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The White Album: Essays

4.21 of 5 stars 4.21  ·  rating details  ·  6,202 ratings  ·  388 reviews
First published in 1979, The White Album records indelibly the upheavals and aftermaths of the 1960s. Examining key events, figures, and trends of the era—including Charles Manson, the Black Panthers, and the shopping mall—through the lens of her own spiritual confusion, Joan Didion helped to define mass culture as we now understand it. Written with a commanding sureness o ...more
Paperback, 224 pages
Published November 10th 2009 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (first published 1979)
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Greg
In one essay Joan Didion mentions Grace Cathedral Park in San Francisco. I don't know anything about the cathedral or the park except that it's the name and setting for one of my all-time favorite songs. My love for Mark Kozelek and the Red House Painters is marred a bit by what an asshole he was when I saw Red House Painters live. How does someone write such great songs and act like such a monumental douche (which apparently is his normal live persona, he yells at the audience, plays rambling t ...more
Nancy
The White Album was required reading for my American Experience class. I didn't love the book at first, but after a couple of essays, Didion's quiet style started to grow on me. This collection is a revealing narrative of events that occurred in the 1960's and 1970's. It examines the lives of famous and infamous people and places (Charles Manson, Ramón Novarro, the Hoover Dam, Huey Newton, the California freeway, Bogotá, Doris Lessing, and others). Didion gives candid and thoughtful snapshots of ...more
Eric
If I had started with The White Album instead of Slouching Toward Bethlehem I might have been spared two years of blithely embarrassing myself with statements like: “Joan Didion? She’s ok.” Actually she’s amazing. The rhythms of her self-dramatization in Slouching were too arch for my taste, or perhaps for my mood. The White Album must be different, or I must have changed, because I love the persona that emerges from its rhythms. She’s brooding, migrainous, in the first essay paranoid, yet essen ...more
John Doe
Didion doesn't buy into all of that collectivist angst crap, but she is not without her own strange eccentricities. For example, when people give her Scientology books she puts them in a drawer instead of throwing them away because she wants to keep them but she doesn't want anyone to see them on her bookshelf and get the wrong idea, etc. Her view of the 1960s is a skeptical one. She is skeptical of the Black Panther party and of the Women's Movement. She is skeptical of "The Revolution" and of ...more
Geoff
I didn’t love these essays until about the midpoint, “The Women’s Movement”, a devastatingly good piece about the watering-down of feminism in mid-century America, about the heartbreaking shift of a vitally important revolutionary movement as it lost touch with its ideological base and became ever more a vehicle appropriated by a leisure class, its goals moving away from seeking the possibility for an individual to create their own unique destiny unfettered by traditional obstacles and bias, and ...more
David
I've always thought that I was somehow naïve to some sort of greater truth about reality, or at least the United States, or at least California, because I had never read anything by Joan Didion. Friends and acquaintances and strangers spoke of her with a sort of ineloquent awe as if their own descriptions could never match her lucid prose or mental acuity.

Now that I have actually read her own words I want to know, what is all the fuss about? I find Barbara Grizzutti Harrison's 1980 essay much mo
...more
christa
Dear Shevaun,

You left a self-addressed envelope, the size of a note card, in the Duluth Public Library’s copy of “The White Album,” a collection of essays by Joan Didion. Your name as both the sender and receiver. Both address labels indicate an association with the University of Florida. One is decorated with a UF, the other a cartoonish profile of a cartoon gator, its snout hanging out of a decorative oval. Neither label is very artistic minded, not the finest work of a graphic designer. I do
...more
John Spillane
I liked the last couple pages of Didion's Play It As It Lays enough to bounce it from 2 to 4 stars so I think she has skill and a keen sense of what works and what doesn't. 70% of this is hardcore also rans from what I can only assume must be a great Slouching Towards Bethlehem; I would be shocked if she felt otherwise. I was begrudgingly going to bump this from 2.5 to 3.0 until I saw the average rating and all the rave reviews.

There are pieces that really shine; the orchid bit and the entire Wo
...more
Feliks
This undersung work almost earns my vote for the best writing by any 20th century American woman author, period (only losing #1 honors to Shirley Jackson). If we focus only on 20th c. American nonfiction; then it is certainly my #1 favorite title--beating out not just all other female authors but also all males as well. Did you hear what I just said? I have put my admiration in as strongly worded terms as I possibly can.

Here's the thing about Didion and why she's important: you can spend 10, 15,
...more
Baiocco
Nov 29, 2007 Baiocco rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: non-believers, writers, feelers
Shelves: essays
It must say something that even though I'm shit-stuffed full after two and a half rounds of Thanksgiving plates of turkey and sides I feel compelled to review a book of essays I last read 6 years ago? That something may be: I don't have a girlfriend right now. Yes, the judges are willing to accept that as a correct answer. But they will also accept 'The White Album is a great book and Joan Didion is a great writer. And that answer is way easier for my ego to swallow so we're going to go with it. ...more
AC
Mar 07, 2015 AC rated it 4 of 5 stars
Shelves: 1968
The title essay is wonderful..., a must read for Didion fans.
David Fulmer
This is a collection of brilliant, eloquent, and endlessly fascinating essays by an author rightly celebrated as one of the finest essayist and stylist of her time. Joan Didion’s discerning and probing attention is here focused on everything from the Hoover Dam to orchids to traffic in Southern California and the results are uniformly insightful. Among the best pieces are ones about Los Angeles which she dissects in time and space, offering a perspective on the Hollywood film industry which bypa ...more
Benjamin
Didion would go to the barricades, if she thought it would change anything. One of those sharply intelligent bourgeois cocktail party guests who can report on their own kind with chilling clarity while guzzling inhuman amounts of depressants in both liquid and pill form, and then suddenly switch to fascinating descriptions of California's water works, Didion is someone whose company I would greatly enjoy for brief periods. When she tries to digest "the Sixties," things go a little haywire. Didio ...more
Robert
I'd read some Joan Didion in college (probably from Slouching towards Bethlehem, I'm guessing?), and I remember liking her. She's incredibly smart, and a really great writer. I found quite a few of the essays in this collection to be less than compelling, though.

The title piece was very good, and occasionally very moving, but also interspersed with some odd, name-droppy segments. Am I supposed to be impressed that you were so bored by hanging out with the Doors and meeting Jim Morrison? Parts o
...more
David B
Joan Didion's essays are sharply observed and very personal. She informs us of her fragile mental state in the very first essay, in which she describes a pervasive sense of detachment that she felt from the world. She then goes on to deliver a collection of well-written profiles on personalities, places, and the concerns of the time (late 60s-early 70s). Didion inserts herself and her personal issues into these pieces on ocassion, which no doubt contributes to the accusation by some that she is ...more
katie
Not every essay holds up 30+ years later, certainly the moving waves of feminism and changes in the way we think about privilege make some ideas and "insights" especially cringe-worthy and dated. But that's not unexpected for essays from the past. What does hold up incredibly well is the writing-Didion writes descriptions that awe with their intuitive-seeming accuracy and manages to reflect the sort of dreamy sense of unreality that seems to have been the hallmark of the part of culture she was ...more
Stephen Seager
On of the best non-fiction books ever. If you want to see what perfect writing looks like, look no further. Why she didn't win the Nobel Prize for literature is beyond me. Alice Munro? Come on. If you want to be a writer, this is the book to emulate. She's the best. Period.
Ryan Chapman
Feb 13, 2008 Ryan Chapman rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Ryan by: Megan
Shelves: nonfiction, essays
This book is amazing. It's been so long since a writer so perfectly mirrored my own sense of ontology, and what it would sound like if I was a genius essayist and distiller of my time. I will now proceed to read several more books by Didion.
Myles
(4.3/5.0) Hawaii + Shopping Malls + Los Angeles + Nonchalant Depictions of Violence and Excess; What this woman was born to write about.
Hank Stuever
If I ever had to pick, this is my all-time favorite book, not only by Joan Didion, but by anybody. It was assigned reading in Fr. Schroth's Travel Writing course in the spring of 1990 -- my final semester. The course was less concerned with the "service journalism" aspect of travel writing (hotel details, itineraries, restaurants, etc.) and more of a travel literature course, involving a ton of reading (Thoreau's "Walden"; Bruce Chatwin, Paul Theroux, Didion) and quite a bit of writing/reporting ...more
David
Sharp essay collection. Didion’s got a keen eye and ear. She cuts through lazy assumptions about various groups and flows of the 60s/70s American scene. That period makes it, too, a fascinating time capsule.

Despite her usually sure grip, as with any collection, there are a few misses along the way. She’s a little defensive of some of her rich Hollywood friends, a little too “you just wouldn’t understand” here and there. There’s also a strange reactionary strain at times, as when she carps about
...more
Robertisenberg
Whenever I think of "Slouching Toward Bethlehem," I flash to its most provocative images: The four-year-old tripping on LSD, dinner with John Wayne, the opening true-crime story about a murder-of-passion. Joan Didion always appears revolted by the state of things, as if the world is a bitter pill that she refuses to swallow, instead tonguing the capsule as it acidly dissolves.

"The White Album" isn't just a sequel collection, nor is it a mere extention of 60's reportage into the 70's. Didion real
...more
Michael
A fine example of juxtaposing public cultural events with personal experiences, a kind of journalism Didion practically invented (and Hunter Thompson took over the top). By putting her reflections on political and social events in the context of her interests and activities at the time, the social impacts of the events are made more particular in an intimate way. But is their significance made more meaningful or universal with such a method? I couldnt help wondering that with each essay Didion d ...more
B. Mason
My first exposure to Didion and its made an impression. This collection of essays is solid gold, if you aren't interested in things like water distribution in California or the Governor's Residence I guarantee after reading Didion you will be. Her writing is so well constructed and at the end of each essay I was left quite dumbstruck (except "Doris Lessing" that just seemed like a cheap shot) and her wit is absolutely scathing. If you are stuck for time at least read Part II: California Republic ...more
Kim Phipps
It amazes and almost embarrasses me that I have never read anything by Joan Didion before. Not surprisingly, many of my wonderfully literate friends are already fans. These essays are so perfectly and precisely written. Her voice is very much a woman's voice, and is unapologetically personal, yet there is a refreshing austerity in her prose. (I HATE to sound sexist, but I wish more young women writers would read and learn from her in this era of the blah blah blog-like books) She is droll, but n ...more
Ammar
A collection of essays written between the 1960s to the 1970s. The White Album describes the American life. the fears and hopes. the end of an Era and the beginning of a new one.

Joan Didion is cool. she is the queen of cool mingling with the Doors in the Studio. Drinking with Hollywood. Weeks in Hawaii. A visit to Colombia.

I don't usually read essays but this collection shows the essence of American life.
Juli
This was my first Joan Didion book, and now I'm a little obsessed. I love how precise and crafted her sentences are, how she explores and writes about unique topics (orchid farming, Hoover Dam), and how invested she seems to be in everything she describes. More than just giving a fascinating portrait of California and the U.S. in the 1970's, Didion seems really committed to understanding and describing what it means to be a person in and of that time. The best books, I think, change my way of th ...more
Cassandra Gillig
Every time Joan Didion comes up, I want to, like, run home and roll around on the floor in mmpbs of SLOUCHING TOWARD BETHLEHEM--cooing and giggling wildly. I was reading an anthology for class, and remembered why I'd hidden THE WHITE ALBUM behind so many others on my bookshelf: its constant peering into my soul from the shelf was DISTRACTING.

It's so hard to not get territorial + overly sensational about the females whose presence in literature is not simply booming and tremendous but so so so s
...more
Neil
Joan Didion must be thrilled to have received my first five star review.

You don't need to get more than a couple of pages into it to appreciate Didion's sentence construction, which has an irregular rhythm to it that matches exactly the sentiment she tries to convey. She's is masterful in using precise language and description to convey facts and events that belie deep seated uncertainty. And there's a further juxtaposition in the way she somehow manages to give frank opinions while maintaining
...more
Andre
After her famous Slouching Toward Bethlehem, this is her next book in the same vein. It launched me onto my two year long Didion obsession durring which time I read everything she'd ever written. I even watched that horrible Redford movie she co-scripted the screenplay for. Didon is a consumate prose stylist. Like Poe or Williams her writing is almost a code, a denuded, sheer script that eludes the reader with its dead-pan incisiveness. But in the end I realized that her early works are so power ...more
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Joan Didion was born in California and lives in New York City. She's best known for her novels and her literary journalism.

Her novels and essays explore the disintegration of American morals and cultural chaos, where the overriding theme is individual and social fragmentation. A sense of anxiety or dread permeates much of her work.
More about Joan Didion...
The Year of Magical Thinking Slouching Towards Bethlehem Play It as It Lays Blue Nights A Book of Common Prayer

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“We tell ourselves stories in order to live.” 307 likes
“We tell ourselves stories in order to live...We look for the sermon in the suicide, for the social or moral lesson in the murder of five. We interpret what we see, select the most workable of the multiple choices. We live entirely, especially if we are writers, by the imposition of a narrative line upon disparate images, by the "ideas" with which we have learned to freeze the shifting phantasmagoria which is our actual experience.” 177 likes
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