although the only words I heard clearly were these: “You are driving me to murder”. After a moment I was aware of the door to the plane being opened a few rows behind me, and of the man rushing off. There were many Pan American employees rushing on and off then, and considerable confusion. I do not know whether the man reboarded the plane before take-off or whether the woman went on to Honolulu alone, but I thought about it all the way across the Pacific. I thought about it while I was drinking a sherry on the rocks and I thought about it during lunch and I was still thinking about it when the first of the Hawaiian Islands appeared off the left wingtip. It was not until we had passed Diamond Head and were coming in low over the reef for landing at Honolulu, however, that I realized what I most disliked about this incident: I disliked it because it had the aspect of a short story, one of those “little epiphany” or “window on the world” stories, one of those stories in which the main character glimpses a crisis in a stranger’s life – a woman weeping in a tea room, quite often, or an accident seen from the window of a train, “tea rooms” and “trains” still being fixtures of short stories although not of real life – and is moved to see his or her own life in a new light. Again, my dislike was a case of needing room in which to play with what I did not understand. I was not going to Honolulu because I wanted to see life reduced to a short story. I was going to Honolulu because I wanted to see life expanded to a novel, and I still do. I wanted not a window on the world but the world itself. I wanted everything in the picture. I wanted room for flowers, and reef fish, and people who might or might not have been driving one another to murder but in any case were not impelled, by the demands of narrative convention, to say so out loud on the 8:45 a.m. Pan American from los Angeles to Honolulu. 1978

  2. 5 out of 5

    Emily B

    This was a such pleasant surprise for me. I wasn’t expecting to be so fascinated by her topics or mesmerised by her writing but I was. I’ve only read one of her books before this and now I’m thinking of reading more.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Lorna

    Let Me Tell You What I Mean was an anthology of essays written by Joan Didion from 1968 through 2000 that just kept me enthralled with her beautiful writing where she addresses the sweep from the mythical 1960s to the country's reaction to the events of September 11, 2001. Her writing is not only the lovely and poignant prose but searing words to the truth. I am looking forward to reading more of her works. In the words of Hilton Als in the Foreword to the book I read and dated July 2020: "Her Let Me Tell You What I Mean was an anthology of essays written by Joan Didion from 1968 through 2000 that just kept me enthralled with her beautiful writing where she addresses the sweep from the mythical 1960s to the country's reaction to the events of September 11, 2001. Her writing is not only the lovely and poignant prose but searing words to the truth. I am looking forward to reading more of her works. In the words of Hilton Als in the Foreword to the book I read and dated July 2020: "Her narrative nonfiction is a question about the truth. And if her nonfiction is synonymous with anything says Didion in work after work, it is with the idea that the truth is provisional, and the only thing backing it up is who you are at the time you wrote this or that, and that your joys and biases and prejudices are part of writing, too." There were so many riveting and thought-provoking essays about so many subjects. One of the most poignant was the essay, Fathers, Sons, Screaming Eagles. Didion was in Las Vegas in 1968 interviewing a man in his early forties who had been at Bastogne in 1944 with the 101st Airborne Division and there for their twenty-third annual reunion. His son was missing in action in the Vietnam War and there were the contrasts to that military action and World War II. This was a father in agony. "And of course there it was, that was it. They had indeed a great adventure, an essential adventure, and almost everyone in the room had been nineteen or twenty years old when they had it, and they survived and had come home and their wives had given birth to sons, and now those sons were nineteen, twenty, and perhaps it was not such a great adventure this time. Perhaps it was hard to bring quite the same urgency to holding a position in a Vietnamese village or two that they had brought to liberating Europe." Another favorite essay was Last Words where Didion talks about Ernest Hemingway and his book A Farewell to Arms, Didion states that "this was a man to whom words mattered. He worked at them, he understood them, he got inside them." As noted in the Foreword to this book by Hilton Als: "She has a great deal to say about the craft in her 1998 essay about Ernest Hemingway, parts of which feel like a a self-portrait of Joan Didion herself. The very grammar of a Hemingway sentence dictated, or was dictated by, a certain way of looking at the world, a way of looking but not joining, a way of moving through but not attaching, a kind of romantic individualism distinctly adapted to its time and source." And one that we should all heed was her unforgettable essay On Being Unchosen by the College of One's Choice. Didion, being a California girl, at age seventeen, applied and expected to be accepted to Stanford University. Upon receiving a letter of rejection, she was devastated and, in her words, "spent the rest of the spring in sullen but mild rebellion." She went on to the University of California at Berkley in the fall. The next year a friend at Stanford asked her to write him a paper on Conrad's Nostromo, and she did. While her friend got an A on it, Didion got a B- on the same paper at Berkley. It was then that she was free of the stigma of not being accepted at Stanford University and realized that because of her education at Berkley, she was a better writer than she may have been. This is an important essay as she assesses parents' expectations for their children and the unfair burden that may result and how getting into college has become an ugly business. As Didion relates, "When my father was told that I had been rejected by Stanford, he shrugged and offered me a drink." Indeed!

  4. 5 out of 5

    Claire Reads Books

    3.5 ⭐️ for this collection of previously published Joan Didion columns and essays. Like South and West, this book will be most interesting for Didion-heads who have already read her best work – nothing super memorable here, although I did enjoy the essay about Hemingway toward the end of the book.

  5. 5 out of 5

    David

    This new release contains previously published but uncollected writing from Joan Didion, spanning the years 1968-2000. That alone will be sufficient incentive for most readers already familiar with her stellar work to find the time to read it. Given the junior varsity nature of the selections, is isn't her very best collection, but everything in it is classic Didion, and there are a few real gems. Several of the pieces share common themes: that great writing (especially journalism) is predicated This new release contains previously published but uncollected writing from Joan Didion, spanning the years 1968-2000. That alone will be sufficient incentive for most readers already familiar with her stellar work to find the time to read it. Given the junior varsity nature of the selections, is isn't her very best collection, but everything in it is classic Didion, and there are a few real gems. Several of the pieces share common themes: that great writing (especially journalism) is predicated upon an honest response from the writer/reporter, including open identification and acceptance of underlying bias; that talent alone is insufficient for success in any field but requires an alchemical transformation through hard work; that the best artists suffer both for, and because of, their Art in order to remain true to their unique vision. Interestingly, I thought her strongest essays were those that discuss encounters with - or analysis of - celebrity. She settles her knowing gaze upon movers and shakers like Nancy Reagan, Robert Mapplethorpe, Tony Richardson, Ernest Hemmingway, and Martha Stewart. As much as I had hoped to gain more insight into her own process, neither "Why I Write" nor "Telling Stories" were among my favorites. However, Didion's withering, clear-eyed disdain for those who try and edit - or otherwise modify - any author's unfinished works for posthumous publication is stated loudly and clearly. It seems an obvious shot across the bow as she herself approaches "the end of the line". In summary, this is a solid, often strong new addition to Didion's authorized publications. A few of these pieces should go on to enjoy great popularity, especially the outstanding (and still relevant) "On Being Unchosen by the College of One's Choice".

  6. 5 out of 5

    Joanne

    Y’all don’t need me to tell you to read Joan Didion. But, this is a newly published collection that may have some undiscovered essays in it. Reading Joan, to me, is like leafing through your Hipstamatic filters, causing you to see things in a different way again and again. Some of these are from the late 1960s, but the one about the turmoil college admissions could have been written yesterday. All were great, but after reading her examination of Hemingway, I’ll never view the process of writing Y’all don’t need me to tell you to read Joan Didion. But, this is a newly published collection that may have some undiscovered essays in it. Reading Joan, to me, is like leafing through your Hipstamatic filters, causing you to see things in a different way again and again. Some of these are from the late 1960s, but the one about the turmoil college admissions could have been written yesterday. All were great, but after reading her examination of Hemingway, I’ll never view the process of writing any fiction the same. This is what you save your five stars for.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Nick Craske

    A collection of twelve previously unpublished pieces. Joan's voice in some of this early work as clearly defined and in tact as her later longer form, denser and more absorbing pieces. I personally find her writing style soothing in the way a voyeur, suspended above and outside of the world, looking in with acute perceptiveness and a heightened sense of the minutiae of life, might feel. Always a pleasure. A collection of twelve previously unpublished pieces. Joan's voice in some of this early work as clearly defined and in tact as her later longer form, denser and more absorbing pieces. I personally find her writing style soothing in the way a voyeur, suspended above and outside of the world, looking in with acute perceptiveness and a heightened sense of the minutiae of life, might feel. Always a pleasure.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Sarah

    3.5 rounded up Whilst something of a discordant collection, I enjoyed all of these essays; as with any collection (especially one ranging from the 80s to 00s) there are some that are better than others, but Didion fans are unlikely to be disappointed -- even with repackaged material. If you've not ready Didion before, I wouldn't suggest starting here - Slouching Towards Bethlehem and The White Album would be better options, but in all honesty this is worth reading for the Hemingway essay alone (w 3.5 rounded up Whilst something of a discordant collection, I enjoyed all of these essays; as with any collection (especially one ranging from the 80s to 00s) there are some that are better than others, but Didion fans are unlikely to be disappointed -- even with repackaged material. If you've not ready Didion before, I wouldn't suggest starting here - Slouching Towards Bethlehem and The White Album would be better options, but in all honesty this is worth reading for the Hemingway essay alone (which focuses on an author's work being published posthumously without their consent). Recommended!

  9. 4 out of 5

    Gregory Baird

    Didion is always enjoyable and this collection of previously unpublished works is no exception. Like most collections, some hold up better than others, but overall the pieces provide a staggering snapshot of Didion as a writer. Somehow, I had never noticed just how central she is in all her writing. It gave me a lot to think about in terms of how everything we read is through the lens of the writer--Didion is just more upfront about her presence than most. I've seen complaints that some of the w Didion is always enjoyable and this collection of previously unpublished works is no exception. Like most collections, some hold up better than others, but overall the pieces provide a staggering snapshot of Didion as a writer. Somehow, I had never noticed just how central she is in all her writing. It gave me a lot to think about in terms of how everything we read is through the lens of the writer--Didion is just more upfront about her presence than most. I've seen complaints that some of the writings feel irrelevant given later events (in one piece, she spends time with Nancy Reagan in 1968, when she was the wife of the Governor of California and, most significantly, she writes about Martha Stewart before Stewart's arrest for insider trading). I respectfully disagree. For me, these snapshots are even more fascinating given what we know about how things turned out (and what Didion had no way of knowing at the time). While I would not recommend this as a starting point for the uninitiated, Let Me Tell You What I Mean is a gem of a collection for the Didion devoted. Given that much of the pieces are bite-sized, I devoured it in a single evening and it felt like time well spent.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Annikky

    Well, Didion could write a shopping list and I would be interested in reading it. Come to think of it, I am VERY interested in reading Didion's shopping lists. If you know of any that are publicly available, please let me know. Well, Didion could write a shopping list and I would be interested in reading it. Come to think of it, I am VERY interested in reading Didion's shopping lists. If you know of any that are publicly available, please let me know.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Avani ✨

    Let Me Tell You What I Mean by Joan Didion is a collection of essays written by the author over the course of years about various topics and also talking about the publishing industry in mid 90s. We also get to read about how her earlier books were rejected by various publishing houses. This is the first book I am reading by this author and exploring her work was quite an experience for me. I am in awe with the rawness of writing and truths written in this book. I am actually a person who reads b Let Me Tell You What I Mean by Joan Didion is a collection of essays written by the author over the course of years about various topics and also talking about the publishing industry in mid 90s. We also get to read about how her earlier books were rejected by various publishing houses. This is the first book I am reading by this author and exploring her work was quite an experience for me. I am in awe with the rawness of writing and truths written in this book. I am actually a person who reads both fiction and non-fiction equally (well, almost) and also enjoy is the same. The essays were also based on concerns about writing and creative process in general. All the essays were diverse yet facing the common threads of societal issues at that time. Another essay about Ernest Hemingway and his book. Here, the six essays are written in 1968 from the "Points West" Saturday Evening Post column Joan Didion shared from 1964 to 1969 with her husband. 3. 5 stars

  12. 5 out of 5

    lapetitesouris

    I love you, Didion. (snips of favourite quotes to come)

  13. 5 out of 5

    Abby

    Joan Didion is one of my favorite authors, and I was so happy to see some of her essays combined into this collection. I love Didion's writing style. Her thoughts are profound and concise, and her words always hit their mark. In some of these essays, Didion provided insight into her writing process with a focus on both the individual words and the arrangment of them through grammar. That was one of my favorite parts, learning what Didion thought about writing as a craft. Some of my favorite essa Joan Didion is one of my favorite authors, and I was so happy to see some of her essays combined into this collection. I love Didion's writing style. Her thoughts are profound and concise, and her words always hit their mark. In some of these essays, Didion provided insight into her writing process with a focus on both the individual words and the arrangment of them through grammar. That was one of my favorite parts, learning what Didion thought about writing as a craft. Some of my favorite essays were "Why I Write," "Telling Stories," "Last Words," and "Everywoman.com." Didion never fails to amaze me with her work, and I highly recommend this essay collection to any fan of Didion. Although, I will say that the essays in this collection don't have as clear of a theme tying them together, so if you've never read any of Didion's work before, I would recommend you try a different essay collection first. My personal favorite is Slouching Towards Bethlehem.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Milky Mixer

    Such an odd compliation of essays to choose for this collection since nothing ties them together other than they are written by the magnificent Joan Didion. But I always enjoy reading her observations and ponderings, even when they're about someone as boring as Nancy Reagan. Other collections and essays by Ms. Didion are better, but still 3.5 stars. Such an odd compliation of essays to choose for this collection since nothing ties them together other than they are written by the magnificent Joan Didion. But I always enjoy reading her observations and ponderings, even when they're about someone as boring as Nancy Reagan. Other collections and essays by Ms. Didion are better, but still 3.5 stars.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Sarahjanereed4

    Classic Didion precision. Many of the themes she takes on 50 years ago are uncanny in their current relevance - I just wish the collection included some further comment from Didion herself about how the pieces have aged or how she makes sense of them in the current moment. But the Hilton Als foreword is great, and many of them do speak for themselves.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Jaclyn (sixminutesforme)

    Bit of a miss for me overall—I think the introductory note was helpful in framing what the essays were doing collectively, but unless you’re a Didion super fan this may be mostly forgettable (it was for me 😬) Thanks to PRH Audio for the audiobook

  17. 5 out of 5

    Oscreads

    I’m not going to lie, I had trouble with this book since I barely knew anything about Didion other than the buzz around her essays. I guess I didn’t expect to be so lost. But then after reading “Why I Write” this entire collection picked up speed for me. I’m an English major so hearing this writer talking about her writing in that essay was everything. The essays that followed “Why I Write” were stand outs as well. I just didn’t like the first few essays because I’m not that cultured on the 60s I’m not going to lie, I had trouble with this book since I barely knew anything about Didion other than the buzz around her essays. I guess I didn’t expect to be so lost. But then after reading “Why I Write” this entire collection picked up speed for me. I’m an English major so hearing this writer talking about her writing in that essay was everything. The essays that followed “Why I Write” were stand outs as well. I just didn’t like the first few essays because I’m not that cultured on the 60s and 70s, which is something I want to work on personally. But other than that, I think this was a great introduction to Didion’s work that made me incredibly interested in her writing and voice in literature.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Sam Glatt

    These are all undeniably great pieces written by one of the greatest writers we have ever had, but as a collection it feels almost pointless. There is barely any connective tissue among pieces, whereas collections like Slouching and The White Album feel more like they have a throughline, even as the essays in those move between sections. That being said, any Didion fan is positively sure to devour these, and the Hilton Als foreword is a tremendous and insightful look at Didion’s career and unique These are all undeniably great pieces written by one of the greatest writers we have ever had, but as a collection it feels almost pointless. There is barely any connective tissue among pieces, whereas collections like Slouching and The White Album feel more like they have a throughline, even as the essays in those move between sections. That being said, any Didion fan is positively sure to devour these, and the Hilton Als foreword is a tremendous and insightful look at Didion’s career and unique voice.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Andrew Mendoza

    Everything she publishes is a gift to humanity.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Paige

    3.5 - a real mixed bag, but there were some all-timers in here!!

  21. 5 out of 5

    Olivia Lopez

    The final profile essay on Martha Stewart is *chef's kiss* The final profile essay on Martha Stewart is *chef's kiss*

  22. 5 out of 5

    Ted Zarek

    While not as great in it's style and encompassing as something like The White Album, this collection has a few gems hidden within it, such as "On Being Unchosen by the College of One's Choice" and "Why I Write." Both are self-explanatory in their content based on the titles alone, but they are both interesting in Didion's own experiences and how they can be related to the readers. Perhaps one of the most interesting, though, is "Last Words," a sort of critical analysis of Ernest Hemingway's work While not as great in it's style and encompassing as something like The White Album, this collection has a few gems hidden within it, such as "On Being Unchosen by the College of One's Choice" and "Why I Write." Both are self-explanatory in their content based on the titles alone, but they are both interesting in Didion's own experiences and how they can be related to the readers. Perhaps one of the most interesting, though, is "Last Words," a sort of critical analysis of Ernest Hemingway's works with an emphasis on the posthumously published True at First Light, of which Didion was especially critical of. It's interesting to see how she so clearly fauns over his writing and his work, dissecting his process and lauding his style, while (somewhat) subtly criticizing Hemingway's estate for releasing - not a book - but an outline that Hemingway himself considered only partially completed.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Hank Stuever

    Definitely an interesting assemblage/mix here. I remember becoming so Didion-obsessed in the early 1990s that I spent an entire Saturday (10 hours at least) at the local university library going through old Readers Periodical Guides, etc., and then finding the microfiche of old volumes of the Saturday Evening Post so that I could read as many of the "Points West" columns that she and John Gregory Dunne wrote in the 1960s, just to see what they were like. I was interested in what Joan Didion wrote Definitely an interesting assemblage/mix here. I remember becoming so Didion-obsessed in the early 1990s that I spent an entire Saturday (10 hours at least) at the local university library going through old Readers Periodical Guides, etc., and then finding the microfiche of old volumes of the Saturday Evening Post so that I could read as many of the "Points West" columns that she and John Gregory Dunne wrote in the 1960s, just to see what they were like. I was interested in what Joan Didion wrote as a working journalist with firm deadlines and word-counts and a beat, of sorts (which, loosely, was the weird and wild West Coast that exists mainly in the minds of New York editors). By the '90s, her pieces were fewer and far between and much longer, deeper. A more interesting book -- outside of Didion's or her literary estate's overview -- would be to compare and contrast Joan and John's columns in these years. If I recall correctly, their names and pen-and-ink headshots ran together on every column, with an individual signature at the end to let you know who was writing. I don't think we yet have (or ever will have) a full understanding the shape and degree of their influence on one another's work. She was way better than him at coolly distant reportage, but could she have done it without his input, approval, presence, etc.? I think she could, obviously, but it remains a fascinating and very private relationship. The 2/1/21 Nathan Heller piece in the New Yorker about this book -- and the many ways we continue to repackage and reevaluate Didion's work -- is far better than any reaction I can have to this. Read that.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Dave

    This is a hodgepodge, but a rewarding hodgepodge. I like the early journalism, and her way of seeing the pathos of people who are being looked at and influenced from outside: "On Being Unchosen by the College of One's Choice" is brilliant (and resonant), and "Fathers, Sons, Screaming Eagles," one of the saddest essays about VietNam you could read. I'm less enthralled by her looks at famous people, but the essay on Hemingway makes me sympathize with that unsympathetic man. And in the middle are t This is a hodgepodge, but a rewarding hodgepodge. I like the early journalism, and her way of seeing the pathos of people who are being looked at and influenced from outside: "On Being Unchosen by the College of One's Choice" is brilliant (and resonant), and "Fathers, Sons, Screaming Eagles," one of the saddest essays about VietNam you could read. I'm less enthralled by her looks at famous people, but the essay on Hemingway makes me sympathize with that unsympathetic man. And in the middle are two great pieces on herself: "Why I Write," one of the best things she's ever written; and "Telling Stories," about her inability to write short stories. You could do worse than start here with her. She's passionate, dry witted, occasionally ironic, incisive, and very readable. Also, she's a great writer. Let her tell you what she means--and by all means, skip the introduction by Hilton Als, who tries to tell you what she means. When I hit the word "cool," I stopped reading it.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Ericka Shin

    It’s like taking a small, intimate writing class from Didion herself.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Sam

    I love Joan Didion so much I read an entire essay on perhaps my most hated literary figure (Ernest Hemingway) for her.

  27. 4 out of 5

    André

    “One morning in 1975 I found myself aboard the 8:45 a.m. Pan American from Los Angeles to Honolulu. There were, before take-off from Los Angeles, “mechanical difficulties,” and a half-hour delay. During this delay the stewardesses served coffee and orange juice and two children played tag in the aisles and, somewhere behind me, a man began screaming at a woman who seemed to be his wife. I say that the woman seemed to be his wife only because the tone of his invective sounded practiced, although “One morning in 1975 I found myself aboard the 8:45 a.m. Pan American from Los Angeles to Honolulu. There were, before take-off from Los Angeles, “mechanical difficulties,” and a half-hour delay. During this delay the stewardesses served coffee and orange juice and two children played tag in the aisles and, somewhere behind me, a man began screaming at a woman who seemed to be his wife. I say that the woman seemed to be his wife only because the tone of his invective sounded practiced, although the only words I heard clearly were these: “You are driving me to murder.” After a moment I was aware of the door to the plane being opened a few rows behind me, and of the man rushing off. There were many Pan American employees rushing on and off then, and considerable confusion. I do not know whether the man reboarded the plane before take-off or whether the woman went on to Honolulu alone, but I thought about it all the way across the Pacific. I thought about it while I was drinking a sherry on the rocks and I thought about it during lunch and I was still thinking about it when the first of the Hawaiian Islands appeared off the left wingtip. It was not until we had passed Diamond Head and were coming in low over the reef for landing at Honolulu, however, that I realized what I most disliked about this incident: I disliked it because it had the aspect of a short story, one of those “little epiphany” or “window on the world” stories, one of those stories in which the main character glimpses a crisis in a stranger’s life—a woman weeping in a tea room, quite often, or an accident seen from the window of a train, “tea rooms” and “trains” still being fixtures of short stories although not of real life—and is moved to see his or her own life in a new light. Again, my dislike was a case of needing room in which to play with what I did not understand. I was not going to Honolulu because I wanted to see life reduced to a short story. I was going to Honolulu because I wanted to see life expanded to a novel, and I still do. I wanted not a window on the world but the world itself. I wanted everything in the picture. I wanted room for flowers, and reef fish, and people who might or might not have been driving one another to murder but in any case were not impelled, by the demands of narrative convention, to say so out loud on the 8:45 a.m. Pan American from Los Angeles to Honolulu.”

  28. 4 out of 5

    Jodi Guerra

    Joan Didion is an icon, and this latest volume of essays displays her at her finest. It’s a slim work, a collection of her short-form essays that have previously been uncollected. Many are from the year 1968, and what is remarkable is her skill then and her skill now. The most recent piece in the book, a look at Martha Stewart pre-insider trading conviction and prison stay, is from 2000. What marks Didion as a writer, and you’ll see this word used over and over again, is her absolute prescience. Joan Didion is an icon, and this latest volume of essays displays her at her finest. It’s a slim work, a collection of her short-form essays that have previously been uncollected. Many are from the year 1968, and what is remarkable is her skill then and her skill now. The most recent piece in the book, a look at Martha Stewart pre-insider trading conviction and prison stay, is from 2000. What marks Didion as a writer, and you’ll see this word used over and over again, is her absolute prescience. She sees things before they come to be, and this makes her essays timeless. Again and again, I kept thinking to myself, “Wow. This is just what happened” or “Some things never change, and Didion nails it.” For example, let’s consider the recent college admissions scandals engulfing the Hollywood and ultra-rich elite. Didion’s 1968 (1968!) essay “On Being Unchosen by the College of One’s Choice,” an essay reflecting on her rejection by Stanford (surely one of the most bone-headed rejections in the history of college admissions) remains apropos. This is great reading for anyone who has been rejected, who wasn’t first, who frets over their children’s college plans. Another essay, “Pretty Nancy” chronicles a visit to Nancy Reagan as wife of the California governor. It’s a fairly scathing essay without uttering a single condemnation. She just tells her tale, observing and noting, and she leaves the reader to draw the inevitable conclusions. I suppose politics never changes. If you’ve never read Didion, this is a fine place to start. Aside from the two essays mentioned, I particularly enjoyed her writing on writing. “Why I Write” and “Last Words” are particularly interesting for those who love writing and literature. Netflix has a documentary about Joan Didion entitled “The Center Will Not Hold.” It’s fascinating stuff!

  29. 4 out of 5

    Tiyasha Chaudhury

    Being my first read by Joan Didion, I did not know what to expect. Hence, this is not a review but a few observations that I have made and shared here. Let Me Tell You What I Mean is Didion telling us that as long as her observation powers and her looking through things with bold perspectives (the word bold is added by me, if you read the book, you'll know) are alive with her, she can write almost everything that she keeps her mind on. 'She writes with a razor'. Says The New York Times and I canno Being my first read by Joan Didion, I did not know what to expect. Hence, this is not a review but a few observations that I have made and shared here. Let Me Tell You What I Mean is Didion telling us that as long as her observation powers and her looking through things with bold perspectives (the word bold is added by me, if you read the book, you'll know) are alive with her, she can write almost everything that she keeps her mind on. 'She writes with a razor'. Says The New York Times and I cannot agree more. In 'Alicia and the Underground Press', Didion marks: 'It is a comment on our press conventions that we are considered "well-informed" to precisely the extent that we know "the real story," the story not in the newspaper.' In another piece "Why I write", she goes: 'I write entirely to find out what I'm thinking, what I'm looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear... What is going on in these pictures in my mind?.." I've always thought that when a book has the capacity to leave you amused— by amused I mean exactly what the word means. The real meaning and nothing else. You wouldn't know how to review it. There were multiple thoughts whilst reading this one, but not one was pinned in my head. All I can bet on is that I want more of Didion. She has the capacity to challenge things just as they are without wanting to fight them (again, this is another observation), without totally intending to. But the readers get it, they have to. There's no stagnant feeling inside of me about this book but there is a voice that wants more of her works to be read.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Stephanie

    I know that I’m a bit of a Didion superfan, but there are pieces of gold in this collection. From my favorite piece “Why I Write” “In many ways writing is the act of saying I, of imposing oneself upon other people, of saying listen to me, see it my way, change your mind. It’s an aggressive, even a hostile act. You can disguise its aggressiveness all you want with veils of subordinate clauses and qualifiers and tentative subjunctives, with ellipses and evasions—with the whole manner of intimating r I know that I’m a bit of a Didion superfan, but there are pieces of gold in this collection. From my favorite piece “Why I Write” “In many ways writing is the act of saying I, of imposing oneself upon other people, of saying listen to me, see it my way, change your mind. It’s an aggressive, even a hostile act. You can disguise its aggressiveness all you want with veils of subordinate clauses and qualifiers and tentative subjunctives, with ellipses and evasions—with the whole manner of intimating rather than claiming, of alluding rather than stating—but there’s no getting around the fact that setting words on paper is the tactic of a secret bully, an invasion, an imposition of the writer’s sensibility on the readers most private space.” Other pieces include thoughts on an interview with Nancy Reagan, of the publication of the posthumous work of Hemingway, of the critics of Martha Stewart, of Robert Mapplethorpe’s work, and more, extending from the late sixties to 2000.

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