The White Album by Joan Didion

“Of course great hotels have always been social ideas, flawless mirrors to the particular societies they service.” (“In the Islands”)

Published in 1979, The White Album is a collection of Didion’s essays that were previously included in magazines. These essays span a myriad of topics, from Didion’s thoughts on California, Hollywood, and Hawaii to the transport of water, dams, the women’s movement, Georgia O’Keefe, and even shopping malls. Didion also delves into more personal topics, such as the chronic migraines she suffered. Yet, each essay has a piece of Didion in it, each topic is portrayed and conveyed through Didion’s thoughtful, meticulous lens.

Throughout these essays there’s an undercurrent of melancholy, a bittersweetness no matter the topic. You get the sense that Didion felt deeply, strongly, intensely–perhaps detrimentally so, at times.

One of my favorites essays in this collection is “Holy Water,” in which Didion describes her admiration for and fascination with the transport of enormous volumes of water. She writes:

As it happens my own reverence for water has always taken the form of this constant meditation upon where the water is, of an obsessive interest not in the politics of water but in the waterworks themselves, in the movement of water through aqueducts and siphons and pumps and forebays and afterbays and weirs and drains, in plumbing on the grand scale. I know data on water projects I will never see.

“Holy Water”

It’s passages like these that remind me how little I know of the world, of how the things I reach for every day–like running water from the tap–make their way to me. Didion’s eye for detail is incredible. Within the framework of her writing, seemingly trivial aspects of life reveal an immense significance.

Another brilliant Didion collection.

What are your thoughts on The White Album? Any recommendations for other essay collections? I’d love to know.

Take care xx


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