My rating: 4 of 5 stars
The White Album: a collection of essays by Joan Didion covering a phase of disillusionment she suffered in her thirties with the upheavals of the American 1960s & the paranoia of the 70s as its narrative backdrop.
This book proves to me that sometimes a book or an author just has to come to you at the right time. I had previously read Blue Nights & found myself underwhelmed with much of it. I picked up Album partially because some of it had shown up in an episode of You Must Remember This & partially because I felt ready to give Didion a second chance. As I read further, I found myself deeply empathetic to Didion’s bewilderment of living in a time where violence & chaos seemed part of everyday life, mistrust underscored every relationship & experience, & with Didion’s own confusion about what her role was supposed to be in her developing family & Californian community. Her words were a odd comfort to me, a conflicted thirty-something trying to figure out how to get through the current troubles racking American society in 2017.
Even the essays which would seem dated today, like the development of the first HOV lane or reflections on the lofty ambitions that created the Hoover Dam or the Governor’s Mansion built by the Reagans before they left for the White House, have fascinating connections to today’s crumbling infrastructure, the rogue Park Service’s struggle to maintain public lands, & the hollow display of wealth in American politics. Reading Didion’s subjects also emerged, to me, as a clearer influence on Claire Vaye Watkins & helped me understand some of Gold Fame Citrus better. (Although, there is some very clear class conflict that Didion recognizes but is unable or uninterested in pursing further.)
Because of these personal associations with reading The White Album, I can’t promise that another reader will have the same epiphanic moments as myself. But I do think that the collection is still powerful & will move readers in unexpected ways.