Joy's Reviews > Where I Was From

Where I Was From by Joan Didion
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's review
Apr 03, 2011

really liked it

This book was about the "confusions, misapprehensions and misunderstnadings" about California, where the author grew up. Her family moved from Virginia in 1766. Didion grew up hearing the wagon-train stories of hardship and abandonment and endurance. She thinks these stories, part of California folklore, created a culture in which survival would seem the sole virtue. She sees the pattern of "folly and recklessness" leading the state to mortgage itself first to the the railroad, then the aerospace industry, and then the federal government. An example of Californians selling themselves out to the highest bidder is the California Correctional Peace Officers Association. The state loves prisons. In 1994 standardized testing of reading skills of CA fourth graders placed them last in the nation, tied with LA. It was 1995 when, for the first time, CA spent more on its prisons than on its two university systems. The Univ. of CA has ten campuses and CA State Univ. has 24 campuses. Another interesting thing was mental institutions. In 1978, CA had a higher rate of commitment for insanity than any other state. A state mental hospital physician says it was not just the mentally ill, but "imbeciles, dotards, idiots, drunkards, simpletons, fools, the aged, the vagebond, and the helpless." Between 1906 and 1929, 59% of those committed to mental institutions were not because of violence or a threat to themselves or others, but because they exhibited "odd or peculiar behavior." An interesting quote from Didion was: "There was near Sacramento an asylum where I was periodically taken with my Girl Scout troop to exhibit for the inmates our determined cheerfulness while singing rounds, nine-year-olds with merit badges on our sleeves pressed into service as Musicians and Assistant Attendants." Now a description of Didion's mother: "She was passionately opinionated on a number of points that reflected, on examination, no belief she actually held." Her mother's most frequent line was: "What difference does it make?" Interesting book. I should have given it a four-star rating. I just changed it. Victor Davis Hanson: "Material bounty and freedom are so much stronger incentives than sacrifice and character."

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