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I love Didion’s writing. So I may be biased, but that’s alright. I remember the first time I read Didion. It was “The Year of Magical Thinking” and I was floored. I was gutted as well, amongst other things that I was feeling as the book ended.
“Slouching Towards Bethlehem” is a collection of essays written in the 1960s, almost fifty years ago – a time and place that current readers have not and will not experience (not that I have as well). At the same time, somehow while reading the book, it all came alive right then and there. Didion paints not just one image but a landscape on paper. Her talent is truly timeless and every time she writes something, she almost supersedes the last piece/book.
Didion’s writing though may seem America-centric but is actually quite deceptive, in the sense, it encompasses the world-view which you only understand after a couple of essays. Maybe that’s why (one of the many reasons for sure) that this book was the one that was the essential breakout work.
Didion’s prose is grounded. It doesn’t stray at any point in time. From speaking of Joan Baez (which is a very affectionate portrait of a highly intelligent woman) to a think piece on the Santa Barbara Coast to Las Vegas and the culture of quickie marriages, there is always this sense of voyeurism and at the same time, this need to soak in more of what she writes.
It takes a while to kick into the book, but it is also a good beach read (Surprised? So was I when I started it on a quick getaway). Her musings about life, in general, are also worth reading, even if you might not agree with some. “Slouching Towards Bethlehem” is one of the best essay collection you will ever read. So, please do not miss out on it.
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!
I bought the hardcover edition thinking it would be a nice collectible version of one of my favourite books. Y'all...this book is so small I can barely open it. Think pocket sized bible. I can't believe I wasted $29 on this lol.