We Tell Ourselves Stories in Order to Live: Collected Nonfiction

( 3 )

Overview

(Book Jacket Status: Jacketed)

Joan Didion’s incomparable and distinctive essays and journalism are admired for their acute, incisive observations and their spare, elegant style. Now the seven books of nonfiction that appeared between 1968 and 2003 have been brought together into one thrilling collection.

Slouching Towards Bethlehem captures the counterculture of the sixties, its mood and lifestyle, as symbolized by California, Joan Baez, Haight-Ashbury. The White Album covers ...

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Overview

(Book Jacket Status: Jacketed)

Joan Didion’s incomparable and distinctive essays and journalism are admired for their acute, incisive observations and their spare, elegant style. Now the seven books of nonfiction that appeared between 1968 and 2003 have been brought together into one thrilling collection.

Slouching Towards Bethlehem captures the counterculture of the sixties, its mood and lifestyle, as symbolized by California, Joan Baez, Haight-Ashbury. The White Album covers the revolutionary politics and the “contemporary wasteland” of the late sixties and early seventies, in pieces on the Manson family, the Black Panthers, and Hollywood. Salvador is a riveting look at the social and political landscape of civil war. Miami exposes the secret role this largely Latin city played in the Cold War, from the Bay of Pigs through Watergate. In After Henry Didion reports on the Reagans, Patty Hearst, and the Central Park jogger case. The eight essays in Political Fictions–on censorship in the media, Gingrich, Clinton, Starr, and “compassionate conservatism,” among others–show us how we got to the political scene of today. And in Where I Was From Didion shows that California was never the land of the golden dream.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
"We tell ourselves stories in order to live.... The princess is caged in the consulate. The man with the candy will lead the children into the sea. The naked woman on the ledge outside the window on the 16th floor is a victim of accidie, or the naked woman is an exhibitionist, and it would be 'interesting' to know which. We tell ourselves that it makes some difference whether the naked woman is about to commit a mortal sin or is about to register a political protest or is about to be, the Aristophanic view, snatched back to the human condition by the fireman in priest's clothing just visible behind her, the one smiling at the telephoto lens. We look for the sermon in the suicide, for the social or moral lesson in the murder of five." Joan Didion is one of the best nonfiction prose writers alive. This essay collection proves it.
From the Publisher
“[Didion’s is] one of the most recognizable—and brilliant—literary styles to emerge in America during the past four decades . . . [She is] a great American writer.”
New York Times Book Review

“One beautiful sentence follows another . . . Didion has remained a clearheaded and original writer all her long life.”
Newsweek

“Her intelligence is as honed as ever . . . Her vision is ice-water clear . . . Didion has captured the mood of America.”
New York Times

“Many of us have tried, and failed, to master [Didion’s] gift for the single ordinary deflating word, the word that spins an otherwise flat sentence through five degrees of irony. But her sentences could only be hers.”
Chicago Tribune

“I have been trying forever to figure out why [Didion’s] sentences are better than mine or yours . . . Something about [their] cadence. They come at you, if not from ambush, then in gnomic haikus, ice pick laser beams, or waves. Even the space on the page around these sentences is more interesting than it ought to be, as if to square a sandbox for a Sphinx.”
—from the Introduction by John Leonard

Library Journal
Didion won the 2005 National Book Award for her memoir The Year of Magical Thinking. This new collection contains her seven previous books of nonfiction Slouching Towards Bethlehem, The White Album, Salvador, Miami, After Henry, Political Fictions, and Where I Was From and takes its title from the first line of The White Album. Some of these books contain disparate essays, others are devoted to just one subject, but either way the quality of Didion's prose is always uniformly high. Irony, a predilection for the extreme, a sense of loss, and her interest in the complexities and ambiguities of existence are just a few of the themes that run throughout, and the subjects whether the brutal conflict in El Salvador or the character of Didion's native state, California are illuminated by her wit, intelligence, and empathy. John Leonard's introduction, marked by his unique prose style and warm appreciation of Didion's voice and accomplishments, should be read after one has sampled the treasures in this collection. A useful chronology matches events in the author's life with historical events and a literary context. Strongly recommended for all public and undergraduate libraries, especially those that do not have all of the works in this anthology. Morris Hounion, New York City Coll. of Technology Lib., CUNY Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

Meet the Author

Joan Didion
Joan Didion was born in California and lives in New York City. She is the author of five novels and seven previous books of nonfiction.

Biography

One of the strongest voices in American letters, Joan Didion has made her mark with fiercely intelligent novels (Play It As It Lays, A Book of Common Prayer), insightful nonfiction (Salvador, Political Fictions), and screenplays co-written with her late husband, John Gregory Dunne (Panic in Needle Park, Up Close and Personal).

Born in Sacramento, Didion attended the University of California at Berkeley, graduating in 1956 with a degree in English. After college, she moved to New York to work for Vogue magazine. Recognized immediately as a talented and insightful writer, she contributed frequently to such diverse publications as Mademoiselle, Esquire, The New York Times, and National Review; and in 1963 she published her first novel, Run River. She and Dunne were wed in 1964; and for the remainder of their married life, they divided their time between New York and L.A., collaborating frequently on Hollywood scripts while developing separate and distinguished literary careers.

In December of 2003, Dunne died of a massive heart attack, while the couple's recently married daughter, Quintana Roo, lay comatose in a New York hospital. Didion spent the next year blindsided by a grief so profound it propelled her into a sort of madness. She chronicled the entire experience in The Year of Magical Thinking, a spellbinding memoir of bereavement written in the spare, elegant prose that has become a hallmark of her work. Published in 2005 (scant months after Quintana's death), this elegiac book -- Didion's most personal and affecting work to date -- became a huge bestseller. It received a National Book Award and was turned, two years later, into a successful Broadway play starring Vanessa Redgrave.

Since her 1963 debut, Didion has alternated between novels and nonfiction, proving herself a wry and astute observer of America's shifting political and cultural landscape. Written nearly a decade apart, her two essay collections Slouching Towards Bethlehem (1968) and The White Album (1979) are considered classics of 1960s counterculture. Moreover, the author's identity as a seventh-generation Californian has colored her writing in profoundly significant ways. For our money, no contemporary American writer has examined more deftly the unique role of "place" in everyday life.

Good To Know

A few interesting outtakes from our interview with Didion:

"My first (and only, ever) job was at Vogue. I learned a great deal there – I learned how to use words economically (because I was writing to space), I learned how to very quickly take in enough information about an entirely foreign subject to produce a few paragraphs that at least sounded authoritative."

"I would like my readers to know that writing never gets any easier. You don't gain confidence. You are always flying blind."

Didion and her husband, John Gregory Dunne, co-wrote seven screenplays, including: The Panic in Needle Park (1971), Play It As It Lays (1973), A Star Is Born (1977), True Confessions (1982), Hills Like White Elephants (1990), Broken Trust(1995) and Up Close and Personal (1995).

She is the sister-in-law of author Dominick Dunne and the aunt of actor/director Griffin Dunne.

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    1. Hometown:
      New York, New York
    1. Date of Birth:
      December 5, 1934
    2. Place of Birth:
      Sacramento, California
    1. Education:
      B.A., University of California at Berkeley, 1956

Table of Contents

Introduction by John Leonard
Select Bibliography
Chronology

Slouching Towards Bethlehem
The White Album
Salvador
Miami
After Henry
Political Fictions
Where I Was From

Notes to Miami

Acknowledgments

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Posted January 12, 2013

    Joan Didion is not for the casual reader. Nothing worthwhile is

    Joan Didion is not for the casual reader. Nothing worthwhile is. She is, without question, the finest american author working today. Prepare for perfection. every word counts. every the. every and. all of it. incomparable. superb. flawless. "prose so tight it cuts the flesh."

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  • Posted January 15, 2012

    Is she the greatest voice in American literature? Maybe.

    There are two enormous pleasures in reading Joan Didion. There is what she has to say: cool brilliant observation on social conditions wherever she focuses her gaze; and then there is how she says it. I read her sentences aloud to hear the drumbeat of her prose-- intricate, tribal, and magic.

    This particular book is an encompassing collection of essays spanning 45 years of American culture. I can't think of a better treat for those who love words.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 15, 2009

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