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The first collection of nonfiction writing by Joan Didion describing her experiences in California during the 1960s.
Its title is taken from the poem 'The Second Coming' by W. B. Yeats written in 1920 in the aftermath of WWI, and fittingly released as a song by Joni Mitchell in 1991.
The melancholy and foreboding of the first lines of the poem: 'Turning and turning in the widening gyre the falcon cannot hear the falconer; Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; Mere anarchy is loosed upon the word,' resonates throughout the book. In particular, when Didion captures some of the more disturbing aspects of the foundling hippy era in 'Slouching Towards Bethlehem' where she writes about 'children who were never taught and would never learn the games that held the society together,' and a five year old child stoned on acid.
The first part of book focuses on unsettling events and disparate characters in California during this time including a sensational murder case; a splinter group of communists; a pacifist movement led by singer Joan Baez and her disciples in Carmel Valley; a marriage ceremony in Las Vegas for a bride too young to be served champagne; and a group called 'The Diggers' who were endeavouring to feed local dropouts. Didion points a lens on the social fragmentation caused by the Vietnam War, the Cold War, civil rights, human rights, and youth culture.
The second part of the book includes a series of personal reflections including pieces on self respect, mortality and 'Keeping a Notebook' which I found most interesting: 'It is a good idea, then, to keep in touch, and I suppose that keeping in touch is what notebooks are all about. And we are all on our own when it comes to keeping those lines open to ourselves: your notebook will never help me, nor mine you.'
Although technically brilliant, sharply observed, and objective in its portrayal of people's lives and events, and brutally honest in describing her own experiences, I found this book exceptionally well written but overall quite depressing, hence only four stars given, not five.
I bought this to read about JDs trip to San Francisco and Haight Ashbury. The first essay in the book. Her way of writing is quite dry and witty and details the experience eloquently. It's quite interesting that some hippie parents thought nothing of giving their 4 yo peyote!
Now that's what I call writing! It's so good that I was always excited to read the next essay, even if it was all about the decaying, changing American Dream.
Even when some of the essays were snoozefests (*cough* the 'Personals'), they were always well-written, with a sardonic, neurotic, and playful voice. It's a bizarre combination of a mythic America, and very down-to-earth details that slowly but surely unravel that beautiful dream. Didion really works when she just tells a story --dinner with an old John Wayne, three people (and two dogs) living on Alcatraz Island, hippies whiling away their evening, and a big lady in a muumuu ramming her shopping cart into Didion's because Joan had the audacity to wear a bikini. "What a thing to wear to Ralph's."
Now, I REALLY wanted to give this 5 stars right from the preface--that's just how good of a writer Joan Didion is. The problem is the collection starts to really sag in the middle. They started to get more rambling and unfocused, and it's not nearly as fun when Didion just gets up on her soapbox. It's also a little odd which sacred cows she mourns, and which she chooses to tip (I don't know if Dr. Strangelove deserved the shade thrown at it, Ms. Didion).
But still, I like this a lot. Didion knows how to choose the exact correct word or turn of phrase to illuminate a whole world. I didn't always agree with her opinions, but darn if I wasn't interested in what she had to say.
Let me start of by saying I disagree with Joan Didion about almost everything, both at the time she was writing these essays and, perhaps even more today. Nonetheless, the essays in this book are important, not just because of their influence on journalism but because theywere one of the lenses through which society viewed the counterculture of the 1960-70's. As I said above, as one of what she arrogantly called the "misplaced children" of that era, I think she is dead wrong in her assessments but I'm glad I read this book and would recommend it to anyone interested in that era and in how we got from there to where we are today.
Didion is not so much a writer as a distiller of spirits. She ferments emotions and breaks them down to their clearest essence. A day in New York City becomes a crossroad between the lost allusion of a cosmopolitan life and the reach for meaning in a greener, sunnier place. She takes us from New York to Santa Barbara to Alcatraz and through all the dichotomies in between. An artful, soulful collection of essays, aged and purified by a keen intellect and the captured essence of a clear eye and bare-assed truth. Didion is the pied piper of true grit.
I mostly know Joan Didion's work from my grad school journalism days and decided to re-read this book on Kindle. "Some Dreamers of the Golden Dream" has some of the most insightful descriptions of Southern California ever written. Although I was too young to experience the 1960s scene Ms. Didion writes about so beautifully here, her views and interpretations of California and counterculture still ring with truth 50 years after they were written. Being a longtime New Yorker who came from elsewhere, I really related to her essay about New York City. My only gripe is Ms. Didion used way too many big words in these early essays, but she is still the definitive California social commentator.
The book is a collection of articles/essays Didion published in various magazines. I read this book after reading an opinion that is it a classic of prose. I can't argue that. The writing is memorable and a number of passages are haunting or insightful (or both). However, a reader does have to make a real commitment and I can understand if the book is not for everyone. Didion has an emotionally remote style that I found tiring by the end of the book. In addition, there is a tone I find an uneasy mixed of melancholy/cynicism/depression. Still, the style seemed to work, in at least some cases, when she moves to an evaluation of the subjects in that particular article. Especially noteworthy are the chapters on a Bay Area communist, John Wayne, and the people who populated the Haight-Ashbury in the 1960s. It's definitely not a 'pleasant' read, but is a worthwhile one. Maybe this was the author's intent. If so, she succeeded.
I was first really exposed to Didion on Netflix (I heard of her back in the 60s), really liked the way she spoke, narrated, wrote. Some people dont like her writing, but you have to understand that she observes, and reports, accurately; but honestly thru her point of view. She's not a braggart, or a politician; she doesn't have an agenda. She reports what she sees as she sees it. I think it's fascinating. I particularly liked Year of Magical Thinking...but have so far avoided Blue nights because I don't want to read something not as good. Check out the Center will not Hold, on Netflix