Cover Image: Let Me Tell You What I Mean

Let Me Tell You What I Mean

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Member Reviews

Have you ever read a book and thought to yourself: if I could write like any author it would be this one? That’s Joan Didion for me.
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Among Joan Didion's gifts as a thinker and writer is her ability to crystallize the complexities of the present day. In Let Me Tell You What I Mean, Didion takes it one step further. "On Being Unchosen by the College of One's Choice" could just as easily have been written today as in 1968. Didion only briefly laments her form rejection letter from Stanford, noting that while her parents expect her to find happiness through achievement, they don't care at all if she goes to Stanford, or even if she goes to college at all. "When my father was told that I had been rejected by Stanford, he shrugged and offered mea drink." Even in 1968, Didion notes how unusual her parents' attitude is, as she watches other parents push their children into the "right schools" as early as preschool, tying their own value and self-worth to their children's admittance to coveted institutions. 

Other pieces, like the essay on watching Nancy Reagan pick flowers for the benefit of a camera crew in her rented house in Sacramento, offer a slice of life at a specific point in time and can be enjoyed as a foray into Didion's early voice.. But the book is worth reading on the merits of "On Being Unchosen," an essay that should be required reading for today's achievement-obsessed parents.. Didion did not get into Stanford. She did, of course, get into Berkeley (wryly noting that she wrote a paper for a friend at Stanford, where it received an A, and submitted the exact same paper in one of her own classes at Berkeley, where it earned a B.) But that is beside the point. 

The point is to relax and take things in stride, because "none of it matters very much at all, none of these early successes, early failures. I wonder if we had better not find some way to let our children know this, some way to extricate our expectations fro theirs, some way to let them work through their own rejections and sullen rebellions...unassisted by anxious prompting from the wings. Finding one's role at 17 is problem enough, without being handed somebody else's script.
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As a long-time Didion fan, this book did not disappoint. The essays offer a glimpse into the mind of this legendary writer and prove she was a woman before her time. Thank you for the opportunity to read this special book
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3.5

Hog heaven for Didion fans

Didion fans will be in hog heaven with this set of essays, some first published in the 1960s and 1970s. It’s a small book and a fast read, in case you want to squeeze it in (i.e., meanly push something else out). Didion and California go together, and I always feel like the flow-y, rich lifestyle, culture, and landscape of the state are in my face, but in a good way.

I’m really torn about this book and had trouble figuring out whether to give it 3 or 4 stars. I settled on 3 stars because not enough essays interested me. The good ones were really good, though. I completely loved the personal essays, which covered getting into college, attending a Gambler’s Anonymous meeting, creating short stories, and the writing process (the “Why I Write” essay is fantastic, and my favorite). Didion is very analytical, especially when it comes to talking about writing—she even talks about word choices and editorial decisions. And she’s wise and philosophical.

I thought the pieces on Nancy Reagan, Martha Stewart, and the Hearst mansion were (just) okay, but I was less interested in the remaining essays, including one on Hemingway, which I do think will be a favorite among his fans. If I had more interest in the people she chose to write about, I would have been more engaged. Sometimes she’s too academic though she swears she’s not intellectual. I beg to differ.  

I have fond memories of reading her book of essays called Slouching Toward Bethlehem (cool title) back in my tissue-box-sized apartment in Cambridge in the 1970s. I remember looking at the paperback (with its enticing orange cover) on my bookcase, which I could reach from any point in my room. Back then I also read one or two of her novels, enjoyable but with no lasting impressions. Forty years later, I loved The Year of Magical Thinking, a sad and intense memoir. I think that’s my favorite.

Didion has a unique voice. I must admit that sometimes she bores me, but more often she seduces me with her brilliant prose. She’s one of our dear, smart, West Coast literary commentators. I picture her with a drink in her hand, sitting at her typewriter, concentrating hard and furiously writing away. Then, still with her drink in hand, she heads for the deck, needing to soak up some California sun.

Thanks to NetGalley for the advance copy.
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Such a cool, calm persona is Joan Didion.  In this collection of 11 early essays, Didion once again demonstrates her insight into such diverse subjects as college admission (or rejection in this case), and Nancy Reagan.  Her clear prose gives us insight into her view of the subjects that are the focus of these works.  Although the collection does not seem to be particularly coherent, the reader is once again reminded that Didion is one of the most remarkable writers of our time.
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A thin collection of Didion's shorter journalistic pieces that runs the gamut, from her spectacular "Why I Write" (revealing that she just never quite understood the rules of grammar; astonishing when one thinks of how gem-like her sentences are cut) to her insightful take on the Martha Stewart phenomenon and the not-so-veiled misogyny of her critics. Also well worth the cover charge for the introduction by Hilton Als, recently seen expressing similar understanding and love for Didion's work in Griffin Dunne's documentary on her.
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Didion is always enjoyable and this collection of previously unpublished works is no exception. Like most collections, some hold up better than others, but overall the pieces provide a staggering snapshot of Didion as a writer. Somehow, I had never noticed just how central she is in all her writing. It gave me a lot to think about in terms of how everything we read is through the lens of the writer--Didion is just more upfront about her presence than most. 

I've seen complaints that some of the writings feel irrelevant given later events (in one piece, she spends time with Nancy Reagan in 1968, when she was the wife of the Governor of California and, most significantly, she writes about Martha Stewart before Stewart's arrest for insider trading). I respectfully disagree. For me, these snapshots are even more fascinating given what we know about how things turned out (and what Didion had no way of knowing at the time). 

While I would not recommend this as a starting point for the uninitiated, Let Me Tell You What I Mean is a gem of a collection for the Didion devoted. Given that much of the pieces are bite-sized, I devoured it in a single evening and it felt like time well spent.
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Cutting and perceptive; a masterclass in economy and elegance of the written word that makes Didion timeless.
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Minor Didion, but that's hardly a complaint: you want to have every bit of Didion's output that exists!
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Joan Didion’s newest collection of essays compiles previously published work, from 1968 to 2000. It is a type of time travel, but Didion’s writing is still relevant and at times prescient. 

This collection lives in the BEFORE of our pandemic, and is released in the midst of it. It consists of essays all written before 9/11, her essay on Martha Stewart is written before Steward went to jail. It is separate from where its readers find themselves. The reader is left wondering and a little lonely in the now. 

Didion is not recommending herself as a guide for anyone’s life, she is only ever telling where she’s been. Decades ago. She does not claim her views to be universal or timeless. The reader is left to extrapolate what she would say about this world today. There is no preface or afterword from her. No footnote decrying racial injustice or commenting at all in the reality we find ourselves in. 

Its assumption of timelessness is a little frustrating, like it is above the fray. 

Everywoman.com (2000), on Martha Stewart, is especially prophetic. Didion muses on Stewart’s ability to make a brand hinging on her name, and questions what would happen if Stewart fell from grace. Stewart’s success and fame in 2000 hints at all that will come in today’s influencer culture and the explosion of social media fame. 

Last Words (1998) looks at Hemingway’s posthumous releases. Begging the question of what, if anything, might be released of Didion’s in a future she does not exist in. It is an amazing essay and looks at the unfinished works authors did not mean to leave behind and the disservice done to publish them anyway. Fitzgerwald and Hemingway dance through this collection of essays and in “Last Words” find their place at the center. 

The essays, “Why I Write,” and “Telling Stories”are more personal, giving glimpses into her writing processes.  Not in a “this is how you become a writer,” but in a self-deprecating, “I had no other choice but to write” type of way.
They are filled with striking prose and instant quotes:
“I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear.”
“Grammar is a piano I play by ear.” 

“Telling Stories” concludes with 5 pages of rejections for a short story she wrote. It is a meta experience reading two years worth of rejections for Joan Didion. A type of thing one would read today on twitter and then forward to their friends.

I enjoyed this collection, but it left me wanting so much more. There is so much left unsaid.
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This is a collection of Didion's essays that have not previously been published in a book. The introduction by Hilton Als was interesting. The essays cover topics from the Reagans to Martha Stewart. They were entertaining. I would only recommend this to Didion completists. Otherwise her style is a little too high-brow for the mainstream public.
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“Let Me Tell You What I Mean” @netgalley.
If this is “occasional” journalism, I’m all for it! Wonderful Hemingway piece, funny, astute take on Martha Stewart. Among others.
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On Amazon:  My thanks to NetGalley for an ebook ARC.  And to Knopf for compiling this collection of previously uncollected pieces by Didion.  
There are writers whose grocery list I would enjoy reading. Didion is one of those writers for me. 
A slight collection (with an excellent, informative, and not short, Forward by Hilton Als), there is not a "stinker" in the bunch!  If you're new to Didion, start elsewhere.  But if you are a fan of hers, you'll love, and appreciate, this collection.
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These essays didn't really go together with any kind of theme other than having the same author.  I just couldn't get into this.  The essays were ok, just not Joan Didion quality as far as I am concerned.
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3.75 stars

Joan Didion is always a worthwhile read. It's interesting to re-read these essays published long ago, as far back as the 60s. In particular, her views on writing are illuminating and her prose, as always, is often magnificent.
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I suppose I should give it 3.5 - 4 stars because it's Joan Didion, pinnacle cool-cat essayist, but it certainly left much to be desired. Slouching Towards Bethlehem remains my favorite of her works, I was about as into this one as I was Year of Magical Thinking.. I read this as a sort of extended complaint, and her tone left me feeling dispirited.
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I always enjoy Joan Didion’s writing—I’ve yet to read anything of hers, fiction or nonfiction, that I didn’t love. If you’re a Didion fan, you’ll enjoy this collection. You’ll immediately recognize Didion’s distinctive voice and appreciate her astute observations. I particularly enjoyed the essays, “Pretty Nancy Reagan” and “Why I Write.” If you haven’t read much of Didion’s work yet, I might recommend not starting with this collection as I don’t think it’s her strongest, but do make time for it eventually.

My thanks to Knopf and NetGalley for an advance reader’s copy.
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3.5 stars for this collection of previously published Joan Didion columns and essays. Like South and West, this book will be most interesting for Didion-heads who have already read her best work – nothing super memorable here, although I did enjoy the essay about Hemingway toward the end of the book.
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Whenever my life feels overwhelming, I reach for a Joan Didion book. Her clear prose, deep observation and singular voice brings clarity and rises above the din. This collection of essays is no exception. Each piece is written in her concise manner, each word chosen specifically for each sentence with care and thought. In a year like this, a book like this brings peace, order and hope to a chaotic mind. My favorite line: "Make a place available to the eyes, and in certain ways it is no longer available to the imagination. Thank you Joan, for one more volume.
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I was so thrilled to receive an ARC of this book! You don’t have to ask me twice to read anything by Joan Didion. Let Me Tell You What I Mean is another insightful collection of essays and musings by Didion that range from topics like Hearst Castle to Martha Stewart. While sometimes the flow of the essays felt a little disjointed, Didion proves herself once again to be one of the smartest and most observant writers of our time. Her quick wit and love of the seemingly ordinary moments in life will make you slow dow and think. I highly recommend picking this one up when it is released next year.
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