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South and West: From a Notebook

3.67  ·  Rating details ·  8,363 ratings  ·  943 reviews
From the best-selling author of the National Book Award-winning The Year of Magical Thinking two extended excerpts from her never-before-seen notebooks--writings that offer an illuminating glimpse into the mind and process of a legendary writer.

Joan Didion has always kept notebooks: of overheard dialogue, observations, interviews, drafts of essays and articles--and here is
Hardcover, 160 pages
Published March 7th 2017 by Knopf Publishing Group
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Average rating 3.67  · 
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Vincent Scarpa
Dec 21, 2016 rated it it was ok
I love Joan Didion.

On any given day, Play it as it Lays fights for a spot in my top three favorite novels of all time alongside Renata Adler's Pitch Dark, Mary Robison's Why Did I Ever, and Joy Williams's State of Grace.

I can make (have made) a convincing argument that the opening paragraph of "Slouching Towards Bethlehem" is probably the very best opening paragraph in all of creative nonfiction.

I think, and I am not alone in this certainly, that her body of work cements her as one of the most
Mar 12, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Joan Didion’s notebook of her drive across Louisiana and Mississippi with her husband in the summer of 1970 is filled with glimpses and impressions of the blazing heat, canopies of kudzu, a sense of disintegration and insularity. Didion interviewed friends of friends and folks who knew about important local happenings, but she had a hard time gathering the ambition to follow through with attending events in the muggy heat. She made notes, but the aimless drift through a South she knew was import ...more
Mar 08, 2017 rated it really liked it
Joan offers the reader an intimate look at her writing process. Anyone who read Didion would be aware of her personal life, her upbringing, her essays and how she wrote about the loss of a husband and her daughter in her last two non fiction works.

Here we are in the 70s in the South ... New Orleans .. the past... the glimpse of conversations in elevators.. the state of various swimming pools in hotels... the process of writing in a notebook

The west... the look toward the future...

And reading
Julie Ehlers
As its subtitle implies, South and West is culled from notebooks Joan Didion kept in the 1970s. It consists of two essays: "California Notes" is a brief, slight piece that apparently became the basis for her book Where I Was From; "Notes on the South" is a much longer, more substantial one about a road trip she and her husband took through the deep south, mostly the gulf coast area, in 1970. In an introduction to this book written in December 2016, novelist Nathaniel Rich claims "Notes on the So ...more
May 13, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: best-of-2017
Think of this as a literary sketchbook, full of jotted down conversation scraps, impressions, memories and thoughts. Most of the book is Didion's reflections on the South circa 1970. The smaller portion of the book deals with California around the time of the Patty Hearst trial. I loved the section devoted to the South; not so much the West.

No one writes like Didion - her prose is so pure and crisp, her observations so keen and precise. Didion's tone is always cool, almost clinical, but she cuts
Mar 11, 2017 rated it really liked it
Nothing makes me want to write more than reading Joan Didion.
Aug 20, 2018 rated it really liked it
In the South they are convinced that they have bloodied their place with history. In the West we do not believe that anything we do can bloody the land, or change it, or touch it.

Joan Didion could only write about California and I'd read it all. I'm obviously biased as someone who has spent his whole life in the Golden State, but she understands it so deeply and writes about it so well. Sadly most of this is actually about Louisiana and Mississippi, but not sadly really because it's so good.
Ivonne Rovira
Apr 01, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: everyone, of course
How could I forget how perfectly Joan Didion could craft a sentence, capturing every nuance, every irony, even what was unsaid? Although the pieces in South and West never became published essays, the same quality remains. And I see why it is now that these notes for pieces that never got published finally saw the light now in the wake of the election.

Because, in fact, Didion, the eternal pessimist, knew what we did not. That nothing has really changed since she and her husband John Gregory Dunn
Rachel León
I picked this one up because I'm doing Book Riot's Read Harder Challenge and needed a travel memoir. This one was short and it was written by Joan Didion, so it was an easy pick. I love the way Didion writes, but this book isn't very good. The tone is rather condescending and it's just not all that interesting. ...more
M.L. Rio
Jun 18, 2018 rated it really liked it
Perhaps I’m biased, given that I have also been a Californian stranger in the South and I found so much of this so terribly familiar, but Didion off the cuff is probably more eloquent and more insightful than many others will ever be with years of deliberation.
Apr 13, 2021 rated it liked it
For diehard Didion fans.

This is appropriately titled as a notebook. Very short observations pertaining to Didion's 1970s trip to the South as she wandered from town to town. The joy is in the insights which still hold so much relevance, today. Funny, so much has changed and yet, so little. I'm sorry I failed to transcribe my notes before the library loan ended for I would have liked to have shared a few.

Leaves the reader wishing there was more.
Kevin Lopez
There’s no question that Joan Didion is a masterful, almost preternaturally gifted writer. Her words leap off the page with a striking dynamism; her talent for precise observation and vividly detailed renderings of her experiences and surroundings is consistently manifest. But the heretofore unpublished journal notes which comprise South and West—though vibrantly, often beautifully written—are decidedly fragmentary and disjointed when taken as a whole.

This is perhaps to be expected, as they con
Shirleen R
Jun 25, 2017 rated it it was ok
I owe this book a longer review, because I struggled mightily with South and West (2017). Fourfalse starts it took me  to finish a book of mere 126 pages? I'm not from "the South". I spent all of one year living in Nashville, Tennessee some 40 years after Joan Didion drove through  cities, towns, and former Delta plantations in Louisiana and Mississippi. My location was urban, near a university, a self-described blue dot in a red sea. Yet, Didion's dismissive flippant, at times haughty remarks a ...more
"We sat out in back by the bayou and drank gin and tonics and when a light rain began to fall, a kind of mist, Walker never paid any mind but just kept talking, and walking up to the house to get fresh drinks. It was a thunderstorm, with odd light, and there were occasional water-skiers on the black bayou water."

This collection is comprised of conversations and observations from a notebook. As is customarily her style, Didion recorded bits and pieces that reveal lifestyle and cultural landscape.
Apr 04, 2018 rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2018
Counterintuitively, Didion's lucid prose and her book's impressionistic structure synergize exceptionally well, making for a hazy reading experience that almost obscures South and West's total lack of purpose or argument. ...more
Jul 11, 2017 rated it liked it
My introduction to Joan Didion's writing, and probably not the best place to start. This is essentially a collection of notes she made almost entirely during a trip she made with her husband to the Southern U.S., followed by a couple of pages of notes on California.

I liked the prose in the "South" section, and enjoyed the little slices of life Didion captured through her observations. However I think it was a mistake to include the "West" part. This part was less well written because these were
Rachel Dows
Mar 08, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Oh my. Today was a terrible, horrible, truly exceptionally bad day. So, of course, I went to the bookstore. I knew Joan Didion had released a new essay collection and I decided to treat myself to the hardcover instead of waiting for paperback.

And boy was it worth it.

The moment I dove into her prose I was no longer a stressed-out, sleep-deprived member of the proletariat; rather, I entered the world of Joan Didion's observation.

First, New Orleans. Ohh, New Orleans. Somehow Didion has the ability
May 14, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Setting: 1970 Deep South roadtrip - Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama

Didion takes one month to travel the rural south to better understand "the west". She sees these two cardinal directions as linked in the American psyche, and forges that link more intricately in this piece. Three-quarters of the book are devoted to her travels in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama, with only the last section more fully describing her own experiences of "West", coming of age in California.

Her writing is so effo
Claire Reads Books
Jun 23, 2018 rated it really liked it
Joan Didion is perhaps the Platonic ideal of a coastal elite, which makes this collection of notes, observations, and musings on the Deep South (all written during a month-long sojourn in the summer of 1970) particularly fascinating. The prose and details here are slick and savage as ever, and Didion’s sense of disorientation and disdain is a constant foreboding hum, like an air conditioner in an empty drugstore or mosquitoes gathering over stagnant ditch water.

Toward the end there are also som
Catherine Kraemer
Oct 18, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Brief, beautifully written, rife with gorgeously detailed descriptions of southern life and culture in 1970. I always enjoy Didion's writing, and this was no exception. ...more
Mar 09, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Joan Didion is possibly the best ethnographer in the United States. This book gives brilliant profiles, especially of the Deep South. It was written in 1970 but is amazingly prescient of the country after the 2016 presidential election. Her intuitions are dead on, and sometimes she gathers more information just from hanging out and listening than she does from research.

Everyone should read this very short book. It's amazing and beautifully written.
Kasa Cotugno
Thanks to Joan Didion for deciding to have this published. A 40-year old notebook of observations about the American South written as she and her husband traveled there in the 1970's. ...more
didion just understands the assignment huh
Beth Bonini
I read this collection immediately after finishing Where I Was From (2003) and realised that it should have been the other way around, if at all.

‘Notes on the South’ is the first and much longer piece in this book, and the material comes from a month-long road trip through the ‘South’ (various locations in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama) that Didion took with her husband John Gregory Dunne in 1970. Dunne is a shadowy figure in the piece, only vaguely alluded to as a dinner companion - and f
Dec 30, 2018 rated it really liked it
Damn, I love reading notebooks from really good writers. They are always so well written. Oftentimes better written than some lessor writers final drafts. Virginia Woolf always made me think that when reading her diaries.

As the title suggests, the notes are of her time in the 1970s traveling in the south and than several years later in California. The notes are for articles that never happened. The author's thought was that if she could understand the south she could understand something about
Mar 08, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2018-read, usa
First of all, guys: How much nicer is this German cover than the English one? That’s a book you’d like to pick up – and the content does not disappoint either. Of course you have to be aware that this a collection of fragments and notes collected by Didion in preparation for texts which she then did not proceed to write, not a fully developed work. But the observations she makes do not only convey the typically sharp eye and heightened perception of this author, they also remained acutely releva ...more
Peter Tillman
Nov 26, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: travel
Joan Didion writes like an angel. I happened to see this little book before departing on a road trip and it's just the right size for that. The bulk of the book is notes from a 1970 trip with her husband (as always, read the publisher's summary first). She started in New Orleans and drove east, I think no further than the state of Mississippi. Really, anything I add is superfluous. If you like Didion's style, you will like this book. The back cover photo is undated but is (I presume) circa 1970: ...more
Jun 16, 2017 rated it really liked it
Embarassingly, this was my first Didion. As a result of finishing it, I want to read everything she's written. These are unfinished notes that I would in most cases just call "cashing in", but hers are very much worth reading - especially the first, longer piece about the South. Love her mind and her style. [I'm pretty sure that if I had read something else by her first, I would have liked it less. So maybe it was all for the best in the end.] ...more
In the 1970s, Joan Didion and her husband, John Gregory Dunne, took an extensive road trip from New Orleans to Greenville (presumably South Carolina, though it does not appear she specifies this), with stops in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama. A habitual keeper of notebooks and journals, Didion kept notes of their trips which she hoped to one day turn into a piece. She recorded dialogue, wrote short descriptions of some of the sights and sounds, and explored the South by investigating her fe ...more
Jul 03, 2021 rated it really liked it
Somehow I have gone this far into my reading journey without reading anything of Joan Didion. I picked it up in Swedish in hopes it was another book by her (white album I think) but in closer inspection it wasn't. It wasn't very long and I havnt got a clear picture of her writing but I did really enjoy her writing style. More refined yet personal. A 3.7 stars for me and I will most definitely read more of her soon. ...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.

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