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Let Me Tell You What I Mean  By  cover art

Let Me Tell You What I Mean

By: Joan Didion
Narrated by: Kimberly Farr,Hilton Als
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Publisher's Summary

A New York Times Notable Book of the Year

New York Times best seller

From one of our most iconic and influential writers, the award-winning author of The Year of Magical Thinking: a timeless collection of mostly early pieces that reveal what would become Joan Didion's subjects, including the press, politics, California robber barons, women, and her own self-doubt.

With a forward by Hilton Als, these 12 pieces from 1968 to 2000, never before gathered together, offer an illuminating glimpse into the mind and process of a legendary figure. They showcase Joan Didion's incisive reporting, her empathetic gaze, and her role as "an articulate witness to the most stubborn and intractable truths of our time" (The New York Times Book Review). 

Here, Didion touches on topics ranging from newspapers ("the problem is not so much whether one trusts the news as to whether one finds it"), to the fantasy of San Simeon, to not getting into Stanford. In "Why I Write", Didion ponders the act of writing: "I write entirely to find out what I'm thinking, what I'm looking at, what I see and what it means." From her admiration for Hemingway's sentences to her acknowledgment that Martha Stewart's story is one "that has historically encouraged women in this country, even as it has threatened men", these essays are acutely and brilliantly observed. Each piece is classic Didion: incisive, bemused, and stunningly prescient.

©2021 Joan Didion (P)2021 Random House Audio

Critic Reviews

A New York Times Notable Book of the Year

One of the Best Books of the Year: NPR, VogueUSA Today, Town & Country, LitHub

"Didion’s remarkable, five decades-long career as a journalist, essayist, novelist, and screen writer has earned her a prominent place in the American literary canon, and the 12 early pieces collected here underscore her singularity. Her musings - whether contemplating 'pretty' Nancy Reagan living out her 'middle-class American woman’s daydream circa 1948' or the power of Ernest Hemingway’s pen - are all unmistakably Didionesque. There will never be another quite like her." (O Magazine

"[These] essays are at once funny and touching, roving and no-nonsense. They are about humiliation and about notions of rightness. About mythmaking, fiction writing, her 'failed' intellectualism and the syntactic insides of Hemingway’s craft.... From the outset Didion’s nonfiction has shown no obligation to the whopping epiphanic. Realizations occur, but she relates them without splendor, as if she’s extracting a tincture.... Reading newly arranged Didion...feels like reaching that dip in a swimming pool where the shallow end suddenly becomes the deep end. The bottom drops out, and you are forced to kick a little, to tread. This is why we return to her work again and again. But Didion cares less for timelessness than for the evanescence of language, mistrusting pink icing or anything else that might launder truth. Undergirding the entire collection is a regard for ephemerality. Of glory, and of the era when fashion photographers called their spaces 'the studio.' Of fairy tales and failed attempts at quietude, of a child’s memory soup of imagination.... Didion’s pen is like a periscope onto the creative mind - and, as this collection demonstrates, it always has been. These essays offer a direct line to what’s in the offing.” (Durga Chew-Bose, The New York Times Book Review

“There's plenty of journalistic gold in Let Me Tell You What I Mean.... What's particularly salient is her trademark farsightedness, which is especially striking decades later.... The relevance of her observations in today's fractured world of fringe media is uncannily prescient.” (Heller McAlpin, NPR) 

What listeners say about Let Me Tell You What I Mean

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Didion deserves a better narrator

I adore Joan Didion and have read all of her work. It’s wonderful to have these previously uncollected pieces. But this narrator doesn’t do her justice. She sounds too chirpy and unserious — the opposite of Joan Didion. I’ve listened to other books she’s narrated and will avoid them in the future. Also, I have to wonder why Didion included the last essay, about Martha Stewart, as it predates her downfall for insider trader. It sounds strangely incomplete, and it’s odd to hear Didion defend someone who, in the end, does not deserve it.

4 people found this helpful

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My thoughts on “Let Me Tell You What I Mean”

Joan Didion and I, also a 5th generation Californian, grew up in the same environment, the Sacramento Valley, and share the same history. I read everything she writes and am, constantly amazed, at the ideas we share. My favorite will always be “Run River” which so perfectly captures this area I love. Nan Cook

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Horrible voice. Can't stand it. Als was lovely.

Horrible voice. Can't stand it. Als was lovely in the Intro.
Why do you do that? Jusy hire tolerable voices.

1 person found this helpful

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Hilton Als’ foreword alone is worth the price

Hilton Als’ foreword, an essay really, is outstanding. The stories in the book are okay but not Didion’s best work. Unfortunately the narrator is hopelessly miscast, reading “with expression” like a 2nd grade teacher at storytime, absolutely not Didion’s dry, sophisticated style.

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Feels like the party’s over

Listening to this book made me sad. The old pieces seemed so over, the references so likely to be mysterious to anyone under the age of 50. And the encomium to Martha Stewart , a brave attempt, felt embarrassing. I think it’s just time for Didion to hang up her quill.

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SUCH A FUN LISTEN

The author’s words were so much enhanced by the narrator I would love more of both.

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Old stuff

There is nothing new here. Same old hackneyed view of the 1960s. Boring. Not worth the time,

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Yes! But...

Kimberly did a great job, however, her tone is off for Didion. Hilton Als did (and would continue to do) more justice to Joan in the introduction to the other works.