"Let Me Tell You What I Mean,"| Reviewed by William Winkler
Joan Didion, born in Sacramento, California in 1934, is considered to be one of America’s most influential contemporary writers. She began writing professionally as a copywriter for “Vogue” magazine, where she advanced to associate feature editor.
While at “Vogue,” she published her first novel, “Run, River,” in 1963.
Didion’s output includes novels, essays, screenplays, and one play.
Her style is described as “creative nonfiction,” narrative storytelling, blending observed facts, dialogue and subjective interpretation. This technique allows the author to stimulate the reader’s thoughts and opinions regarding the subject at hand.
Didion’s most recent book, “Let Me Tell You What I Mean,” is an anthology of 12 previously uncollected essays from 1968 to 2000, published in magazines including “The Saturday Evening Post,” “The New Yorker” and the “New York Times Magazine.”
The pieces include “Alicia and the Underground Press,” a treatise on her disdain for conventional journalism; “A Trip to Xanadu,” her recollections of San Simeon, William Randolph Heart’s palatial California estate; and “Everywoman.com,” a profile of Martha Stewart and the growth of her empire.
Didion’s writing is conversational. Reading her words leaves the impression that she is sitting across the table and addressing you. Some critics complain that Didion’s work is “all about her,” but the subjective tone of her writing keeps the reader engaged. The progression of the pieces through a time span of three decades permits the reader to observe Didion’s growth as an observer and reporter.
“Let Me Tell You What I Mean” reads quickly and effortlessly. Those who are familiar with Didion’s work will appreciate the selection process that went into this anthology. For those who have read little, if any of her work, “What I Think...” will serve as useful introduction, an appetizer prompting a search for more of her output.