Where I Was From (Vintage International) (Paperback)
Didion applies her scalpel-like intelligence to California'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 Was From explores California’s romances with land and water; its unacknowledged debts to railroads, aerospace, and big government; the disjunction between its code of individualism and its fetish for prisons.
Whether she is writing about her pioneer ancestors or privileged sexual predators, robber barons or writers (not excluding herself), Didion is an unparalleled observer, and this book is at once intellectually provocative and deeply personal.
Didion’s first volume of essays, Slouching Towards Bethlehem, was published in 1968, and her second, The White Album, was published in 1979. Her nonfiction works include Salvador (1983), Miami (1987), After Henry (1992), Political Fictions (2001), Where I Was From (2003), We Tell Ourselves Stories in Order to Live (2006), Blue Nights (2011), South and West (2017) and Let Me Tell You What I Mean (2021). Her memoir The Year of Magical Thinking won the National Book Award for Nonfiction in 2005.
In 2005, Didion was awarded the American Academy of Arts & Letters Gold Medal in Criticism and Belles Letters. In 2007, she was awarded the National Book Foundation’s Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters. A portion of National Book Foundation citation read: "An incisive observer of American politics and culture for more than forty-five years, Didion’s distinctive blend of spare, elegant prose and fierce intelligence has earned her books a place in the canon of American literature as well as the admiration of generations of writers and journalists.” In 2013, she was awarded a National Medal of Arts and Humanities by President Barack Obama, and the PEN Center USA’s Lifetime Achievement Award.
Didion said of her writing: "I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means.” She died in December 2021.
“Compelling. . . . A love song to the place where her family has lived for generations, but a love song full of questions and doubts.” –Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times
“An arresting amalgam of memoir and historical timeline. . . . Exquisitely crafted, as subtle as the slow waking from a pleasant dream.” –The Baltimore Sun
“One beautiful sentence follows another. . . . This is a book about history, about what we learn from genealogy and history books, novels and old newspapers, and how we square all that with what we see around us. . . . Didion has remained a clearheaded and original writer all her long life.” –Malcolm Jones, Newsweek
“Succinct and quite beautiful. . . . Its rewards are many. If anyone needs further confirmation that she is one of the finest essayists currently at work, this book will nail it.” –The Seattle Times/Post Intelligencer
“One of the most recognizable–and brilliant–literary styles to emerge in America during the past four decades. . . . [Didion is] a great American writer.” –The New York Times Book Review
“Didion has written a brave little book . . . a fine book that must be read with as much care it was written. . . . [Didion is] an implacably honest writer.” –Jonathan Yardley, Washington Post
“Valediction and elegy alike, Where I Was From is a storm-tossed book. Its history is dense . . . its prose sharp, direct and chiseled.” –The Los Angeles Times Book Review
“Eloquent, spare, and rendered without sentiment.” –Boston Globe
“[Didion is] a latter-day Walt Whitman, singing of America by singing of herself.” –Slate.com
“Joan Didion is a brilliant explicator of the American political and cultural consciousness.” –Rocky Mountain News
“Many of us have tried, and failed, to master [Didion’s] gift for the single ordinary deflating word, the word that spins an otherwise flat sentence through five degrees of irony. But her sentences could only be hers.” –Michael Gorra, Chicago Tribune
“[A] fascinating, informative, obscure–and yes, moving–little book.” –San Jose Mercury News
“A bracing mix of personal and public history.” –Benjamin Kunkel, Newsday
“Odd, elliptical and ultimately revealing. . . . Didion discovers the exact locus where geography and personal journey intersect, and has produced a work as compelling and enigmatic as its subjects.” –Time Out New York
“Where I Was From is a beautifully written and intensely personal tome. . . . One of the country’s most intelligent writers . . . Ms. Didion’s prose is like a razor cutting straight to the bone.” –New York Sun
“[Didion's] appraisal is cool, her eye is sharp, and her turn of phrase is wicked.” –Time
“How odd that bad news can be so much fun to read. Her essays are as sinewy as her novels, written in the same ice-pick/laser-beam prose.” –Harper’s