Book Reviews

Let Me Tell You What I Mean

Didion reminds us that while youth culture and political leaders may change, our underlying drives and delusions seldom do.


Let Me Tell You What I Mean—a new collection of a dozen Joan Didion essays, originally published from 1968 to 2000—reminds readers that while youth culture, political leaders, and modes of media delivery may change, our underlying drives and delusions seldom do.

Reading Didion is especially refreshing at a time when political tribalism and the pressures of social media have brought a canned quality to so much cultural writing. Tackling subjects as diverse as Gamblers Anonymous, the Reagans, and the Martha Stewart empire, Didion never comes across as someone who approaches her subjects with a predetermined angle or who worries about how her opinions and observations will be greeted by some tribunal on wrongthink.

Still, something vital is missing in this anthology. As universal as her writing can be, previous Didion books have reflected particular places and times; one of her strongest gifts is the ability to capture an aspect of a setting without being explicit about it. But this anthology—with its essays spread across years, bound by no unifying theme—doesn't achieve that sort of alchemy. It's a useful and enjoyable overview of Didion's writing, but it doesn't match the experience of her more cohesive collections, such as The White Album or Where I Was From.