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Where I Was From

3.87  ·  Rating details ·  4,574 ratings  ·  494 reviews
In her moving and insightful new book, Joan Didion reassesses parts of her life, her work, her history and ours. A native Californian, Didion applies her scalpel-like intelligence to the state’s ethic of ruthless self-sufficiency in order to examine that ethic’s often tenuous relationship to reality.

Combining history and reportage, memoir and literary criticism, Where I Wa
Paperback, 240 pages
Published September 14th 2004 by Vintage (first published September 2003)
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Paul Hedeen California's past in what I would call the "empire phase": big lands, big allotments, big dreams. California with a capital "C."…moreCalifornia's past in what I would call the "empire phase": big lands, big allotments, big dreams. California with a capital "C."(less)

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Average rating 3.87  · 
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 ·  4,574 ratings  ·  494 reviews

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Mar 22, 2012 rated it really liked it
So, so good. Family memoir, social history, contemporary reportage and literary criticism (of Frank Norris, Jack London, and Joan Didion) in perfect proportions, synthesized in her sad and piquant prose, her "astringent lyricism." A patient autopsy of the myths of the American West, of Progress. I want to shelve this with the Bridge novels and Son of the Morning Star; Didion and Connell children of the Plains and the Far West, with their doubts and dry wits, sly siblings winking to each other ac ...more
Anne B
Oct 24, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I was raised in California, still live here, and have read Didion all my life. I was thinking of her words on the Santa Ana winds when I finished this book, while a firebug in Los Angeles took advantage of the hot winter weather to set cars on fire across the Westside. Ain't no crazy like a California crazy, I thought; but Joan says it better.

We can divide Didion's work into phases: investigative, fictional, and her late work, mostly memoir. I reject the idea that her earlier stuff is somehow s
Nov 02, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2015
“Discussion of how California has 'changed,' then, tends locally to define the more ideal California as that which existed at whatever past point the speaker first saw it: Gilroy as it was in the 1960s and Gilroy as it was fifteen years ago and Gilroy as it was when my father and I ate short ribs at the Milias Hotel are three pictures with virtually no overlap, a hologram that dematerializes as I drive through it.”
― Joan Didion, Where I Was From

“A place belongs forever to whoever claims it h
Miss. Gray
Jun 26, 2007 rated it it was ok
Shelves: politicshistory
Well, I only got half way through this one. The last chapter I landed on, about the Spur Posse and the stark reality of a pre-designed faux ownership class called Lakewood, seems to be the best chapter in the book. It was a struggle to get there.

I feel odd reviewing a book I only read half of, but take a jab at this if you need to. Correct me if I am wrong. Tell me Joan Didion didn't write a whole book about the underbelly of the California dream and leave out the injustices done to people of c
Jan 01, 2018 rated it really liked it
Joan Didion discusses her family and their migration to California. She separates fact from fiction in the stories told, not only about her own family, but also about her native California. Exploring bits and pieces from the 19th century to 21st, readers are treated to well-written essays showing the spirit of true Californians.My favorite essays, of course, were those exploring her own family or which included information on the family of her subjects. Thomas Kincade was the starting point of o ...more
Hank Stuever
Jul 16, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
In a way, everything Didion wrote led to this book. I think it's one of her best and I sort of consider it the end of the trail, even though her biggest publishing success ("The Year of Magical Thinking") was just around the corner. This is Didion's elegiac farewell to California, going back over her life and work and the pioneer myths onto which she had projected so much of her core narrative sensibilities. There's a real scope to it -- collecting a New Yorker piece about the teen sex posse in ...more
May 23, 2022 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: own, non-fiction
instead of a memoir, this is more of a historical account of didion’s heritage and ancestry in california. i can imagine this would be interesting to some, particularly native californians who would enjoy learning about the history of their home state, but unfortunately it wasn’t what i was looking for, nor what i was expecting due to this book being labelled as joan didion’s ‘first ever memoir’, which it isn’t. if you’re looking for a memoir by joan didion, i’d highly recommend the year of
M. D.  Hudson
Apr 14, 2010 rated it really liked it
Joan Didion strikes me as being one of the smartest writers in America, with a firm but quiet authority that makes me trust her absolutely. She is also probably the last social commentator in America who is not shouting with little rivulets of mad-dog spittle flying from the corners of her mouth.

Sometimes the book was truly thought-changing for me in not only how I regard California, but how I regard the whole westward expansion aspect of the USA. I live in Fort Wayne, IN – once the hot center
Jan 12, 2022 rated it really liked it
Shelves: woman-authored
Joan Didion's Where I Was From is a reflection on her past life in California that will resonate with anyone who holds on to connections with the past.

The state of California was founded by a rough-and-tumble collections of settlers who fought the Natives and took their land. From the birth of the state, corporations have carved it up and turned it into fields for capitalist harvest. First the Southern Pacific Railroad company then the aerospace industry, each partnered with the federal governme
Jun 28, 2011 rated it it was ok
This was a tough book to get through, often dull, frequently depressing. Didion, a Sacramento-area native, examines the myth of the Calfornia Dream. She provides ample evidence that state residents are self-deluded and that their values frequently contradict (ie: believing we are anti-government mavericks, yet being reliant on the DOD for so many jobs). The book is well-researched and accounts of the media coverage of the "Spur Posse" and the number of prisons and insane asyllums in the state (t ...more
Jun 26, 2022 rated it really liked it
“There was no believable comfort I could offer my mother: she was right. They were all old men and it was all San Jose.”

of course i loved it but probably my least favorite Didion —the early essays feel a bit disparate and unfocused, full of names and dates. ultimately comes together, however, as her analysis of California switches from pure history to an understanding of where the state is heading (and who it is leaving behind). final chapters regarding her mother make for a strong companion to
Sep 06, 2010 rated it liked it
During college, I heard Joan Didion read from this book. She is a miniscule person with giant glasses, a quiet voice, and a knack for putting words together that really blows me away. I finally got around to reading it. Joan Didion could write a book about plastic bags and I'd still read it, and still probably like it. This topic wasn't something I particularly give a damn about (California history), but her writing is so elegant, understated and thoughtful that I liked it for form over substanc ...more
Jul 20, 2022 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"It was only Quintana who was real." ...more
Sep 22, 2018 rated it it was amazing
How does she do it? How does Didion masterfully write in so many different genres at once?

A handful of pages into this book, I thought it was going to be a historical chronicle of family history. But then it was literary criticism. And then it was trenchant cultural commentary. And then it was almost poetry. Around page seventy-five, I realized that I wouldn't be able to place the literary form. This genre-bending tale transcends them all. Because it's not just a little bit of this and a little
May 19, 2022 rated it liked it
This took me a while to get into but I liked it in the end. I bought it at dog eared books in San Francisco and I wish I had read more of it before/during my visit to California. It’s really interesting, and I especially liked the chapters about the underbelly of the military contracts paying for everything in the California suburbs. I also liked the stories about pioneers, I feel like not many pioneer narratives are that unromantic. The book was was pretty meandering and I never really knew whe ...more
May 07, 2020 rated it really liked it
Joan Didion thoughtfully and dispassionately examines the contradictions in California's ethos, the central one being a State that prides itself on rugged individualism and the spirit of entrepreneurism, which was only sustained by massive Federal subsidies of the railroads, waterways, and military contracts. Most of these contradictions are explored through her family's multigenerational history in the Central Valley, and through the writings of Jack London, William Faulkner, and her own debut ...more
Jul 21, 2007 rated it really liked it
this is not a book i ever would have picked up on my own. i didn't think i cared about a personal history of california told by a wealthy white woman. i underestimated how a mind and a pen like joan didion's can shape a subject. navigating between irrigation, mythology, american dreaming, race riots, and the muted undercurrent of class, didion creates a poignant landscape that refuses to indulge mere sentiment. there are turns of phrase in here that took my breath away. quote(s) to come. ...more
Jul 07, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: usa-california
My new friend Chris sent me this book after I took him to Point Reyes for the day. I think I did a pretty good job of convincing him that California is a really nice place to live. He recommended (and sent me) this book - an homage and narrative of the state by one of its most revered writers. It's really fascinating. It's a fairly slim book, but it took me two weeks to get through. That's a big compliment - I kept slowing down and rereading passages, unwilling to miss anything. ...more
Jimmy R
Jul 19, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I read this when it first came out. I returned to it yesterday specifically to read the second part of the book, the part about Lakewood and how the Spur Posse came to be. To my mind, there is no better reporter than Joan Didion, no better essayist. She has what used to be called "a way with words." She has the rare ability to zone in on the particular details that make a story compelling. (She can do no wrong.) ...more
Madame Jane
Jan 04, 2022 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: my-library, favorites
I first read Joan Didion in 2019. The Year Of Magical Thinking. I was hypnotized by her sharp and straight-forward writing. I also felt sorry for her losses. I became a personal fan of hers because I admired her strength to go on. Joan Didion died last month. As a tribute, I picked up Where I Was From. This was a different Didion book for me because of the history meshed with Joan's own family history in California. She was always honest in writing, and points out the contradictions of Californi ...more
Apr 14, 2022 rated it it was amazing
The thing that first drew me to Joan Didion's writing was its rich sense of atmosphere. I thought that this book would be like that -- given that its title, Where I Was From, sounds like a license to walk down memory lane. But this book is actually a damnation of what she calls the "pernicious nostalgia" of her earliest work. (That phrase is used with reference to Run River but the nostalgia is evident in all her work of the 60s and 70s.)

Early on in the book Didion talks about picking up a revis
Lucy Bell
More like 3.75
Tyler Jones
Dec 15, 2015 rated it it was amazing
The statement, "where we are from makes us who we are" seems both an obvious truth and a gross over simplification and is usually dismissed without too much thought. Most of us are aware that there is a connection between our childhood environment and the values we use to define ourselves as adults, but very few of us look too closely at the mythology that shaped us. Didion does. This is a remarkable book, one that will force the reader to re-examine their own past and, if we are as honest and i ...more
Sep 05, 2020 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
It was okay. There was a fairly big chunk that was blindingly brilliant. There was another fairly big chunk that was almost totally throw-away. The chapters about Lakewood, the military/aerospace industry town, were completely fascinating. I also liked the beginning and end chunks that were largely memoir. Some of the sections in between these were boring, abstruse, with absurdly long sentences that contained dozens of names of rivers, or ranches, or whatever. It was like she, who usually writes ...more
Aug 08, 2018 rated it really liked it
I picked up Joan Didion's WHERE I WAS FROM to fill a space on a summer book bingo card: A book that takes place in the area where I was born. Having grown up in the Greater Sacramento Area and lived in California nearly all my life, I really enjoyed this book-- its reluctant corrections of the history we were taught, its continuing search for place and self. As my first read of Didion, this was a good choice for me. ...more
Sep 30, 2012 rated it really liked it
Read it for a California history course, so I read it over most of a semester. Unique look at this state that I'm glad I read. It was my first exposure to the work of Joan Didion; it convinced me I'd like to read more of her work. ...more
Jan 09, 2020 rated it it was ok
What a useless thing to pretend to rate Joan Didion’s book. The fact that I could not fight my way into this book, yet finished it, speaks entirely to me and my own incapacity to share Ms. Didion’s fascination with her familial and historical anecdotes.
Ana Kevorkian
Oct 25, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: owned, school
talented, brilliant, incredible, amazing, show stopping, spectacular, never the same, totally unique. joan didion is the blueprint
Bella Sayegh
Dec 26, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
best writer on irrigation systems ❤️
Beth Bonini
I am at home in the West. The hills of the coastal ranges look ‘right’ to me, the particular flat expanse of the Central Valley comforts my eye. The place names have the ring of real places to me. I can pronounce the names of the rivers, and recognize the common trees and snakes. I am easy here in a way that I am not easy in other places. (From ‘California Notes’, 1976)

I was born in Sacramento, and lived in California most of my life. I learned to swim in the Sacramento and the American,
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Joan Didion was born in California and lived in New York City. She was 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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