Where I Was From, Joan Didion

Not fully memoir nor fully academic nonfiction, this treatment explores Joan Didion's California through the years---from World War II through the 1992 riots and beyond.  It's a fascinating mix, Didion's reminiscences about her family woven into thoughts on, say, Frank Norris's The Octopus, the reach of the railroad, the Donner Party, and the Spur Posse. 


As I pick through my own family history, so situated in California and the Sierras in particular, Didion's thoughtful prose is a balm. But not everything can be ordered, as she notes, sorting through what's left when her mother dies. She puts what she wants to keep in a large box: "letters, photographs, clippings, folders and envelopes I could not that day summon up the time or the heart to open." Later, in her own home, she finds things to give to loved ones, things to pass along. But after a time, "I closed the box and put it in a closet. There is no real way to deal with everything we lose."