Where I Was From

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Where I Was From

by Joan Didion

Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group | September 14, 2004 | Trade Paperback

Where I Was From is rated 5 out of 5 by 1.
In her moving and insightful new book, Joan Didion reassesses parts of her life, her work, her history and ours. A native Californian, Didion applies her scalpel-like intelligence to the state’s ethic of ruthless self-sufficiency in order to examine that ethic’s often tenuous relationship to reality.

Combining history and reportage, memoir and literary criticism, Where I Was From explores California’s romances with land and water; its unacknowledged debts to railroads, aerospace, and big government; the disjunction between its code of individualism and its fetish for prisons. Whether she is writing about her pioneer ancestors or privileged sexual predators, robber barons or writers (not excluding herself), Didion is an unparalleled observer, and her book is at once intellectually provocative and deeply personal.

Format: Trade Paperback

Dimensions: 240 pages, 8 × 5.15 × 0.68 in

Published: September 14, 2004

Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group

Language: English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10: 0679752862

ISBN - 13: 9780679752868

Found in: Biography and Memoir

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Rated 5 out of 5 by from Welcome Douglas Happy Hour 4-7: A review of Joan Didion's Where I Was From Where I Was From is part autobiography and part social history. Didion’s life serve as bookends for the account. As autobiography Didion tells us about the images she has of the place she is from, California. It is a brilliant expose on social and cultural mythology. I’m tempted to call it “ideology critique” but she was raised never to talk about class so it might be inappropriate to use Marxist terms to describe her study. In her own words: “This book represents an exploration into my own confusions about the place and the way in which I grew up, confusions as much about America as about California . . .” (18). It covers the misconceptions about California being a land of farmers (the San Luis Dam cost three billion dollars (1968) . . . that’s not exactly fertile soil). She also talks about the delusion of being independent and on the margins. About valuing freedom and self-sufficiency. About being an exemplar of an ideal America. California is not the land of sunshine and oranges . . . but a land of maximum security prisons, mental institutions, and military industrial complexes. Perhaps not as romantic as the gushing accounts of being the nation’s garden. Didion focuses her critical attention on the way Californians perceive themselves and how they are, what they belief to be their unlimited possibilities and the limitations implicit in their own history (48). A key question she addresses throughout is this: “What does it cost to create and maintain an artificial ownership class?” (113). Given recent discussions about sustainability . . . this question couldn’t be more pertinent. Didion draws out the implications of this duplicitous maneuver: increases in domestic violence, riots, self-deception. She carefully traces the double-coding. Parents are talking about how the schools are ruining everything by distributing condoms. What they meant to say was six to eight hundred thousand jobs were lost in the region between 1990 and 1993. When the communities talk about sports, they’re really thinking about contracts for aircraft. Chapter 7 deals with Thomas Kinkade . . . the self-dubbed “painter of life.” Didion caustically remarks that the houses he paints looks like their on fire . . . “Every window was lit, to lurid effect, as if the interior of the structure might be on fire” (73). I loved this bit because I can’t stand Kinkade’s wretched pictures. If you’re interested in Didion or California or in post-9/11 reflections on people and places in America you’ll find this book rewarding.
Date published: 2008-08-14

– More About This Product –

Where I Was From

by Joan Didion

Format: Trade Paperback

Dimensions: 240 pages, 8 × 5.15 × 0.68 in

Published: September 14, 2004

Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group

Language: English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10: 0679752862

ISBN - 13: 9780679752868

About the Book

Didion's unerring sense of America and its spirit, her acute interpretation of its institutions and literature, and her incisive questioning of the stories it tells itself make this fiercely intelligent book a provocative and important tour de force from one of our greatest writers.

Read from the Book

1 My great-great-great-great-great-grandmother Elizabeth Scott was born in 1766, grew up on the Virginia and Carolina frontiers, at age sixteen married an eighteen-year-old veteran of the Revolution and the Cherokee expeditions named Benjamin Hardin IV, moved with him into Tennessee and Kentucky and died on still another frontier, the Oil Trough Bottom on the south bank of the White River in what is now Arkansas but was then Missouri Territory. Elizabeth Scott Hardin was remembered to have hidden in a cave with her children (there were said to have been eleven, only eight of which got recorded) during Indian fighting, and to have been so strong a swimmer that she could ford a river in flood with an infant in her arms. Either in her defense or for reasons of his own, her husband was said to have killed, not counting English soldiers or Cherokees, ten men. This may be true or it may be, in a local oral tradition inclined to stories that turn on decisive gestures, embroidery. I have it on the word of a cousin who researched the matter that the husband, our great-great-great-great-great-grandfather, "appears in the standard printed histories of Arkansas as ''Old Colonel Ben Hardin, the hero of so many Indian wars.''" Elizabeth Scott Hardin had bright blue eyes and sick headaches. The White River on which she lived was the same White River on which, a century and a half later, James McDougal would locate his failed Whitewater development. This is a country at some level
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From the Publisher

In her moving and insightful new book, Joan Didion reassesses parts of her life, her work, her history and ours. A native Californian, Didion applies her scalpel-like intelligence to the state’s ethic of ruthless self-sufficiency in order to examine that ethic’s often tenuous relationship to reality.

Combining history and reportage, memoir and literary criticism, Where I Was From explores California’s romances with land and water; its unacknowledged debts to railroads, aerospace, and big government; the disjunction between its code of individualism and its fetish for prisons. Whether she is writing about her pioneer ancestors or privileged sexual predators, robber barons or writers (not excluding herself), Didion is an unparalleled observer, and her book is at once intellectually provocative and deeply personal.

From the Jacket

In her moving and insightful new book, Joan Didion reassesses parts of her life, her work, her history and ours. A native Californian, Didion applies her scalpel-like intelligence to the state''s ethic of ruthless self-sufficiency in order to examine that ethic''s often tenuous relationship to reality.
Combining history and reportage, memoir and literary criticism, Where I Was From" explores California''s romances with land and water; its unacknowledged debts to railroads, aerospace, and big government; the disjunction between its code of individualism and its fetish for prisons. Whether she is writing about her pioneer ancestors or privileged sexual predators, robber barons or writers (not excluding herself), Didion is an unparalleled observer, and her book is at once intellectually provocative and deeply personal.

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.

Editorial Reviews

“Compelling. . . . A love song to the place where her family has lived for generations, but a love song full of questions and doubts.” –Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times “An arresting amalgam of memoir and historical timeline. . . . Exquisitely crafted, as subtle as the slow waking from a pleasant dream.” – The Baltimore Sun “One beautiful sentence follows another. . . . This is a book about history, about what we learn from genealogy and history books, novels and old newspapers, and how we square all that with what we see around us. . . . Didion has remained a clearheaded and original writer all her long life.” –Malcolm Jones, Newsweek “Succinct and quite beautiful. . . . Its rewards are many. If anyone needs further confirmation that she is one of the finest essayists currently at work, this book will nail it.” – The Seattle Times/Post Intelligencer “One of the most recognizable–and brilliant–literary styles to emerge in America during the past four decades. . . . [Didion is] a great American writer.” – The New York Times Book Review “Didion has written a brave little book . . . a fine book that must be read with as much care it was written. . . . [Didion is] an implacably honest writer.” –Jonathan Yardley, Washington Post “Valediction and elegy alike, Where I Was From is a storm-tossed book. Its history is dense . . . its prose sharp, direct and
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