In five decades’ worth of essays, reportage and criticism, Didion has documented the charade implicit in how things are, in a first-person, observational style that is not sacrosanct but common-sensical. Seeing as a way of extrapolating hypocrisy, disingenuousness and doubt, she’ll notice the hydrangeas are plastic and mention it once, in passing, sorting the scene. Her gaze, like a sentry on the page, permanently trained on what is being disguised ... The essays in Let Me Tell You What I Mean are at once funny and touching, roving and no-nonsense. They are about humiliation and about notions of rightness ... 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.
Reading Let Me Tell You What I Mean with an eye toward the shimmer, I believe it is possible to identify which pictures, crystalline and resonant, drew Didion closer and compelled her to string words together until the molecules manifested a new truth.
There's plenty of journalistic gold in Let Me Tell You What I Mean, Didion's new book of 12 previously uncollected essays. What's particularly salient is her trademark farsightedness, which is especially striking decades later ... Hilton Als' smart foreword offers a welcome overview, though readers who want to encounter her writing fresh, without an intermediary, might want to read it after the essays ... Readers, and especially aspiring writers, will find the rejection letters garnered by Didion's last stab at short fiction fascinating, while college applicants should find consolation in 'On Being Unchosen by the College of One's Choice' ... As these essays demonstrate, Didion, even with her famous detachment, is no slouch at showing us what she means ... there's a wistfulness to this book, for it is impossible to read without wishing Didion were weighing in on how the center still cannot hold and things continue to fall apart in the 21st century.