16 Best Joan Didion Books

Joan Didion Books: Joan Didion is an American writer who launched her career in the 1960s after winning an essay contest sponsored by Vogue magazine. Her writing during the 1960s through the late 1970s engaged audiences in the realities of the counterculture of the ’60s and the Hollywood lifestyle.

Joan Didion Books

The Year of Magical Thinking (Vintage International) Feb 13, 2007 by Joan Didion

From one of America’s iconic writers, a stunning book of electric honesty and passion. Joan Didion explores an intensely personal yet universal experience: a portrait of a marriage–and a life, in good times and bad–that will speak to anyone who has ever loved a husband or wife or child.

Several days before Christmas 2003, John Gregory Dunne and Joan Didion saw their only daughter, Quintana, fall ill with what seemed at first flu, then pneumonia, then complete septic shock. She was put into an induced coma and placed on life support. Days later–the night before New Year’s Eve–the Dunnes were just sitting down to dinner after visiting the hospital when John Gregory Dunne suffered a massive and fatal coronary. In a second, this close, symbiotic partnership of forty years was over. Four weeks later, their daughter pulled through. Two months after that, arriving at LAX, she collapsed and underwent six hours of brain surgery at UCLA Medical Center to relieve a massive hematoma.

This powerful book is Didion’ s attempt to make sense of the “weeks and then months that cut loose any fixed idea I ever had about death, about illness . . . about marriage and children and memory . . . about the shallowness of sanity, about life itself.

Slouching Towards Bethlehem: Essays Mar 21, 2017 by Joan Didion

 
In twenty razor-sharp essays that redefined the art of journalism, National Book Award–winning author Joan Didion reports on a society gripped by a deep generational divide, from the “misplaced children” dropping acid in San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury district to Hollywood legend John Wayne filming his first picture after a bout with cancer. She paints indelible portraits of reclusive billionaire Howard Hughes and folk singer Joan Baez, “a personality before she was entirely a person,” and takes readers on eye-opening journeys to Death Valley, Hawaii, and Las Vegas, “the most extreme and allegorical of American settlements.”
 
First published in 1968, Slouching Towards Bethlehem has been heralded by the New York Times Book Review as “a rare display of some of the best prose written today in this country” and named to Time magazine’s list of the one hundred best and most influential nonfiction books. It is the definitive account of a terrifying and transformative decade in American history whose discordant reverberations continue to sound a half-century later.

The White Album: Essays May 9, 2017 by Joan Didion

In this landmark essay collection, Joan Didion brilliantly interweaves her own “bad dreams” with those of a nation confronting the dark underside of 1960s counterculture.
 
From a jailhouse visit to Black Panther Party cofounder Huey Newton to witnessing First Lady of California Nancy Reagan pretend to pick flowers for the benefit of news cameras, Didion captures the paranoia and absurdity of the era with her signature blend of irony and insight. She takes readers to the “giddily splendid” Getty Museum in Los Angeles, the cool mountains of Bogotá, and the Jordanian Desert, where Bishop James Pike went to walk in Jesus’s footsteps—and died not far from his rented Ford Cortina. She anatomizes the culture of shopping malls—“toy garden cities in which no one lives but everyone consumes”—and exposes the contradictions and compromises of the women’s movement. In the iconic title essay, she documents her uneasy state of mind during the years leading up to and following the Manson murders—a terrifying crime that, in her memory, surprised no one.

Play It as It Lays: A Novel May 9, 2017 by Joan Didion

Spare, elegant, and terrifying, Play It as It Lays is the unforgettable story of a woman and a society come undone.
 
Raised in the ghost town of Silver Wells, Nevada, Maria Wyeth is an ex-model and the star of two films directed by her estranged husband, Carter Lang. But in the spiritual desert of 1960s Los Angeles, Maria has lost the plot of her own life. Her daughter, Kate, was born with an “aberrant chemical in her brain.” Her long-troubled marriage has slipped beyond repair, and her disastrous love affairs and strained friendships provide little comfort. Her only escape is to get in her car and drive the freeway—in the fast lane with the radio turned up high—until it runs out “somewhere no place at all where the flawless burning concrete just stopped.” But every ride to nowhere, every sleepless night numbed by pills and booze and sex, makes it harder for Maria to find the meaning in another day.

Where I Was From (Vintage International) Jan 26, 2011 by Joan Didion

In this moving and unexpected book, Joan Didion reassesses parts of her life, her work, her history, and ours. Where I Was From, in Didion’s words, “represents an exploration into my own confusions about the place and the way in which I grew up, confusions as much about America as about California, misapprehensions and misunderstandings so much a part of who I became that I can still to this day confront them only obliquely.” The book is a haunting narrative of how her own family moved west with the frontier from the birth of her great-great-great-great-great-grandmother in Virginia in 1766 to the death of her mother on the edge of the Pacific in 2001; of how the wagon-train stories of hardship and abandonment and endurance created a culture in which survival would seem the sole virtue.

In Where I Was From, Didion turns what John Leonard has called “her sonar ear, her radar eye” onto her own work, as well as that of such California writers as Frank Norris and Jack London and Henry George, to examine how the folly and recklessness in the very grain of the California settlement led to the California we know today–a state mortgaged first to the railroad, then to the aerospace industry, and overwhelmingly to the federal government, a dependent colony of those political and corporate owners who fly in for the annual encampment of the
Bohemian Club. Here is the one writer we always want to read on California showing us the startling contradictions in its–and in America’s–core values.

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Let Me Tell You What I Mean Jan 26, 2021 by Joan Didion


These twelve pieces from 1968 to 2000, never before gathered together, offer an illuminating glimpse into the mind and process of a legendary figure. They showcase Joan Didion’s incisive reporting, her empathetic gaze, and her role as “an articulate witness to the most stubborn and intractable truths of our time” (The New York Times Book Review).

Here, Didion touches on topics ranging from newspapers (“the problem is not so much whether one trusts the news as to whether one finds it”), to the fantasy of San Simeon, to not getting into Stanford. In “Why I Write,” Didion ponders the act of writing: “I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means.” From her admiration for Hemingway’s sentences to her acknowledgment that Martha Stewart’s story is one “that has historically encouraged women in this country, even as it has threatened men,” these essays are acutely and brilliantly observed. Each piece is classic Didion: incisive, bemused, and stunningly prescient

Blue Nights Nov 1, 2011 by Joan Didion

From one of our most powerful writers, a work of stunning frankness about losing a daughter.

Richly textured with memories from her own childhood and married life with her husband, John Gregory Dunne, and daughter, Quintana Roo, this new book by Joan Didion is an intensely personal and moving account of her thoughts, fears, and doubts regarding having children, illness and growing old.

As she reflects on her daughter’s life and on her role as a parent, Didion grapples with the candid questions that all parents face, and contemplates her age, something she finds hard to acknowledge, much less accept. Blue Nights—the long, light evening hours that signal the summer solstice, “the opposite of the dying of the brightness, but also its warning”—like The Year of Magical Thinking before it, is an iconic book of incisive and electric honesty, haunting and profound.

South and West: From a Notebook Mar 7, 2017 by Joan Didion , Nathaniel Rich

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.

After Henry: Essays May 9, 2017 by Joan Didion

Whether dissecting the 1988 presidential campaign, exploring the commercialization of a Hollywood murder, or reporting on the “sideshows” of foreign wars, Joan Didion proves that she is one of the premier essayists of the twentieth century, “an articulate witness to the most stubborn and intractable truths of our time” (Joyce Carol Oates, The New York Times Book Review)Highlights include “In the Realm of the Fisher King,” a portrait of the White House under the stewardship of Ronald and Nancy Reagan, two “actors on location;” and “Girl of the Golden West,” a meditation on the Patty Hearst case that draws an unexpected and insightful parallel between the kidnapped heiress and the emigrants who settled California. “Sentimental Journeys” is a deeply felt study of New York media coverage of the brutal rape of a white investment banker in Central Park, a notorious crime that exposed the city’s racial and class fault lines.
 

Miami May 9, 2017 by Joan Didion

From Fidel Castro and the Bay of Pigs invasion to Lee Harvey Oswald and the Kennedy assassination to Oliver North and the Iran–Contra affair, Joan Didion uncovers political intrigues and shadowy underworld connections, and documents the US government’s “seduction and betrayal” of the Cuban exile community in Dade County. She writes of hotels that offer “guerrilla discounts,” gun shops that advertise Father’s Day deals, and a real-estate market where “Unusual Security and Ready Access to the Ocean” are perks for wealthy homeowners looking to make a quick escape. With a booming drug trade, staggering racial and class inequities, and skyrocketing murder rates, Miami in the 1980s felt more like a Third World capital than a modern American city. Didion describes the violence, passion, and paranoia of these troubled times in arresting detail and “beautifully evocative prose” (The New York Times Book Review).
 
A vital report on an immigrant community traumatized by broken dreams and the cynicism of US foreign policy, Miami is a masterwork of literary journalism whose insights are timelier and more important than ever.

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Political Fictions Oct 9, 2001 by Joan Didion


In these coolly observant essays, Joan Didion looks at the American political process and at “that handful of insiders who invent, year in and year out, the narrative of public life.” Through the deconstruction of the sound bites and photo ops of three presidential campaigns, one presidential impeachment, and an unforgettable sex scandal, Didion reveals the mechanics of American politics. She tells us the uncomfortable truth about the way we vote, the candidates we vote for, and the people who tell us to vote for them. These pieces build, one on the other, into a disturbing portrait of the American political landscape, providing essential reading on our democracy.

Salvador (Vintage International) by Joan Didion

“Terror is the given of the place.” The place is El Salvador in 1982, at the ghastly height of its civil war. The writer is Joan Didion, who delivers an anatomy of that country’s particular brand of terror–its mechanisms, rationales, and intimate relation to United States foreign policy.As ash travels from battlefields to body dumps, interviews a puppet president, and considers the distinctly Salvadoran grammar of the verb “to disappear,” Didion gives us a book that is germane to any country in which bloodshed has become a standard tool of politics.

A Book of Common Prayer (Vintage International) Feb 23, 2011 by Joan Didion

Writing with the telegraphic swiftness and microscopic sensitivity that have made her one of our most distinguished journalists, Joan Didion creates a shimmering novel of innocence and evil.A Book of Common Prayer is the story of two American women in the derelict Central American nation of Boca Grande. Grace Strasser-Mendana controls much of the country’s wealth and knows virtually all of its secrets; Charlotte Douglas knows far too little. “Immaculate of history, innocent of politics,” she has come to Boca Grande vaguely and vainly hoping to be reunited with her fugitive daughter. As imagined by Didion, her fate is at once utterly particular and fearfully emblematic of an age of conscienceless authority and unfathomable violence.

The Last Thing He Wanted (Vintage International) Feb 16, 2011 by Joan Didion

This intricate, fast-paced story, whose many scenes and details fit together like so many pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, is Didion’s incisive and chilling look at a modern world where things are not working as they should and where the oblique and official language is as sinister as the events it is covering up.

The narrator introduces Elena McMahon, estranged from a life of celebrity fundraisers and from her powerful West Coast husband, Wynn Janklow, whom she has left, taking Catherine, her daughter, to become a reporter for The Washington Post. Suddenly walking off the 1984 campaign, she finds herself boarding a plane for Florida to see her father, Dick McMahon. She becomes embroiled in her Dick’s business though “she had trained herself since childhood not to have any interest in what he was doing.” It is from this moment that she is caught up in something much larger than she could have imagined, something that includes Ambassador-at-Large Treat Austin Morrison and Alexander Brokaw, the ambassador to an unnamed Caribbean island. 

Democracy (Vintage International) Feb 16, 2011 by Joan Didion

Inez Victor knows that the major casualty of the political life is memory. But the people around Inez have made careers out of losing track. Her senator husband wants to forget the failure of his last bid for the presidency. Her husband’s handler would like the press to forget that Inez’s father is a murderer. And, in 1975, the year in which much of this bitterly funny novel is set, America is doing its best to lose track of its one-time client, the lethally hemorrhaging republic of South Vietnam.As conceived by Joan Didion, these personages and events constitute the terminal fallout of democracy, a fallout that also includes fact-finding junkets, senatorial groupies, the international arms market, and the Orwellian newspeak of the political class. Moving deftly from Honolulu to Jakarta, between romance, farce, and tragedy, Democracy is a tour de force from a writer who can dissect an entire society with a single phrase.

Run River (Vintage International) Feb 23, 2011 by Joan Didion

Joan Didion’s electrifying first novel is a haunting portrait of a marriage whose wrong turns and betrayals are at once absolutely idiosyncratic and a razor-sharp commentary on the history of California. Everett McClellan and his wife, Lily, are the great-grandchildren of pioneers, and what happens to them is a tragic epilogue to the pioneer experience, a story of murder and betrayal that only Didion could tell with such nuance, sympathy, and suspense.

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