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The White Album

4.15  ·  Rating details ·  18,995 ratings  ·  1,424 reviews
First published in 1979, Joan Didion's 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 commandi
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Paperback, 224 pages
Published November 10th 2009 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (first published 1979)
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Darwin8u
Nov 01, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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

description

I wish I could dance like Fred A
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Robin
I write a lot about sentimentality. Or, rather, how much I dislike sentimentality, in literature. (How annoying, my need to drone on about it. I apologize! And I apologize in advance for my future rants and repetitions on the subject.)

It's true. I can't stand it. Can't stand the experience of an author leading me to his or her beating, fluttering heart, via conveyor belt. FEEL THIS, says the author, oh, isn't it sweet?? Doesn't that make you want to cry? Cry, please, and here's a hand embroidere
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Nancy
Aug 08, 2008 rated it really liked it
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
Dec 15, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: westward-ho, essays
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
Greg
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
Violeta
Jun 14, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
As I was making my way through this one it once more occurred to me (I had thought it again during the reading of Slouching Towards Bethlehem) that it’s rather unfair that Joan Didion will perhaps be mostly remembered as a High-Priestess-of-Grieving (on account of The Year of Magical Thinking) instead of the Cool-Bitch-Chic author she was for the larger part of her writing career.
I love her prose in either of her capacities. The White Album is of the latter.
It’s engrossing and sharply written,
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Brian
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
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Julie Ehlers
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
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
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Geoff
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
Mike

"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
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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
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Radiantflux
Dec 12, 2018 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: usa, audiobook
116th book for 2018.

I don't get why everyone loves Didion's writing so much.

She comes across as a rich outsider, who rejoices in being snarky about everyone else. Here in her collection of essays from the late-1960s/early-1970s she's snarky about the black panthers, 2nd wave feminism (enfeebling of women!), the movie industry, the music industry, and even carpool lanes. She drops names like crazy (saying she's a co-godparent with Roman Polanski didn't date well), and mentions more than once the
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Mary J Starry
Jun 20, 2019 rated it it was amazing
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
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
W.D. Clarke
Nov 06, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2020, americana
At its best, this essay collection reveals just how amazingly perceptive, thoughtful, and eloquent a writer Joan Didion is—a writer I am ashamed to be making a most belated (but now fanboyish) acquaintance with, I must add. What's more, many of these pieces make the west coast of the USA in the late 60s and early 70s come to life in ways both expected and wholly surprising: the latter being represented by the title essay, in which we follow the author on an apparently random tour of LA at its mo ...more
Annikky
Jul 21, 2018 rated it really liked it
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
Michael
Jul 30, 2012 rated it liked it
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
Ann-Marie
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
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El
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,
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Bean McLean
Apr 06, 2020 rated it really liked it
despite all the generational differences, Joan Didion is always able to tap into this feeling that is so totally and eternally western. there’s decades between my own and Didion’s childhood of dry blowing bougainvilleas or heavy oranges on the bough - yet she’s 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 ...more
Feliks
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
Aloke
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
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britt_brooke
Mar 31, 2018 rated it really liked it
“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.
Tosh
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
lapetitesouris
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.
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"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
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Annie
Aug 14, 2018 rated it liked it
“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
Helena
May 27, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The thing is that Joan is just very cool, which is fun to read. And her writing has this immersive quality that really needs more descriptor than the word immersive but I can't think of it. And the thing is that sometimes she writes about things that I just don't know or care about and its weird to be immersed in that, and those are the misses. But the hits are very very good.

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hit or miss tbh (first read)
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Sarah
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.
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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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“We tell ourselves stories in order to live.” 660 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.” 466 likes
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