Slouching Towards Bethlehem ePUB Ç Slouching Towards

Slouching Towards Bethlehem ePUB Ç Slouching Towards


Slouching Towards Bethlehem [BOOKS] ⚡ Slouching Towards Bethlehem ✯ Joan Didion – Capitalsoftworks.co.uk The first nonfiction work by one of the most distinctive prose stylists of our era, Slouching Towards Bethlehem remains, forty years after its first publication, the essential portrait of America— p The first nonfiction work by one of the most distinctive prose stylists of our era, Slouching Towards Bethlehem remains, forty years after its first publication, the essential portrait of America— particularly California—in the sixties It focuses on such subjects as John Wayne and Howard Hughes, growing up a girl in California, ruminating on the nature of good and evil in a Death Valley motel room, and, especially, the essence of San Francisco's HaightAshbury, the heart of the counterculture.

  • Paperback
  • 238 pages
  • Slouching Towards Bethlehem
  • Joan Didion
  • English
  • 09 October 2019
  • 9780374531386

About the Author: Joan Didion

Joan Didion was born in California and lives in New York City She's best known for her novels and her literary journalism Her novels and essays explore the disintegration of American morals and cultural chaos, where the overriding theme is individual and social fragmentation A sense of anxiety or dread permeates much of her work.



10 thoughts on “Slouching Towards Bethlehem

  1. Julie Christine Julie Christine says:

    My mother was a freshman in college when I was a freshman in high school. Married at seventeen, her 1960s and 70s were spent as a young wife and mother of four. It wasn't until she divorced at thirty-six, the same year Ronald Reagan ushered in the folly of trickle-down economics and the prison-industrial complex, that she discovered the sixties. She majored in English and one day brought home, as a reading assignment, a copy of Slouching Towards Bethlehem. I recall the cover: gun-metal gray with white lettering. I recall her clutching the book as though it were a lifeline, a rope to a past she never had. I felt the book must be some passageway to adulthood, some essentialness of feminism that both intrigued and bored me. I recall loving the title--the evocation of the Bible that seemed almost sacrilegious to me, a child of a conservative Christian family. Slouching . . . Bethlehem . . . nothing but trouble can come from such a book.

    I wonder what my mother must have thought of this collection of essays about people, places, lifestyles so radically different than anything in her experience, yet which were happening simultaneous to her sheltered life. While her days were filled with Sesame Street, Tang, laundry, cutting crusts from bread for fussy her elementary school-kids' lunches, Joan Didion was writing of the counterculture of Haight-Ashbury, where runaways were drugged and traded as sex toys, used up and strung out by nineteen; of Howard Hughes buying up blocks of Las Vegas like she bought boxes of Cheerios; of Joan Baez, wispy, earnest, and reclusive in the Monterey County Courthouse, trying to save her Institute for the Study of Non-Violence from the squares who worried that the hippies would drive down their property values.

    Did my mother dream California dreams? Did she wish for a New York interlude, to be young and in love, with a view of the Brooklyn Bridge, such as Joan Didion had in 1960s? Did she yearn for the warm waves of the Pacific curling on the sands of Hawaii? Such freedom young Didion had, such time to feel angst, to observe others, to write, clear-eyed and fiercely about her time and place in a world where people filled their voids with drug, sex, and rock-n-roll.

    I imagine my mother reading about a gathering of earnest young activists and intellectuals reluctant about gathering up their books and magazines and records, about finding their car keys and ending the day, and by the time they are ready to leave Joan Baez is eating potato salad with her fingers from a bowl in the refrigerator, and everyone stays to share it, just a little while longer where it is warm and wishing she were in their midst, instead of pushing a shopping cart down the aisles of Pak-n-Save, filling it with boxes of Kraft Mac-n-Cheese and Hamburger Helper.

    This collection of twenty essays, originally published in a variety of magazines, chronicles Didion's internal and external worlds at a singular time in modern American history. Her cool, unsentimental observations have come to exemplify California during the mid 60s and 70s, her unwavering voice carrying the mantle of feminism—here is a writer, a woman, unafraid to admit how very angry and afraid she really is. Or unafraid to admit a lifelong crush on the manufactured, wooden John Wayne, a caricature of the American man.

    Perhaps it is this voice my mother held onto so tightly, searching in Didion's words for the key to self-expression, independence, and experimentation—all the things my mother missed as she moved straight from childhood to motherhood. Perhaps she longed to belong to Didion's California where

    . . . time past is not believed to have any bearing on time present or future, out in the golden land where every day the world is born anew.

    Oh, don't we all?

  2. Jeffrey Keeten Jeffrey Keeten says:

    ”My only advantage as a reporter is that I am so physically small, so temperamentally unobtrusive, and so neurotically inarticulate that people tend to forget that my presence runs counter to their best interests. And it always does. That is one last thing to remember: writers are always selling somebody out.”

    photo

    One of the cornerstones of friendship is developing some level of trust. It might be possible to be friends with Joan Didion, but the very thing that makes her a wonderful dinner companion, her wonderful insights into the human condition, will also be the very thing that will make it difficult to develop an intimacy like one should with a best friend. She talks about this difficulty in one of the essays in this collection. “‘The easiest kind of relationship for me is with ten thousand people,’ she said. ‘The hardest is with one.’”

    She was asked to write an essay about John Wayne, and she wrote this fantastic scene of having dinner with him. I didn’t know what to expect. Was she going to fall in bed with him? Was she going to cut Wayne up into little pieces? Love him or hate him, the man was always consistently himself. The Duke always had to be the Duke. There was no down time from being the American icon of western films. I enjoyed this very Didion observation that she makes about Wayne: ”For a while it was only a nice evening, an evening anywhere. We had a lot of drinks and I lost the sense that the face across the table was in certain ways more familiar than my husband’s.”Wayne was renowned for getting everyone at his table drunk, and Didion was no exception.

    These essays focus almost exclusively on California. Though, I wouldn’t call this collection an ode to her home state. Let’s just say the Bureau of Tourism for California didn’t choose to use any of her unflinching observations about the state. Her family has deep roots in California. They were early pioneers who invested in land and did very well. She realized this upbringing gave her a different perspective of life. ”I never felt poor; I had the feeling that if I needed money I could always get it. I could write a syndicated column for teenagers under the name “Debbi Lynn” or I could smuggle gold into India or I could become a $100 call girl, and none of it would matter.”

    I will admit I have put off reading Joan Didion because I thought her essays might prove dated. From the very first essay I was disabused of that notion. These pieces are all from the 1960s and, nearly without exception, are as relevant today as they were when they were written. Couldn’t this comment be as insightful about our current situation as it was in the 1960s? ”Because when we start deceiving ourselves into thinking not that we want something or need something, not that it is a pragmatic necessity for us to have it, but that it is a moral imperative that we have it, then is when we join the fashionable madmen, and then is when the thin whine of hysteria is heard in the land, and then is when we are in bad trouble. And I suspect we are already there.”

    I was expecting elegant writing, and certainly I got that, but what surprised me was the muscular nature of her prose. She hits you in the stomach, follows that with an uppercut, and she may not even let you get off the canvas before she hits you again. She might be small, but she is certainly scrappy. Her writing is as tight and crisp as a tuned piano wire. After I finished the book, I read that she had spent hours typing Hemingway’s prose into her typewriter to try and capture some of his style. This Hemingway connection runs counter to my perception of Didion, but maybe it is just an example of how difficult it is to wrap your arms around her and say this is Joan Didion. She would slide away from you and reemerge across the room in dark glasses with a smoldering cigarette trapped between her fingers, uplifted in the air, the smoke forming a question mark. Can you ever really know someone like Joan Didion? She is quiet. She is unassuming. She lets people talk, and when they mention something of interest to her, can’t you just hear her softly saying...tell me why you believe that?

    These essays were trending subjects in the 1960s, but now they have, with infinite grace, metamorphosed into historical record. For those who follow my reviews, I can assure you there will be more Joan Didion in my reading queue over the coming months.

    If you wish to see more of my most recent book and movie reviews, visit http://www.jeffreykeeten.com
    I also have a Facebook blogger page at:https://www.facebook.com/JeffreyKeeten

  3. Michael Michael says:

    First published in 1968, Slouching Towards Bethlehem considers what happens when the center cannot hold and things fall apart: the three-part collection's twenty essays confront the onset of an age of cynicism in American political and social life. The first part contains pieces specific to California, the second personal essays, the third portraits of places significant to both Didion and America at the end of the 1960s. Didion's prose sprawls with meticulous detail, and is tinted with the journalist's ironic and aloof sensibility. At her best, Didion offers astute critiques of the failings and pretensions of the sundry parts of her nation. Favorite essays included Slouching Towards Bethlehem, On Keeping a Notebook, On Self-Respect, and Goodbye to All That.

  4. Bill Kerwin Bill Kerwin says:


    Days after Manson died, I kept thinking about him, how he and his Family had summoned the darkness at the heart of the Summer of Love. I remembered how surprised we all were, that the drugs and the smiles and the flowers had come to this, but then I thought, no, not all of us. Joan Didion would have understood; Joan Didion would not have been surprised.

    Slouching Toward Bethlehem, a collection of magazine essays and Didion’s second book, is about many things, but mostly it is about ‘60’s California. In its first section “Life Styles in the Golden Land”—slightly longer than half the book--every piece but one is set in California: a San Bernadino Valley murder, profiles of California icons (John Wayne, Joan Baez, Howard Hughes), characteristic California political institutions (the Communist splinter group the CPUSA, the now defunct liberal think tank the Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions), and the California nexus of the Hippie Explosion, San Franciso’s Haight-Ashbury district during the Summer of Love. (Even the short piece not set in California, “Marrying Absurd,” about the Las Vegas wedding industry, is about California and its culture too.)

    But the California connection does not stop there. Didion was a product of the Sacramento Valley, the descendant of settlers who—before the Gold Rush—crossed the plains in a covered wagon (Joan’s great-great-great grandmother travelled with the Donner party, but, unlike the Donners, her family avoided the fatal short cut and instead followed the old Oregon Trail.) Thirty additional pages of Bethlehem, some of the most personal of the book, describe her California and how it has shaped her character and her perspective.. She recognizes that, even for a Native Daughter like herself, the oldest of California traditions are too recent to constitute roots, that the culture of the ‘60’s Golden Land is always changing: from orange groves to real estate to aerospace (and, later, to high tech and beyond). In her title essay, Didion lays bare the predispositions of the lost freeway children who inhabit the Haight in the late '60's: aimless, disconnected from culture, lacking the principles that might help them fashion a viable alternative, they are people for whom any hypnogogic amusement, any superficial enlightment, even a dark savior, will do.

    You can learn much about the ‘60’s from this book, but its real pleasure lies in its elegant, sinewy prose. If there is a single clumsy sentence in this book, I failed to find it (and I am one of those irritating fellows who looks). Here is just a taste, from “Some Dreamers of the Golden Dream,” a description of the San Bernardino Valley:

    This is the California where it is easy to Dial-A-Devotion, but hard to buy a book.  This is the country in which a belief in the literal interpretation of Genesis has slipped imperceptibly into a belief in the literal interpretation of Double Indemnity, the country of the teased hair and the Capris and the girls for whom all life's promise comes down to a waltz-length white wedding dress and the birth of a Kimberly or a Sherry or a Debbi and a Tijuana divorce and return to hairdressers' school.  “We were just crazy kids” they say without regret, and look to the future.  The future always looks good in the golden land, because no one remembers the past.  Here is where the hot wind blows and the old ways do not seem relevant, where the divorce rate is double the national average and where one person in every thirty-eight lives in a trailer.   

    Here is the last stop for all those who  come from somewhere else, for all those who drifted away from the cold and the past and the old ways.  Here is where they are trying to find a new life style, trying to find it in the only places they know to look:  the movies and the newspapers. 

  5. Kevin Kelsey Kevin Kelsey says:

    Just unbelievably good. I'm not the right person to write about Joan Didion, but my God, she is real and she can write.

  6. Darwin8u Darwin8u says:

    The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
    The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
    - The Second Coming, Yeats

    description

    “I know something about dread myself, and appreciate the elaborate systems with which some people fill the void, appreciate all the opiates of the people, whether they are as accessible as alcohol and heroin and promiscuity or as hard to come by as faith in God or History.”
    ― Joan Didion, Slouching Towards Bethlehem

    I'm sure at some point Joan Didion will disappoint. I'm positive the honeymoon period will run out. I'll discover a fatal flaw, a series of articles, or a minor novel that she just 'phoned in', but not yet bitches.

    Seriously, if prose could make me pregnant, I would now be Nadya Suleman.

    I know this is just the normal hormonal response I get whenever I really seem to mesh or synch with an author or artist. I felt this way when I first read DFW's and McPhee's nonfiction. This is the same brain-storm that happened when I first read Delillo & Bellow's fiction; the same awe I felt when I walked into the Paris Opera and saw that giant Chagall ceiling hanging beyond that infamous, 7-ton bronze and crystal chandelier. Those same chills ran down my spine and flushed my face the first time I swallowed a Vicodin. I felt just as complete the first time I watched a Coen brothers movie. I also felt this the first time I discovered my arm naturally guided my hand to my lap. No, this isn't a revolution. It isn't even revolutionary. It a euphoria and I know it. I get it. I'm already cooling down. But I'm just going to leave the book here on my chest for awhile until my heart slows down a bit.

  7. Justin Tate Justin Tate says:

    First published in 1968 to wide popularity, this collection of essays and journalism is a time capsule to the 1960s, for better and for worse, and mostly relating to the experience from a California perspective. There's no question to its significance. When it was published, I suspect readers were thrilled to have someone finally describe life in blunt terms. Reading it today, I found its strengths still lie in the authentic, slice-of-life style. Since I didn't live through the '60s, it felt refreshing to read about the era through cold truths, personal feelings, news-worthy events, and overall mindset of the time. This is day-in-the-life type stuff, which is much lighter and somehow comes across more real than thick history books.

    Overall, while I'm glad I read it for the educational value, I didn't feel riveted enough to ever turn the page eagerly. One of those you got to be in the right mood for.

  8. Cheryl Cheryl says:

    To have that sense of one's intrinsic worth which constitutes self-respect is potentially to have everything: the ability to discriminate, to love and to remain indifferent. To lack it is to be locked within oneself, paradoxically incapable of either love or indifference.

    Somehow, I usually read Didion on a blue night, when it's so bright outside that I open my curtains to search for the moon; instead, what greets me is a pale hue of blue sky. When I read Blue Nights, I had a similar experience. These are the kind of nights that reminds a reader of what she is, of what she is not: We flatter ourselves by thinking this compulsion to please others an attractive trait: a gist for imaginative empathy, evidence of our willingness to give. Oh how I would love to teach Didion's On Self-Respect, if only to garner the provocative perspective of a generation not yet born when she experienced and wrote this collection.

    People debate the essay form often; some think it is simply nonfiction, some are not even sure about the distinction between nonfiction, narrative nonfiction, memoir, and the personal essay. The art of nonfiction is intrinsically disconcerting and perhaps intentional in its derived eclecticism. Still, it is beautiful. Thank goodness we have modern essayists like Leslie Jamison to remind us of the form, an essayist who in my opinion, resembles Didion in style and concept. Any debate of the essay as an art form, should be silenced by Didion's slouching. Why did I take so long to read this, I asked myself as I palmed my forehead, for I drooled through each page, not even noticing when it was time to clear my desk for office hours with students.

    These essays illuminate the America of the 1960s that will never exist again, and yet it is the America of today - the odd juxtaposition confuses, I know. Didion has managed to illustrate a landscape of hurt and pain, of music and money, of politics, drugs, rehabilitation, and gain. This is New York, this is California, this is a slouch towards Bethlehem. I was moved by her memoirs Blue Nights and The Year of Magical Thinking; however, with this book, I was inspired by not only the stories and the essay form, but also by the art of the craft of narrative nonfiction in some of her pieces, this art that places a writer within the center of observation, and yet silences her persona.
    The impulse to write things down is a peculiarly compulsive one, inexplicable to those who do not share it, useful only accidentally, only secondarily, in the way that any compulsion tries to justify itself.

    Didion was a compulsive notetaker and eavesdropper. Because of this, we get stories about: the Los Angeles Santa Ana, a party in Beverly Hills, a story of Sacramento, a hallucinatory view of New York, a riff on morality, a behind-the-scenes look at a Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions, an intense look at acid, alcohol, promiscuity, and all of the hurt that evolves with flashing. Some things we see, we know we'll never see again.

    I loved reading Goodbye to All That, Didion's meditation on New York City, a place she loved and loathed, the city wherein she lost herself. Yet my favorite essay was Where the Kissing Never Stops, an essay which allowed me to view myself, to think about those intrinsic values placed aside for work; after all, isn't this the beauty of the personal essay, that it teaches us something about ourselves? I found oneness with Joan Beaz, the artist, humanitarian, renegade, and recluse; the woman whose life Didion explores in this piece. Perhaps this is one of those essay collections that leaves each of us with something of ourselves:
    The roles assigned to her are various, but variations on a single theme. She is the Madonna of the disaffected. She is the pawn of the protest movement. She is the unhappy analysand. She is the singer who would not train her voice, the rebel who drives the Jaguar too fast, the Rima who hides with the birds and the deer. Above all, she is the girl who 'feels' things, who has hung on to the freshness and pain of adolescence, the girl ever wounded, ever young.

  9. J.L. Sutton J.L. Sutton says:

    I went to San Francisco because I had not been able to work in some months, had been paralyzed by the conviction that writing was an irrelevant act, that the world as I had understood it no longer existed. If I was to work again at all, it would be necessary for me to come to terms with disorder.

    On

    Slouching Towards Bethlehem is Joan Didion's seminal essay collection detailing life in Northern California, most notably the 1960s counter culture. The title essay contrasts Didion's impressions of San Francisco hippie culture with its most idealized utopian representations. The Slouching Towards Bethlehem title comes from W.B. Yeats' poem The Second Coming. Yeat's famous line from that poem, The center cannot hold works brilliantly in this essay and (in my mind at least) echoes through the rest of the collection. Through Didion's words, we feel transported to this time and place, but it was already a transitory place when Didion was writing about it, and you feel that it is already fading into story: “The stories are endless, infinitely familiar, traded by the faithful like baseball cards, fondled until they fray around the edges and blur into the apocryphal.”

    Attending UC Berkeley and living in a student co-op (Barrington Hall) that was called the last bastion of 60s counter culture, I felt something like nostalgia at the feel and the texture of these stories, and the sometimes idealized but deeply imperfect past Didion describes. “Nothing was irrevocable; everything was within reach... I could make promises to myself and to other people and there would be all the time in the world to keep them. I could stay up all night and make mistakes, and none of it would count.” 4.5 stars

  10. Jenny (Reading Envy) Jenny (Reading Envy) says:

    This is Joan's first essay collection, and the focus is largely on California, in the 1960s, with a few exceptions. I love her ability to write about people and to connect them to specific places. It feels like a time capsule about a place that doesn't exist the same way anymore, at least not completely. Even the Santa Ana winds may have changed.

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10 thoughts on “Slouching Towards Bethlehem

  1. Julie Christine Julie Christine says:

    My mother was a freshman in college when I was a freshman in high school. Married at seventeen, her 1960s and 70s were spent as a young wife and mother of four. It wasn't until she divorced at thirty-six, the same year Ronald Reagan ushered in the folly of trickle-down economics and the prison-industrial complex, that she discovered the sixties. She majored in English and one day brought home, as a reading assignment, a copy of Slouching Towards Bethlehem. I recall the cover: gun-metal gray with white lettering. I recall her clutching the book as though it were a lifeline, a rope to a past she never had. I felt the book must be some passageway to adulthood, some essentialness of feminism that both intrigued and bored me. I recall loving the title--the evocation of the Bible that seemed almost sacrilegious to me, a child of a conservative Christian family. Slouching . . . Bethlehem . . . nothing but trouble can come from such a book.

    I wonder what my mother must have thought of this collection of essays about people, places, lifestyles so radically different than anything in her experience, yet which were happening simultaneous to her sheltered life. While her days were filled with Sesame Street, Tang, laundry, cutting crusts from bread for fussy her elementary school-kids' lunches, Joan Didion was writing of the counterculture of Haight-Ashbury, where runaways were drugged and traded as sex toys, used up and strung out by nineteen; of Howard Hughes buying up blocks of Las Vegas like she bought boxes of Cheerios; of Joan Baez, wispy, earnest, and reclusive in the Monterey County Courthouse, trying to save her Institute for the Study of Non-Violence from the squares who worried that the hippies would drive down their property values.

    Did my mother dream California dreams? Did she wish for a New York interlude, to be young and in love, with a view of the Brooklyn Bridge, such as Joan Didion had in 1960s? Did she yearn for the warm waves of the Pacific curling on the sands of Hawaii? Such freedom young Didion had, such time to feel angst, to observe others, to write, clear-eyed and fiercely about her time and place in a world where people filled their voids with drug, sex, and rock-n-roll.

    I imagine my mother reading about a gathering of earnest young activists and intellectuals reluctant about gathering up their books and magazines and records, about finding their car keys and ending the day, and by the time they are ready to leave Joan Baez is eating potato salad with her fingers from a bowl in the refrigerator, and everyone stays to share it, just a little while longer where it is warm and wishing she were in their midst, instead of pushing a shopping cart down the aisles of Pak-n-Save, filling it with boxes of Kraft Mac-n-Cheese and Hamburger Helper.

    This collection of twenty essays, originally published in a variety of magazines, chronicles Didion's internal and external worlds at a singular time in modern American history. Her cool, unsentimental observations have come to exemplify California during the mid 60s and 70s, her unwavering voice carrying the mantle of feminism—here is a writer, a woman, unafraid to admit how very angry and afraid she really is. Or unafraid to admit a lifelong crush on the manufactured, wooden John Wayne, a caricature of the American man.

    Perhaps it is this voice my mother held onto so tightly, searching in Didion's words for the key to self-expression, independence, and experimentation—all the things my mother missed as she moved straight from childhood to motherhood. Perhaps she longed to belong to Didion's California where

    . . . time past is not believed to have any bearing on time present or future, out in the golden land where every day the world is born anew.

    Oh, don't we all?

  2. Jeffrey Keeten Jeffrey Keeten says:

    ”My only advantage as a reporter is that I am so physically small, so temperamentally unobtrusive, and so neurotically inarticulate that people tend to forget that my presence runs counter to their best interests. And it always does. That is one last thing to remember: writers are always selling somebody out.”

    photo

    One of the cornerstones of friendship is developing some level of trust. It might be possible to be friends with Joan Didion, but the very thing that makes her a wonderful dinner companion, her wonderful insights into the human condition, will also be the very thing that will make it difficult to develop an intimacy like one should with a best friend. She talks about this difficulty in one of the essays in this collection. “‘The easiest kind of relationship for me is with ten thousand people,’ she said. ‘The hardest is with one.’”

    She was asked to write an essay about John Wayne, and she wrote this fantastic scene of having dinner with him. I didn’t know what to expect. Was she going to fall in bed with him? Was she going to cut Wayne up into little pieces? Love him or hate him, the man was always consistently himself. The Duke always had to be the Duke. There was no down time from being the American icon of western films. I enjoyed this very Didion observation that she makes about Wayne: ”For a while it was only a nice evening, an evening anywhere. We had a lot of drinks and I lost the sense that the face across the table was in certain ways more familiar than my husband’s.”Wayne was renowned for getting everyone at his table drunk, and Didion was no exception.

    These essays focus almost exclusively on California. Though, I wouldn’t call this collection an ode to her home state. Let’s just say the Bureau of Tourism for California didn’t choose to use any of her unflinching observations about the state. Her family has deep roots in California. They were early pioneers who invested in land and did very well. She realized this upbringing gave her a different perspective of life. ”I never felt poor; I had the feeling that if I needed money I could always get it. I could write a syndicated column for teenagers under the name “Debbi Lynn” or I could smuggle gold into India or I could become a $100 call girl, and none of it would matter.”

    I will admit I have put off reading Joan Didion because I thought her essays might prove dated. From the very first essay I was disabused of that notion. These pieces are all from the 1960s and, nearly without exception, are as relevant today as they were when they were written. Couldn’t this comment be as insightful about our current situation as it was in the 1960s? ”Because when we start deceiving ourselves into thinking not that we want something or need something, not that it is a pragmatic necessity for us to have it, but that it is a moral imperative that we have it, then is when we join the fashionable madmen, and then is when the thin whine of hysteria is heard in the land, and then is when we are in bad trouble. And I suspect we are already there.”

    I was expecting elegant writing, and certainly I got that, but what surprised me was the muscular nature of her prose. She hits you in the stomach, follows that with an uppercut, and she may not even let you get off the canvas before she hits you again. She might be small, but she is certainly scrappy. Her writing is as tight and crisp as a tuned piano wire. After I finished the book, I read that she had spent hours typing Hemingway’s prose into her typewriter to try and capture some of his style. This Hemingway connection runs counter to my perception of Didion, but maybe it is just an example of how difficult it is to wrap your arms around her and say this is Joan Didion. She would slide away from you and reemerge across the room in dark glasses with a smoldering cigarette trapped between her fingers, uplifted in the air, the smoke forming a question mark. Can you ever really know someone like Joan Didion? She is quiet. She is unassuming. She lets people talk, and when they mention something of interest to her, can’t you just hear her softly saying...tell me why you believe that?

    These essays were trending subjects in the 1960s, but now they have, with infinite grace, metamorphosed into historical record. For those who follow my reviews, I can assure you there will be more Joan Didion in my reading queue over the coming months.

    If you wish to see more of my most recent book and movie reviews, visit http://www.jeffreykeeten.com
    I also have a Facebook blogger page at:https://www.facebook.com/JeffreyKeeten

  3. Michael Michael says:

    First published in 1968, Slouching Towards Bethlehem considers what happens when the center cannot hold and things fall apart: the three-part collection's twenty essays confront the onset of an age of cynicism in American political and social life. The first part contains pieces specific to California, the second personal essays, the third portraits of places significant to both Didion and America at the end of the 1960s. Didion's prose sprawls with meticulous detail, and is tinted with the journalist's ironic and aloof sensibility. At her best, Didion offers astute critiques of the failings and pretensions of the sundry parts of her nation. Favorite essays included Slouching Towards Bethlehem, On Keeping a Notebook, On Self-Respect, and Goodbye to All That.

  4. Bill Kerwin Bill Kerwin says:


    Days after Manson died, I kept thinking about him, how he and his Family had summoned the darkness at the heart of the Summer of Love. I remembered how surprised we all were, that the drugs and the smiles and the flowers had come to this, but then I thought, no, not all of us. Joan Didion would have understood; Joan Didion would not have been surprised.

    Slouching Toward Bethlehem, a collection of magazine essays and Didion’s second book, is about many things, but mostly it is about ‘60’s California. In its first section “Life Styles in the Golden Land”—slightly longer than half the book--every piece but one is set in California: a San Bernadino Valley murder, profiles of California icons (John Wayne, Joan Baez, Howard Hughes), characteristic California political institutions (the Communist splinter group the CPUSA, the now defunct liberal think tank the Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions), and the California nexus of the Hippie Explosion, San Franciso’s Haight-Ashbury district during the Summer of Love. (Even the short piece not set in California, “Marrying Absurd,” about the Las Vegas wedding industry, is about California and its culture too.)

    But the California connection does not stop there. Didion was a product of the Sacramento Valley, the descendant of settlers who—before the Gold Rush—crossed the plains in a covered wagon (Joan’s great-great-great grandmother travelled with the Donner party, but, unlike the Donners, her family avoided the fatal short cut and instead followed the old Oregon Trail.) Thirty additional pages of Bethlehem, some of the most personal of the book, describe her California and how it has shaped her character and her perspective.. She recognizes that, even for a Native Daughter like herself, the oldest of California traditions are too recent to constitute roots, that the culture of the ‘60’s Golden Land is always changing: from orange groves to real estate to aerospace (and, later, to high tech and beyond). In her title essay, Didion lays bare the predispositions of the lost freeway children who inhabit the Haight in the late '60's: aimless, disconnected from culture, lacking the principles that might help them fashion a viable alternative, they are people for whom any hypnogogic amusement, any superficial enlightment, even a dark savior, will do.

    You can learn much about the ‘60’s from this book, but its real pleasure lies in its elegant, sinewy prose. If there is a single clumsy sentence in this book, I failed to find it (and I am one of those irritating fellows who looks). Here is just a taste, from “Some Dreamers of the Golden Dream,” a description of the San Bernardino Valley:

    This is the California where it is easy to Dial-A-Devotion, but hard to buy a book.  This is the country in which a belief in the literal interpretation of Genesis has slipped imperceptibly into a belief in the literal interpretation of Double Indemnity, the country of the teased hair and the Capris and the girls for whom all life's promise comes down to a waltz-length white wedding dress and the birth of a Kimberly or a Sherry or a Debbi and a Tijuana divorce and return to hairdressers' school.  “We were just crazy kids” they say without regret, and look to the future.  The future always looks good in the golden land, because no one remembers the past.  Here is where the hot wind blows and the old ways do not seem relevant, where the divorce rate is double the national average and where one person in every thirty-eight lives in a trailer.   

    Here is the last stop for all those who  come from somewhere else, for all those who drifted away from the cold and the past and the old ways.  Here is where they are trying to find a new life style, trying to find it in the only places they know to look:  the movies and the newspapers. 

  5. Kevin Kelsey Kevin Kelsey says:

    Just unbelievably good. I'm not the right person to write about Joan Didion, but my God, she is real and she can write.

  6. Darwin8u Darwin8u says:

    The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
    The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
    - The Second Coming, Yeats

    description

    “I know something about dread myself, and appreciate the elaborate systems with which some people fill the void, appreciate all the opiates of the people, whether they are as accessible as alcohol and heroin and promiscuity or as hard to come by as faith in God or History.”
    ― Joan Didion, Slouching Towards Bethlehem

    I'm sure at some point Joan Didion will disappoint. I'm positive the honeymoon period will run out. I'll discover a fatal flaw, a series of articles, or a minor novel that she just 'phoned in', but not yet bitches.

    Seriously, if prose could make me pregnant, I would now be Nadya Suleman.

    I know this is just the normal hormonal response I get whenever I really seem to mesh or synch with an author or artist. I felt this way when I first read DFW's and McPhee's nonfiction. This is the same brain-storm that happened when I first read Delillo & Bellow's fiction; the same awe I felt when I walked into the Paris Opera and saw that giant Chagall ceiling hanging beyond that infamous, 7-ton bronze and crystal chandelier. Those same chills ran down my spine and flushed my face the first time I swallowed a Vicodin. I felt just as complete the first time I watched a Coen brothers movie. I also felt this the first time I discovered my arm naturally guided my hand to my lap. No, this isn't a revolution. It isn't even revolutionary. It a euphoria and I know it. I get it. I'm already cooling down. But I'm just going to leave the book here on my chest for awhile until my heart slows down a bit.

  7. Justin Tate Justin Tate says:

    First published in 1968 to wide popularity, this collection of essays and journalism is a time capsule to the 1960s, for better and for worse, and mostly relating to the experience from a California perspective. There's no question to its significance. When it was published, I suspect readers were thrilled to have someone finally describe life in blunt terms. Reading it today, I found its strengths still lie in the authentic, slice-of-life style. Since I didn't live through the '60s, it felt refreshing to read about the era through cold truths, personal feelings, news-worthy events, and overall mindset of the time. This is day-in-the-life type stuff, which is much lighter and somehow comes across more real than thick history books.

    Overall, while I'm glad I read it for the educational value, I didn't feel riveted enough to ever turn the page eagerly. One of those you got to be in the right mood for.

  8. Cheryl Cheryl says:

    To have that sense of one's intrinsic worth which constitutes self-respect is potentially to have everything: the ability to discriminate, to love and to remain indifferent. To lack it is to be locked within oneself, paradoxically incapable of either love or indifference.

    Somehow, I usually read Didion on a blue night, when it's so bright outside that I open my curtains to search for the moon; instead, what greets me is a pale hue of blue sky. When I read Blue Nights, I had a similar experience. These are the kind of nights that reminds a reader of what she is, of what she is not: We flatter ourselves by thinking this compulsion to please others an attractive trait: a gist for imaginative empathy, evidence of our willingness to give. Oh how I would love to teach Didion's On Self-Respect, if only to garner the provocative perspective of a generation not yet born when she experienced and wrote this collection.

    People debate the essay form often; some think it is simply nonfiction, some are not even sure about the distinction between nonfiction, narrative nonfiction, memoir, and the personal essay. The art of nonfiction is intrinsically disconcerting and perhaps intentional in its derived eclecticism. Still, it is beautiful. Thank goodness we have modern essayists like Leslie Jamison to remind us of the form, an essayist who in my opinion, resembles Didion in style and concept. Any debate of the essay as an art form, should be silenced by Didion's slouching. Why did I take so long to read this, I asked myself as I palmed my forehead, for I drooled through each page, not even noticing when it was time to clear my desk for office hours with students.

    These essays illuminate the America of the 1960s that will never exist again, and yet it is the America of today - the odd juxtaposition confuses, I know. Didion has managed to illustrate a landscape of hurt and pain, of music and money, of politics, drugs, rehabilitation, and gain. This is New York, this is California, this is a slouch towards Bethlehem. I was moved by her memoirs Blue Nights and The Year of Magical Thinking; however, with this book, I was inspired by not only the stories and the essay form, but also by the art of the craft of narrative nonfiction in some of her pieces, this art that places a writer within the center of observation, and yet silences her persona.
    The impulse to write things down is a peculiarly compulsive one, inexplicable to those who do not share it, useful only accidentally, only secondarily, in the way that any compulsion tries to justify itself.

    Didion was a compulsive notetaker and eavesdropper. Because of this, we get stories about: the Los Angeles Santa Ana, a party in Beverly Hills, a story of Sacramento, a hallucinatory view of New York, a riff on morality, a behind-the-scenes look at a Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions, an intense look at acid, alcohol, promiscuity, and all of the hurt that evolves with flashing. Some things we see, we know we'll never see again.

    I loved reading Goodbye to All That, Didion's meditation on New York City, a place she loved and loathed, the city wherein she lost herself. Yet my favorite essay was Where the Kissing Never Stops, an essay which allowed me to view myself, to think about those intrinsic values placed aside for work; after all, isn't this the beauty of the personal essay, that it teaches us something about ourselves? I found oneness with Joan Beaz, the artist, humanitarian, renegade, and recluse; the woman whose life Didion explores in this piece. Perhaps this is one of those essay collections that leaves each of us with something of ourselves:
    The roles assigned to her are various, but variations on a single theme. She is the Madonna of the disaffected. She is the pawn of the protest movement. She is the unhappy analysand. She is the singer who would not train her voice, the rebel who drives the Jaguar too fast, the Rima who hides with the birds and the deer. Above all, she is the girl who 'feels' things, who has hung on to the freshness and pain of adolescence, the girl ever wounded, ever young.

  9. J.L. Sutton J.L. Sutton says:

    I went to San Francisco because I had not been able to work in some months, had been paralyzed by the conviction that writing was an irrelevant act, that the world as I had understood it no longer existed. If I was to work again at all, it would be necessary for me to come to terms with disorder.

    On

    Slouching Towards Bethlehem is Joan Didion's seminal essay collection detailing life in Northern California, most notably the 1960s counter culture. The title essay contrasts Didion's impressions of San Francisco hippie culture with its most idealized utopian representations. The Slouching Towards Bethlehem title comes from W.B. Yeats' poem The Second Coming. Yeat's famous line from that poem, The center cannot hold works brilliantly in this essay and (in my mind at least) echoes through the rest of the collection. Through Didion's words, we feel transported to this time and place, but it was already a transitory place when Didion was writing about it, and you feel that it is already fading into story: “The stories are endless, infinitely familiar, traded by the faithful like baseball cards, fondled until they fray around the edges and blur into the apocryphal.”

    Attending UC Berkeley and living in a student co-op (Barrington Hall) that was called the last bastion of 60s counter culture, I felt something like nostalgia at the feel and the texture of these stories, and the sometimes idealized but deeply imperfect past Didion describes. “Nothing was irrevocable; everything was within reach... I could make promises to myself and to other people and there would be all the time in the world to keep them. I could stay up all night and make mistakes, and none of it would count.” 4.5 stars

  10. Jenny (Reading Envy) Jenny (Reading Envy) says:

    This is Joan's first essay collection, and the focus is largely on California, in the 1960s, with a few exceptions. I love her ability to write about people and to connect them to specific places. It feels like a time capsule about a place that doesn't exist the same way anymore, at least not completely. Even the Santa Ana winds may have changed.

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