South and west from a notebook
South and West: From a Notebook by Joan DidionFrom 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 one such draft that traces a road trip she took with her husband, John Gregory Dunne, in June 1970, through Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama. She interviews prominent local figures, describes motels, diners, a deserted reptile farm, a visit with Walker Percy, a ladies brunch at the Mississippi Broadcasters Convention. She writes about the stifling heat, the almost viscous pace of life, the sulfurous light, and the preoccupation with race, class, and heritage she finds in the small towns they pass through.
And from a different notebook: the California Notes that began as an assignment from Rolling Stone on the Patty Hearst trial of 1976. Though Didion never wrote the piece, watching the trial and being in San Francisco triggered thoughts about the city, its social hierarchy, the Hearsts, and her own upbringing in Sacramento. Here, too, is the beginning of her thinking about the West, its landscape, the western women who were heroic for her, and her own lineage, all of which would appear later in her acclaimed 2003 book, Where I Was From.
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Review: 'South and West: From a Notebook,' by Joan Didion
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Alfred A. The political pieces she later wrote for The New York Review of Books — beginning with the presidential campaign, on through the impeachment of Bill Clinton and the high drama of the face-off in Florida — were less original, less idiosyncratic, but reading them in retrospect, they are oddly prophetic about the growing gap between the electorate and the political elites, and the growing dysfunction of the entire system. At a remove of more than four decades, she maps the divisions splintering America today, and uncannily anticipates some of the dynamics that led to the election of Donald J. Trump and caught so many political and media insiders unawares. The shorter entry is a meditation on California, the place Didion grew up and long called home.
You may have hoped over the past couple of years to open the New York Review of Books and find a good long essay by Joan Didion cutting to the quick of the Trump campaign.
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She never wrote the article; now, luckily, her notes have been unearthed, along with some later musings about California, where she then lived. The result is a little book with a chilling power of prediction. Wilderness on the western plains and in the mountains is redemptive; in the south it is rank, malevolent, encroaching everywhere. The tour begins with a death: in New Orleans , a woman slumps forward over the wheel of her car, which veers into a tree. Or is this already a postmortem place? Didion watches old people on balconies in the French Quarter, staring as they gently creak in their rocking chairs. The atmosphere throughout is creepily gothic.
In the spring of , Joan Didion returned to her alma mater, U. Didion had chosen her profession, she told the crowd, because, though she had tried to live in the realm of ideas—to be a professional academic, at Berkeley or somewhere like it—she had always found herself incorrigibly preoccupied with the messier facts of the world: the way a yellow curtain will catch the wind on a soft summer day, the pattern the lights take at the particle accelerator near the Berkeley campus, the particular way that petals, having lost their bloom, fall and gather on a floor. She had tried many other things before it became obvious that, for Joan Didion, writing was the only thing. And then she broke the bad news. The Joan Didion of is best known not so much for selling people out as for being sold to them.
Look Inside. Mar 07, Minutes Buy. Jan 02, ISBN Mar 07, ISBN Mar 07, Minutes. South and West gives us two extended excerpts from notebooks she kept in the s; read together, they form a piercing view of the American political and cultural landscape.