South and West: Book summary and reviews of South and West by Joan Didion

South and West

From a Notebook

by Joan Didion

South and West by Joan Didion X
South and West by Joan Didion
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' rating:

     Not Yet Rated
  • Published Mar 2017
    160 pages
    Genre: Biography/Memoir

    Publication Information

  • Rate this book


Buy This Book

About this book

Book Summary

From 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..

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $45 for 12 months or $15 for 3 months.
  • More about membership!

Reviews

Media Reviews

"Starred Review. The reader gets the sense she is eavesdropping on the past, and these conversations, haunting in their prescience, are difficult to forget...This is important reading for today, but it is essential reading for the future." - Library Journal

"Students of social history, fans of Didion, and those seeking a quick, engaging read will appreciate this work: the raw immediacy of unedited prose by a master has an urgency that more polished works often lack." - Publishers Weekly

"Didion's notes are remarkably polished and slicing in their response to place, conversations overheard and instigated, perceptions of social attitudes, and detection of hypocrisy, irony, and injustice; they shimmer with dark implications. A book for her many avid readers, and anyone interested in the mysterious process of writing." - Booklist

"An almost spectral text haunted by a past that never seems distant." - Kirkus

"[Where I Was From] is weirdly prescient - pointing the way not only to where she would go as a writer but also a path the country would take in the years to come." - New York Times

"The pleasures of this short book…are found in observing the South through Didion's eyes. She is particularly sensitive to Southerners' relationship to history, a relationship that stands in sharp contrast to the prevailing attitude in California." - The New York Times Book Review

"You'll learn more about America's future from Didion's 40-year-old field notes...than you will from tomorrow's newspaper." - Esquire

"[South and West: From a Notebook] reveals the author at her most fascinatingly unfiltered. ... Captures the thrill of a writer discovering her richest subject: the American mythologies that governed her own romantic girlhood." - Vogue

"There's a universal rule against reading someone else's diary - but in this case, it's not just OK, it's required reading." - Marie Claire

"Vintage Didion. ... Remind[s] us of her brilliance as a stylist, social commentator and observer." - The Washington Post

"Elegant, eerily prescient. ... At once informal and immediate, magisterial and indelible." - Elle

"In these two pieces, Didion isn't so much seeing the country as she is x-raying it, cataloging the presenting symptoms of the ailing republic. ... [This] volume will persist in the memory." - The Village Voice

"Intimate, yet preternaturally detached, as though her matchless ear bears witness from the beyond." - The Boston Globe

"Exemplif[ies] Didion's signature brand of reportorial haiku—her pitiless camera eye, razor-sharp wit and telling techniques of self-deprecation that only bring the reader ... further along for the ride." - San Francisco Chronicle

"Deeply personal. ... Offer[s] new insight into a formative time in the author's life." - Rolling Stone

"One of contemporary literature's most revered essayists revives her raw records from a 1970s road trip across the American southwest ... her acute observations of the country's culture and history feel particularly resonant today." - Harper's Bazaar

"Vintage Didion, idiosyncratic and tantalizingly self-revealing." - USA Today

"Compelling ... rooted utterly in a past now all but lost to us, while also incredibly timely and relevant." - Los Angeles Review of Books

"If this is how Didion's notebooks read, let's have them all. ... The form suits her particular brilliance: the ability to sequence arresting sentences, crammed with observation and insight, and let them generate their own momentum." - Minneapolis Star Tribune

"A marvelous time capsule. ... Fascinating documents spiked with virtuosic turns. ... Cast[s] light backward and forward on her work, illuminating her reportorial process and the themes she would develop in later novels and nonfiction." - Vulture

"[Didion's] idiosyncratic genius is in full evidence in South and West. ... Didion seemed to be aware that she was recording a singular moment in the culture. ... She did not want to transcend the madness of the day, escape it, but rather to capture it completely." - Newsweek

This information about South and West was first featured in "The BookBrowse Review" - BookBrowse's membership magazine, and in our weekly "Publishing This Week" newsletter. Publication information is for the USA, and (unless stated otherwise) represents the first print edition. The reviews are necessarily limited to those that were available to us ahead of publication. If you are the publisher or author and feel that they do not properly reflect the range of media opinion now available, send us a message with the mainstream reviews that you would like to see added.

Any "Author Information" displayed below reflects the author's biography at the time this particular book was published.

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $45 for 12 months or $15 for 3 months.
  • More about membership!

Author Information

Joan Didion Author Biography

Photo © 2003 Colleen Guaitolini

Joan Didion (1934-2021) was born in Sacramento, CA, the daughter of an officer in the Army Air Corps. A shy, bookish child, Didion spent her teenage years typing out Ernest Hemingway stories to learn how sentences work. She attended the University of California, Berkeley where she got a degree in English and won an essay contest sponsored by Vogue magazine. The prize was a research assistant job at the magazine where Didion would work for more than a decade, eventually working her way up to an associate features editor. During this time she wrote for various other magazines and published her first novel, a tragic story about murder and betrayal, called Run River in 1963. The following year she married fellow writer John Gregory Dunne and the two moved to Los Angeles. The couple adopted a ...

... Full Biography

Other books by Joan Didion at BookBrowse
  • The Year of Magical Thinking jacket
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $45 for 12 months or $15 for 3 months.
  • More about membership!

More Recommendations

Readers Also Browsed . . .

more biography/memoir...

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $45 for 12 months or $15 for 3 months.
  • More about membership!

Join BookBrowse

and discover exceptional books
for just $3.75 per month.

Find out more


Top Picks

  • Book Jacket
    The War Librarian
    by Addison Armstrong
    Emmaline Balakin believes in the power of the written word — books have changed her life. When...
  • Book Jacket: The Book of Goose
    The Book of Goose
    by Yiyun Li
    Yiyun Li's The Book of Goose is a story of childhood friendship between narrator Agnès, a one-...
  • Book Jacket: Big Red
    Big Red
    by Jerome Charyn
    Jerome Charyn made his name as an author of detective novels, and over the years he has taken his ...
  • Book Jacket: If I Survive You
    If I Survive You
    by Jonathan Escoffery
    In If I Survive You, author Jonathan Escoffery portrays a family falling apart with grace. Main ...

Book Club Discussion

Book Jacket
The Bell in the Lake
by Lars Mytting
The engrossing epic novel - a #1 bestseller in Norway - of a young woman whose fate plays out against her village's mystical church bells.

Members Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    Our Missing Hearts
    by Celeste Ng

    From the author of Little Fires Everywhere, the inspiring new novel about a mother’s unbreakable love in a world consumed by fear.

Book Club Giveaway!
Win A Minor Chorus

A Minor Chorus

A debut novel from a rising literary star that brings the modern queer and Indigenous experience into sharp relief.

Enter

Wordplay

Solve this clue:

G R T Bad R

and be entered to win..

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends the best in contemporary fiction and nonfiction—books that not only engage and entertain but also deepen our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.