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We Tell Ourselves Stories in Order to Live: Collected Nonfiction Hardcover – Oct 17 2006

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  • We Tell Ourselves Stories in Order to Live: Collected Nonfiction
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 1160 pages
  • Publisher: Everyman's Library; First Edition edition (Oct. 17 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307264874
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307264879
  • Product Dimensions: 13.2 x 5.1 x 21.1 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 975 g
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars 1 customer review
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #24,755 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description


“[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.”

“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

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.

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Just started reading it - it's a BIG book! But I love Joan's view of the world...
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) HASH(0x9b7c45a0) out of 5 stars 29 reviews
91 of 92 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9b7d0fe4) out of 5 stars One of our greats Nov. 10 2008
By E. Kutinsky - Published on
Format: Hardcover
This book came up while I was buying "Political Fictions" for a friend of mine, and I was worried I'd missed something, but actually it's every nonfiction book she's written up through 2003. I've savored every word of Didion's nonfiction since reading "Goodbye To All That" (the final essay of Slouching Toward Bethlehem) in a nonfiction class in college , and she's never let me down. It's not simply that Didion is one of our greatest writers, its that her style is so incisive and unforgettable because she works with only a whisper of the incredible effort and vision she creates, she undoes the reader with observations that don't appear to be observations - she makes her conclusions about culture, nature, and humanity the only conclusions, and she can devastate, over and over again, in a single sentence. It's crazy to think of all of the nonfiction books I've bought of hers fitting concisely into under 1200 pages, but how lucky for the people that own this book to be able to do what took me years to do - track down each piece and appreciate it separately (except for the uber-successful Year of Magical Thinking, which still requires its own purchase). I hope readers take the time to appreciate the differences in each work, to consider how time and how Didion's consciousness adjusted from one book to the next, but the important thing is that she continue to be read and enjoyed. Here, you can read a piece like "Goodbye to All That," or "Quiet Days In Malibu," or that devastating final chapter of Where I Was From to hear that beautiful, plaintive, liberating sad voice, and then follow it up with Salvador or "In The Realm of the Fisher King" or "Vichy Washington" and appreciate a cunning that rips into politics and the culture at large. One strange review on here stated that it was unlikely Didion's work would outlast her life much, and while I don't know that to be untrue (I mean, she's still alive), one thing I've loved about her is that any contextual writing she does - writing about Joan Baez in the 60's, say, or seeing Georgia O'Keefe in the 70's, or Miami, or El Salvador, or Reagan or Hawaii - feels current because it speaks to the human observation watching it occur, and because the culture we make up (the "stories we tell ourselves") around whatever's occuring always remain the same. I wasn't alive or cognizant when much of what she writes about occurs, but to me, Didion's one of the great writers that made me feel connected to the world, feel less alone, and feel thrilled at every topic she's discussed.
37 of 40 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9b7d2054) out of 5 stars A Wonderful collection March 8 2007
By Patrick Deane - Published on
Format: Hardcover
Joan Didion is the one writer I can return to again and again. I marvel at each paragraph, each sentence. Her voice is unique and though she has many imitators she has no equal. I still regularly reread The White Album which I discovered as a teenager over 20 years ago. This it a beautiful edition and a wonderful collection.
38 of 42 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9b7d248c) out of 5 stars What a great compilation April 28 2007
By J. Aragon - Published on
Format: Hardcover
I checked this out from our local library the other day and it turned out to be a serendipitous find. I've read some of Didion's work previously of which _The Year of the Magical Thinking_ was the most recent.

This compilation was actually fun to read. My favourite pieces were the ones that focused on California or Southern California, respectively. She is a gifted storyteller.

I couldn't help but feel a keen sense of sadness for her with the noted timeline of her life (and historical moments, too). She lost both her parents, then her spouse and two years later her daughter.

I would suggest this book to others. It's a real treasure.
21 of 22 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9b7d284c) out of 5 stars History Entered Through the Back Door June 6 2009
By Christopher Smith - Published on
Format: Hardcover
I had known about Joan Didion for some time before I finally read this omnibus collection of her work. I had come across a few of her essays in various anthologies and composition textbooks (usually the one on keeping a notebook, the dramatic discussion on the Santa Ana winds, or the piece on Hawaii from The White Album), and had always heard that she writes about California better than anybody except perhaps John Steinbeck. With this collection, I found I had in my hands an extremely intense body of work, so I'd finish one collection of essays and then return to read the next one after I'd spent some time away reading other authors. It took over a year of putting this book down and then returning to it, but now I'm done, and it's an emotionally exhausting but tremendously rewarding experience to have read her entire non-fiction output.

The first thing I noticed, once I had read just a few of her essays one after the other, was how original--and how widely imitated--her writing style is. I realized I'd been reading Didionesque reportage in the NY Times, The New Yorker, The Atlantic, The NY Review of Books, Harpers, The New Republic etc. for years and had never known it. All the stylistic devices--the opening, all-encapsulating yet at first glance maddeningly indirect anecdote, the jump cut narrative technique that inevitably circles back to a single arresting incident or image, the devastating short-long sentence juxtapositions etc.--are there from the beginning. The thing is, she started it all and has remained the central practitioner of the art. It's as if the most highly accomplished of short story writers has taken to reportage of current and cultural events with a literary vengeance, which is what I suppose that over-used term the "New Journalism" refers to. She leaves Tom Wolfe et al. in the dust though.

What emerges from the perfect blend of personal narrative and relentless reportage is a stunning, unofficial view of our post-WWII national history: we have America's uneasy transition from the straitjacketed, tract-housing idealism of the 50s into the uncertainty of 60s; a quietly lacerating critique of the Haight-Asbury San Francisco era; the nagging presence and perhaps unknowable consequences of American involvement in Cuba, El Salvador and Nicaragua, from the Kennedy-Castro days through to the waning days of the Reagan administration; and always the perverse (almost pathological) underbelly of the Golden State, from the fundamentalist, largely mid-western/southern border states origins of the post-WW II Inland Empire and San Joaquin valley, to her largely unsentimental memories of middle decades Sacramento, where she grew up. Indeed, California's various mutations, as described by Didion, seem to encapsulate the slippery and ungraspable nature of truth in our fabled post-nuclear age. One phenomenon that seems to hold so much of the work together--merging California with Washington--is Ronald Reagan. Didion's contempt for the man is palpable. She writes about him as actor, corporate spokesperson, governor of California and president, and it fits too that this man stands as one of the most image-driven, elusive and vacuous figures in twentieth-century American public life.

What is remarkable is how sustained the quality of the writing is. I found her 80's work on Central America, Miami and Cuba, which was quite a departure from her first two, more famous collections, to be fascinating in their evocation of conspiracies, drugs, mind-numbing violence and chaotic ideological warfare. While for me there's a bit of a drop-off with the "After Henry" collection, her reflections on American political life from the 1988 election through to the eve of the 2000 election (the "Political Fictions" collection) have a remarkable level of perspicacity and unity in their outlook. To me, Didion was the first to notice what is now recognized as a common fact of American political culture: that it is driven by a self-generated, self-perpetuating class of media professionals who have been successfully co-opted by the spin-meisters of both parties. As a class they are utterly disconnected from life outside the beltway, and they endlessly discuss among themselves--at great cost to the quality of political knowledge and discourse in our country--the nuances of the medium and never the merits of the message.

So, if you want a juicy sampling of our culture and history gleaned from the last fifty or so years, as seen through the merciless gaze of a writer who unerringly enters entire decades and cultural fields through the back door, this is the book you're going to want to read. As I said earlier, it's a very intense and demanding experience reading the 1000 or so densely packed pages the Modern Library has put together here, and there's no way you'll do it in one go. However, you'll return to it over and over until you're done, and will find it well worth the effort.
34 of 38 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9b7d2930) out of 5 stars Reporting with a View April 25 2007
By Mike B. - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Joan wrote her best when she wrote about California. She's in a league of her own. She writes about California the way it is,the strangest foriegn country in the nation. She gets at the psychic truth of her subject, which is no small thing. One of the very few true writers,ever.