Where I Was From

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Where I Was From
First edition
Author Joan Didion
Country United States
Language English
Genre Essay, History, Memoir
Publisher Knopf
Publication date
Sep 2003
Media type Print (Hardback & Paperback)
Pages 240
ISBN 0-679-43332-5
OCLC 57191802

Where I Was From is a 2003 collection of essays by Joan Didion. It concerns the history and culture of California, where Didion was born and spent much of her life. Where I Was From combines aspects of historical writing, journalism, and memoir to present a history of California as well as Didion's own experiences in that state. The book attempts to understand the differences between California's factual history and its perceived reputation. According to Didion, "This book represents an exploration into my own confusions about the place and the way in which I grew up [...] misapprehensions and misunderstandings so much a part of who I became that I can still to this day confront them only obliquely."[this quote needs a citation] Where I Was From is also in parts a retrospective on Didion's work, examining how these "confusions" affected books such as Run, River.[1]

Diane Johnson summarizes the apparent hypocrisies of California culture that Didion discusses in the book:

"Like all California children, Didion had been fed the old stories of California history, but when she eventually came to think about them, she could see they didn’t 'add up.' The disjunction between myth and reality was too large, the basic paradoxes of the California psyche too obvious: mistrust of government while feeding at the troughs of public works and agricultural subsidies; unchecked commercial exploitation of natural resources in the very footsteps of John Muir; the decline of education from a place near the top of the nation to somewhere near that of Mississippi; apathy, increasing rates of crime, and crime’s related social problems."[2]

In The New York Times Book Review, novelist and critic Thomas Mallon wrote, "The more penetrating and idiosyncratic moments of 'Where I Was From' are the work of someone who can still be very much herself, someone who is even now, arguably, a great American writer."[3]

Some sections of Where I Was From appeared previously in The New York Review of Books, Esquire, and The New Yorker.


  1. ^ "But the idea of a prelapsarian California underpins all Didion's writing - not just her novel, Run River (1963), which is permeated by 'a tenacious (and, as I see it now, pernicious) mood of nostalgia'". Morrison, Blake. Book review. The Guardian. March 19, 2004. Accessed November 10, 2014.
  2. ^ Johnson, Diane. "False Promises". The New York Review of Books, December 4, 2003 issue. Accessed November 10, 2014.
  3. ^ Thomas Mallon. "On Second Thought". The New York Times, September 28, 2003. Accessed November 10, 2014.