Joan Didion and the Female Voices Reading Challenge

So I think it is safe to say that I am not a fan of Joan Didion.  Her recent publication of essays South and West was my second reading experience.  I previously tried to read an earlier essay collection called The White Album but I could not bring myself to finish it.  I just could not do it.  Follow the link to my past post regarding my first Joan Didion Reading experience.

Here is a synopsis of South and West.

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.

So Didion goes from traveling around the South of the 1970s to discussing a notorious kidnapping of a rich girl.  While this seems like it should be interesting and insightful to the time period I just cannot get past the pretentious writing of Joan Didion.  In my opinion, Didion is the wrong person to providing a snapshot into the lifestyles of Southerners.  I see her strictly as an entitled, pretentious and stuck-up woman.  Again, that is just my opinion.  Is Didion really all of those things?  I have absolutely no idea.  The praise that this book has received, as well as Didion’s past work, indicates that I am wrong.

Admittedly, I did enjoy South and West more than The White Album.  I will choose to ignore that South and West is one hundred twenty pages long so that essentially is a one sitting read for me. It was interesting to get a glimpse into the area of the country at that point in time.  Was it a necessity that I read it?  No.  Am I glad that I did?  Yes and no.  I am glad to be able to wage an opinion on the writing of Joan Didion.  In the past five years it seemed like the universe was telling me to read and fall in love with Joan Didion.  I really did think that I was finding another female voice to add to those I admire.  However, it is not meant to be.  I would rather read and fall in love with the writing of a woman less pretentious.


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