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The White Album

4.16  ·  Rating details ·  16,179 ratings  ·  1,160 reviews
First published in 1979, The White Album is a mosaic of the late sixties and seventies. It includes, among other bizarre artifacts and personalities, the dark journeys and impulses of the Manson family, a Black Panther Party press conference, the story of John Paul Getty's museum, the romance of water in an arid landscape, and the swirl and confusion of the sixties. With c ...more
Paperback, FSG Classics, 223 pages
Published November 2017 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (first published 1979)
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Nov 01, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: aere-perennius, 2015
“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.”
- Joan Didion, The White Album


I wish I could dance like Fred A
Aug 08, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Dec 15, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: essays, westward-ho
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
Apr 19, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Aug 11, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2015_sow
Reading Didion’s essays is not unlike unearthing a time capsule you didn’t know existed from a parallel universe that appears earthlike. Sure, there are words like California and feminism and Malibu – but Didion does things to those familiar events and locales that changes them into an unique vision, a Didionism.

Whether we’re standing with her on Oak Street below the Black Panthers’ HQ receiving a visual pat-down, retracing author James Jones’ steps along the army barracks in Honolulu or mesmer
Julie Ehlers
Jun 03, 2013 rated it really liked it
As was the case with Joan Didion's Slouching Towards Bethlehem, certain aspects of The White Album seem hopelessly dated. I have no idea who Bishop James Pike is, for instance, and now that I've read about him I still don't really care. But another aspect of this collection irked me even more: Didion's all-encompassing weariness, her mild derision for seemingly everything and everyone with whom she crosses paths. Even in her younger years, did Joan Didion ever get excited about anything, ever, e ...more

"We tell ourselves stories in order to live" is the well-known first line of this collection, and of the title essay, and it has probably played a role in my avoiding Joan Didion until now. I had always attributed it to a somewhat sentimental conception of writing and reading, but now I'm glad I gave her writing a chance, and glad I decided to reread the title essay. In one section, she imagines a woman standing on a ledge on the sixteenth floor of an apartment building; on my first reading, I t
Apr 08, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 Sasaki
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
Mary J Starry
Jun 20, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Her essays bring back thoughts and memories of my own experiences growing up in the 60s and 70s. Very much enjoyed this series of essays.
Cheryl Kennedy
Exceptional writing devoid of judgment by Joan Didion, capturing an era of societal disorder questioning the core principles of American values. The author observes the assault on norms that resulted in advancements for women, truths of racism in our culture, criminal justice realities, the terminal results of overdoses in the young, the radicalization of students toward authority, AND notes on Ronald and Nancy Reagan. The era that predicted the mobilization of discord for the rest of the centur ...more
Jul 21, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
4.5 Everybody likes Didion. All intelligent females I know like her. All intelligent males I know would most likely like her, if they could be bothered to read more female authors. Or maybe ‘like’ is the wrong word, as it’s a word that does not suit Didion at all. Anyway, I fully expected The White Album to be sharp and well observed and elegantly written. And it was. What I did not expect - and what endeared her to me as soon as I realised what was going on - is that Didion is an obsessive nerd ...more
Dec 14, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I cannot say enough about Joan Didion. Her writing captures the mood of the 1960's and '70's West Coast better than anyone else I have read. I was old enough when the events she wrote about here took place for some of them to have impacted my world, and my family made the first of several months long travels to the Coast in 1977, so I am familiar with some of the settings.
Didion's was able to get close to the tiniest detail of her stories. Her descriptions of what happens during wildfires will
I absolutely adored Didion's Slouching Towards Bethlehem. It is because of Didion (in addition to an other select few) that I want to write essays. But whenever I read her, I'm not entirely sure why.

Didion's background is as a journalist. Her essays in this collection, as in others, are very journalistic in approach as many of them were written for various publications. Often, however, the individual essays make me feel cold, devoid of much other feeling. Her writing does not always inspire me,
Feb 02, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I enjoyed this dystopian look at a far future California under attack:

“the “rescue-boat operation” at Paradise Cove, the “beach operations” at Leo Carrillo, Nicholas, Point Dume, Corral, Malibu Surfrider, Malibu Lagoon, Las Tunas, Topanga North and Topanga South. Those happen to be the names of some Malibu public beaches but in the Zuma lookout that day the names took on the sound of battle stations during a doubtful cease-fire. All quiet at Leo. Situation normal at Surfrider.”

And its terrible a
This undersung little book rates so highly with me that it very nearly earns my vote for the best writing by any modern-day American woman author. Period. [I would make it my #1 choice, but that honor goes to horror-authoress Shirley Jackson.] If we focus only on 20c. American nonfiction ; then it is certainly my #1 favorite title--beating out all works by all other females, and also all males (David McCullough, Norman Mailer, Hunter Thompson, Tom Wolfe, Gore Vidal, etc) as well. Did you hear ...more
Apr 13, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: books-bought
This is my first Joan Didion book, and for me, it's a hit and miss. An enjoyable read and obviously a good writer, but I don't feel any sense of passion or deep interest. I was curious to read "The White Album" because I live in Los Angeles. I remember the Charles Manson times as being very scary in Los Angeles, and Didion captures those horrifying moments as it happened. One gravely suspected things are not entirely OK, which was a direct contrast with the Hippie thing at the time. A bad vibe c ...more
“We tell ourselves stories in order to live.”

I love the ease with which Joan Didion writes, or at least it appears as such. It’s borderline conversational yet flawless. Here, she presents us mostly with snippets of 60s and 70s America. Such a fascinating time period. My favorite essay was the Georgia O’Keefe. I’m a fan. This was only my second Didion and I can’t wait to read more.
This was a struggle to get through. Some very boring to read essays (about how much she loves water?) interspersed with some gems.

A disappointing read after Slouching Towards Bethlehem, which in my opinion is a much stronger (and dreamier) book of essays.
Apr 17, 2020 added it
"Ancient marbles were not always attractively faded and worn. Ancient marbles once looked as they do here: as if dreamed by a mafia don." 76
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 couldn't help wondering that with each essay Didion ...more
Leo Robertson
The weirdest thing happened while I was reading this one--well, not weirdest I guess--I'd slog through it, see that over half an hour had passed and I'd only read ten pages. Then I took a nap, got back up, tried again and the same thing happened.

It seems that Didion has effectively recreated life in Sacramento through prose, which--through books like this, films like Lady Bird, podcasts like My Favorite Murder and testimonials from real-life people I've met who once lived there--I get the impres
Bean McLean
Apr 06, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Despite the generational differences, Joan Didion is able to tap into a feeling that is eternally western. Decades separate my childhood and the time that Didion describes dry blowing bougainvilleas or the heavy oranges on the bough - yet she is able to reach into the subconscious and scratch awake memories of dry hot winds and the cracked tile of my own childhood, fingering something so wholly and unchangeably California that it makes me stop and think: yes, exactly that, how’d you know?
Aug 14, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
“We tell ourselves stories in order to live . . . 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 . . . Quite often I reflect on the big house in Hollywood, on ‘Midnight Confessions’ and on Ramon Novarro and on the fact that Roman Polanski and I are go ...more
Nov 06, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: essays, non-fiction
We tell ourselves stories in order to live.

I really loved the titular essay and thoroughly enjoyed the others. Some of this is kind of dated now, but don't let that put you off - I'd still highly recommend checking it out because of how fantastic Joan Didion's non-fiction writing is.
Cadu França
Feb 16, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: desert-island
I started reading this book after joining a Facebook group that set out to read all of the 10 books Greta Gerwig mentions in a Vulture article as her “desert island books.”

I had no idea who Joan Didion was but by page twenty I had already started to really enjoy her writing. Not exactly the subject-matter-whatever, but her approach to them.

I also got to think about Greta Gerwig’s work a few times, and not only in the parts where she writes about driving in Sacramento, but also at a certain point
Olivia Oudinot
Mar 08, 2020 rated it liked it
Didion's The White Album gives a collection of events from shopping malls, to the Manson Murders, the women's movement, migraines, all the way to describing her perspective and what life was like in America post-60s. I deeply enjoyed Didion's writing style and liked her reflections. A great read if you are interested in the topic and like essays.
Oct 15, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Peter Mathews
Four things stand out for me about this book:

- Joan Didion had amazing access to some of the key people and events of her time, from meeting Linda Kasabian during the Manson murder trials to hanging out with The Doors while they were recording in the studio

- The world as it existed from the 1950s-1970s is a particularly unique period in history, the like of which we shall not see again. How anyone thought life at that time was "normal" is beyond me.

- Joan Didion is an incredibly strong and admir
Mar 06, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 1968
The title essay is wonderful..., a must read for Didion fans.
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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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