Two just-released works of nonfiction take a fresh look at the familiar and the unknown, from the West Coast to the Isle of Man. • "A good deal about California does not, on its own preferred terms, add up," says Joan Didion in her memoir, Where I Was From (Knopf, $23). A fifth-generation Californian, Didion explores the conflicting identities of her home state, a place that values individual expression yet has consistently sold its future "to the highest bidder." With grace and honesty, Didion discusses the forces that led to "the pauperization of California." • In Spoken Here (Houghton Mifflin, $25), Canadian journalist Mark Abley details his travels to countries where endangered languages—Provençal (France), Manx (Isle of Man)—are still spoken. His studies take him around the globe: Yiddish plays in Montreal, Aboriginal Australia, even scrub farms in the American Midwest.
—Jaime Gross