Joan’s home

It was as a UC Davis freshman that I first came into contact with the writing of Joan Didion. A friend assigned to read the author’s Slouching Towards Bethlehem for a literature class bounded into my dorm room one late night with eyes wild from too much elucidation and declared that this was it, she had seen the light, her life was forever changed by the mere reading of a book.

I figured I’d better get myself a copy.

To say I became similarly struck by Didion is an understatement. Here was a writer whose gift seemed to be finding and telling stories that expressed otherwise unarticulated truths—in the case of Slouching Towards Bethlehem, the tales she narrated revealed the deeply concealed reality that somehow, in America, “the center was not holding.”

Born and raised in Sacramento, Didion has since authored five novels and six other essay collections and books of nonfiction. Her latest, Where I Was From, is a partial memoir wherein Didion targets her powerful insight at her home state of California. Among other things, the book leads the reader from the birth of her great-great-great-great-great-grandmother in 1766 to her mother’s death in 2001.

In a recent NPR interview, Didion said the new book “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.”

SN&R’s Kel Munger interviewed Didion by phone recently and touched on the same subject, spoke about how important it is for both individuals and societies to “straighten out their thinking” about the past so as to better look to the future. The conversation covered everything from Didion’s memories of growing up in Sacramento to her views on the California recall to her thinking about the tumult of post-modern America.

Not surprisingly, Munger (who, like my friend long ago in the dorms, understands the power of a good book) found the native Sacramentan to be soft-spoken, articulate, intriguing … and amused. Don’t miss “Where She Was From”.