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This collection of essays is organized into three sections, "I. Life Styles of the Golden Land", "II. Personals", and "III. Seven Places of the Mind". Section I. contains a series of vignettes, which read like articles you might find in The New Yorker. Section II. is more introspective, while Section III. combines personal reflection with geographic locations. Of these, section I. was my least favorite. The essays were presented with such detachment, and it was clear that they had been written on hot-button issues of the time. Section II. was again mixed, but I found that I connected more with the personal nature of these essays. I particularly liked "On Keeping a Notebook" and "On Going Home". Section III. was my favorite, and "Notes from a Native Daughter", "Letter from Paradise", and "The Seacoast of Despair" were especially good. Throughout, the writing can be truly excellent. There are many pithy, perfect sentences in these essays, the kind of sentences where you stop, note them, and think about that turn of phrase for a while after. This collection has a lot to savor in it. If you are interested in well-written reflections on the 1960s, mostly in California, or in Joan Didion, it is worth your time to read.
Not Didion's best book by a long stretch, but there are still moments of genius. As a casual reader and an enormous fan of "The Year of Magical Thinking" and "Blue Nights," I admit my expectations were rather high. Nonetheless, some of the essays (particularly the titular piece) were hurt by her seeming distance and (dare I say) disconnect from the subject matter. Occasionally the wording and imagery were quite striking (particularly in "Some Dreamers of the Golden Dream"), but more frequently I got the sense she was trying very, very hard to offer a unique perspective. I particularly missed the frequent references to literature, history, and pop culture which were woven into her more recent works. TLDR: More amateur (for Didion), but still okay.
Joan Didion’s now iconic collection of essays did more than any other piece of prose to define 1960s California. Artfully crafted, masterfully composed scenes, and a deft sense of balance characterize the prose. Essays ranging from John Wayne to a hippy commune leave you bewildered. One wants more from Didion’s occasionally inoperative capacities of political and moral judgment, yet for all the aesthete turnings of her writings, this collection is never precious.
First and to be clear: Joan Didion is a good writer. A person wishing to experience what a skilled writer can do needs Ms. Didion on their reading list.
That said I am not sure why I decided to begin my experience to her writing with Slouching Towards Bethlehem. As some point she refers to herself as despairing, there is no essay herein that has her happy.
She had a friendship and respect for John Wayne, her essay "John Wayne: A Love Story" champions the man and is respectful where it is not worshipful. But it is a eulogy and that tends to be a buzz killer.
The tile essay and longest essay of the book captures her "I a camera" reporting. This essay owns a rightful place in the period reporting of Haight-Ashbury and San Francisco just before the hippie movement became politically charged. She correctly saw that these young people were waiting for a direction and that those readiest to take the lead were not to be trusted. She was also correct to honestly report on people wasting their lives and those who had children were not much good as parents. She could not have foreseen these people becoming right-wing , even Tea Party Capitalists, but that seems to be the case. For the rest she saw nothing exciting or inventive or in a word positive. Many may agree with her view, but nowhere else in her travels seems happier.
Of her essay on living in New York City, Babylon this time instead of Bethlehem, there is something of her girlish thrill at making it in The Big City, but it is here that she surrenders to despair. Hawaii? A place of war, the war dead and the five families' economic exclusivity. Her home in California? Either lost to developers or made deadly by the Sonora winds, rendering even her maid (Maid?) surly. These essays are of a lady who is not very happy.
As a writer Ms. Didion deserves your respect and admiration. As a reporter she lets her camera's eye style inform you of her analysis rather than detail her opinion. In her personal essays she reveals greater analytic and creative styling. I will seek out more of Joan Didion's work. I will be more cautious because I need to see her in a different mood.
A book of short stories; some were terrific; others were tedious -- especially those examining everyday life in Sacramento, et al. Didion also tends to use (to impress?) obscure words and that too becomes tiring. I lost interest in too many of the stories.
This was my first read by this author. She is obviously a gifted writer, and I loved the essay on self esteem. I guess I couldn't relate or get interested in a lot of the other essays though. I slogged through it, and I would try something else by Joan Didion in the future. This probably wasn't the best one of her books for me personally.