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Where I Was From Paperback – September 14, 2004
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From Publishers Weekly
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From The New Yorker
Copyright © 2005 The New Yorker --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Top Customer Reviews
I can't think of any writer could do a better job than Didion at examining the weird admixture of passion and ambivalence that a native Californian may have for her state. I share it, and I admire this book especially because I know the terrain she dissects and lays bare. Her spare prose is a joy to read.
Anyway, I've had a lifetime spent drinking in the reality that is California. Reading Joan Didion's book has furthered and edified my knowledge, thoughts, and intuitions of this region. Reviewers who think she is upset or complaining are missing the point. Didion delves deep and helps people like me fill in some blanks to this fascinating human comedy.
No one could possibly achieve a personal portrait of California and include every iconic landmark or quirk. The film industry does not figure into this, LA's waterworks is not here. This is not Steinbeck's California, or Kerouac's or Dashiell Hammett's. It is, however, the landscape of Frank Norris's THE OCTOPUS, Jack London's VALLEY OF THE MOON, Faulkner's short story, "Golden Land," and Henry George's prescient essay, "What the Railroad Will Bring Us," to which Didion brings a close reading. The settling of California was made possible by the government and the sense of entitlement still resounds, as does the seemingly contradictory rugged pioneer individualism that claims the right to do as one pleases without strings attached. There is a pioneer code, "kill the rattlesnake," meaning to act in the interest of the greater good so others are not hurt, but there is also the overwhelming theme of development, the meaning of which Didion finds in the act of selling the family cemetery, along with the ranch.Read more ›
The Crossing: Are you interested in the pioneers and the westward movement in the 1800s? This book brings intimate stories of particular families (including Didion's) to life, but in the CONTEXT of the larger move West, what it signifies, and how it has shaped the character of California and its residents TODAY. "The crossing" is the title Didion gives to what had to be chucked without a backward glance, to "make it to the pass in time before winter." California, she tells us, was flooded by people, not JUST the Donner party, who had to learn to let go and cast their pasts and cherished possessions and even faltering children and parents to the winds, the prairie, to unmarked graves, to the Dust Bowl - and move forward.
Why is California what it Is? Are you interested in the railroads, urban sprawl, the loss of wetland, the missing "old California" (which may have been an illusion to start with), the unemployed and homeless, the loss of funding for education, the millions occupying our prisons, the budget crisis in Sacramento, the water wars, agribusiness, and.... how all this ties together and links to the pioneers and the gold rush?Read more ›
Where I Was From circumvents this dilemma. A native California has decided to tell us some of the secrets of the place: how it has shaped its people and how they in turn have shaped it. One of Didion's revelations is that California has enormous amounts of agricultural land and yet very few Californians call themselves "farmers". Golden State land owners treat their land purely as a commodity and do not have the visceral attachment to the land itself that is found in farmers in the rest of the country. You see how a lot of other things could cascade from this basic difference between Californians and everyone else.
Didion's long discourse on the Spur Posse of Lakewood at first seemed like a digression. But it soon became clear that she sees the nature of the Lakewood community to be a logical latter-day expression of the California socio-historical phenomenon. Lakewood was built only to provide a place for aerospace workers to live. It is housing, not a real community. It is planned rootlessness. And this has consequences.
By relating some of her own family history, Didion reminds us that all Californians are from somewhere else and so must have been more like the rest of us at some point. She suggests that it was the isolation of being on the far side of the Sierras in a land of enormous natural wealth that unmoored and, to some extent, unhinged Californians and their culture. I believe her.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
I read this ages ago, but her essays still haunt me as a native Californian and tell stories that resonate with my upbringing and experience there.Published 8 days ago by nipsy
I guess I'm just not that fond of Joan Didion's writing style. The book was very informative, though.Published 4 months ago by Gretel
Every American, starting with every Californian, must read this book. Didion, our best essayist writing, here opens up her own illusions, and with them ours. Read morePublished 5 months ago by David Williams
I have a jillion of these things to write, I got way behind, so just look at the star rating, the title and go with that. Sincerely, TinaPublished 8 months ago by Tina L. Dufrene
I am floored, entranced and deeply saddened reading this book. California history has never been told to the East and my own Midwestern region, and Joan Didion illuminates the... Read morePublished 10 months ago by Louise Venden
I always appreciate Joan Didion ' s ability to put such concise language to her interior experience. Insightful and generated a brisk book group discussion.Published 10 months ago by Susan Holtz