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The White Album: Essays (FSG Classics) Paperback – November 10, 2009

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Editorial Reviews


“[Didion] can strike at the heart, or the absurdity, of a matter in our contemporary wasteland with quick, graceful strokes.” ―San Francisco Chronicle

“All of the essays--even the slightest--manifest not only [Didion's] intelligence, but an instinct for details that continue to emit pulsations in the reader's memory and a style that is spare, subtly musical in its phrasing and exact. Add to these her highly vulnerable sense of herself, and the result is a voice like no other in contemporary journalism.” ―Robert Towers, The New York Times Book Review

“Didion manages to make the sorry stuff of troubled times (bike movies, for instance, and Bishop James Pike) as interesting and suggestive as the monuments that win her dazzled admiration (Georgia O'Keeffe, the Hoover Dam, the mountains around Bogota). . . A timely and elegant collection.” ―The New Yorker

About the Author

Joan Didion is highly regarded as a writer of both nonfiction and fiction and received the National Book Foundation's Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters in 2007. She lives in New York City.


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Product Details

  • Series: FSG Classics
  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; FSG Classics edition (November 10, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374532079
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374532079
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.6 x 8.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (49 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #23,687 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

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. Joan Didion's Where I Was From, Political Fictions, The Last Thing He Wanted, After Henry, Miami, Democracy, Salvador, A Book of Common Prayer, and Run River are available in Vintage paperback.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

34 of 36 people found the following review helpful By R. Walker on May 1, 2001
Format: Paperback
The White Album was published in 1979, and most of the material here is from the 1970s. Even so, the book is at least as much about the 1960s as is Slouching Towards Bethlehem. Like that book, this is a collection of essays from various publications, plus some previously unpublished material. It's a mixed bag. The title piece is quite strong, as is "On The Morning After The Sixties," proving, perhaps, that the 1960s really were Didion's one true subject. There's other good stuff here, too, and the book is actually sort of underrated, since so many observers rate it a poor second to Slouching Towards Bethlehem. But the Didion style is actually quite strong in this volume, sharply observed, carefully written, personal without being confessional, and always flirting with detachment but not quite achieving it. Obviously some people just can't stand Didion's essays, and this book would hardly change their mind; but if you're open to her style, this is worth reading.
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29 of 34 people found the following review helpful By John Anderson on December 7, 2001
Format: Paperback
This book is definitely the "Part 2" of a series that begoins with Didion's "Slouching Towards Bethlehem" and each time that i return to it I feel like I am sitting down with a dear friend that I haven't talked to in a while. Other reviewers seem to have covered the title piece quite well, but I am intrigued that nobody seems to have mentioned my favorite -"Holy Water"- a fascinating look behind the scenes at the California Water Authority. I assign this essay again and again to my environmentalist students, both for the immediate content and for the intriguing window into the seductive nature of technology -one feels that Didion comes to be horrified and walks away enthralled. You will be too.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Stephanie De Pue VINE VOICE on February 10, 2007
Format: Paperback
Joan Didion always seems to look out at you from her book jackets in a straightforward, level-headed way, yet her readers will know she has a somewhat cockeyed view of life. Very Californian, as she quotes Bernard De Voto,"'The West begins, where the average annual rainfall drops below twenty inches." But hardly sunny, she's dark,dark: she has made the literature of nervous breakdown her own. We saw it in Slouching Towards Bethlehem: Essays (FSG Classics); Play It As It Lays: A Novel; and A Book of Common Prayer; as in "The White Album," the book at hand here; essays first collected and published in 1979. She eyes the 1960s, and California, quite closely; she sketches the 1960's so well, in fact, she might almost have imaginatively invented them. It's all here, the Manson family, the Black Panthers, the historic doings at the University of California, Berkeley.

She says"...there were odd things going on around town. There were rumors. There were stories. Everything was unmentionable, but nothing was unimaginable. This mystical flirtation with the idea of 'sin'-- this sense that it was possible to go 'too far,' and that many people were doing it-- was very much with us in Los Angeles in 1968 and 1969. A demented and seductive vortical tension was building in the community. The jitters were setting in. I recall a time when the dogs barked every night and the moon was always full.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Brian A. Hill on November 10, 2011
Format: Paperback
I feel very fortunate to have been turned on to this book and, more importantly, this writer! Many of the stories told have the feel of someone sitting on the edge of the scene, looking in on many of the interesting people and events of the late 1960s and into the 70s. It's a fun perspective. After reading lots of sixties memoir-type writings, I'd say this is a unique one. These essays seem to be covering topics she'd previously written on as a journalist.. so they're memoirs, in a way. With some familiar characters -- Jim Morrison, Eldridge Cleaver, Nancy Reagan, etc. -- and others I'm just coming to learn about, new and uncommon scenes are played out. In other words, they're mostly stories I haven't read yet from a subject that's maybe overly covered. It's a quick read, but an entertaining one from someone who knew how to describe her surroundings during an interesting time. I will now go looking for more Joan Didion books...
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Doug Anderson VINE VOICE on September 30, 2008
Format: Paperback
The traditional essayist is a sense-maker and an imposer of order, and in order to make sense and impose order traditional essayists assume an authorial command over their material (which is often their own lives, and/or their own historical period). But the really good essayists do not present themselves as authority figures who have the power to make sense of themselves and/or of the historical period they are living through. The good ones know that ages do not have names and that people remain mysterious, even to themselves.

Though there have been other essayist that share Didion's disdain for simplistic narrative, she really does not belong to any tradition of American essayists. But she's not a champion of the avant-garde either (not in the way Sontag was). I would say that her temperament is conservative (she wants things to make sense, to cohere) but never governed by or determined by any ideological preconceptions of how things should be or how we would like them to be. Her narrative style acknowledges and accomodates complexity and combats simplicity as well as undermines our desire to fully comprehend. Her work presents a challenge to what we know as well as our ways of knowing. Therefore reading Didion is unsettling, discomfitting. The essays succeed precisely because she does not try to name the thing that she writes about with nice clarifying titles or topic sentences, rather she presents her own competing impressions and competing ideas about the unnamable something that has her interest.
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