Is This Joan Didion’s Best Book?

Joan Didion Books - Our Review
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* Joan Didion’s first book in six years
* One of TIME’s most anticipated books of 2017
* Details Didion’s time in American South and West during the 1970s

It’s possible Joan Didion created L.A. as we know it. In 1964, the now-legendary writer arrived to California with her husband in tow. Anxious to make it in the world of old Hollywood, Didion embedded herself into the social scene, producing essays rich in descriptive detail. Of course, California in the 60s was a psychedelic place, and much of Didion’s work explored the disintegration of traditional American values and cultural chaos. A sense of anxiety and dread are associated with many of her essays, but, more importantly, Didion wrote about her audience, portraying them unemotionally and unequivocally inside the new California.

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While Joan Didion may have become famous in the 1960s, she is still producing insightful work. And in one of the most-anticipated books of 2017, Didion has released “South and West: From a Notebook,” in which the writer offers two extended excerpts from never-before-seen notebooks.

South and West: From a Notebook


The first, details her time in the American South in June 1970, delving into interviews with prominent local figures, business owners and citizens. The second excerpt finds its home in California, where Didion grew up and raised a family amongst a backdrop of socialites, cultural upheaval and a changing landscape. The insights Didion draws in both chapters will resonate with readers who lived through the era and those who find parallels with today’s current events.

Discussing herself and her writing process in “On Keeping a Notebook,” Joan Didion remarks, “It’s a good idea, then, to keep in touch, and I suppose that keeping in touch is what notebooks are all about.” Here Didion is not suggesting we use notebooks to keep in touch with friends, but, rather, to keep in touch with ourselves. Perhaps “South and West” is Didion reminding us of what we used to be.

So is this Joan Didion’s best book? In fact, it’s not. Nothing can define a generation in the same way as “Slouching Towards Bethlehem.” But “South and West” offers a window into the mind of a iconic writer and is a worthwhile read for anyone interested in Didion’s work.

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