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Slouching towards Bethlehem: Essaysby Joan Didion
Joan Didion's lucid, canny prose style is painstakingly situated around the art of the sentence. Slouching towards Bethlehem, her first collection of nonfiction, serves as a prime example of exactly how well she can wield one. Each of these essays, including one titled "On Self-Respect" (which, years later, I continually refer back to as a philosophical dare to regard the self no matter what incarnation), conveys Didion's remarkable perspective and her ability to detail, without sentimentality, a full sense of whatever she trains her shrewd gaze on.
Didion is a true original. Her spare, no-nonsense style and acute observational skills completely changed the way we view literary nonfiction, and the influence she's had on generations of authors is immeasurable. Though often grouped together with Tom Wolfe, Norman Mailer, and others in the New Journalism movement, her work has endured in ways theirs has not. It's been nearly 50 years since the first essays in Slouching towards Bethlehem were written, yet her unblinking portrait of America in general and California in particular remains as vibrant and relevant as ever.
Synopses & Reviews
Universally acclaimed when it was first published in 1968, Slouching towards Bethlehem has become a modern classic. More than any other book of its time, this collection captures the mood of 1960s America, especially the center of its counterculture, California. These essays — keynoted by an extraordinary report on San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury district — all reflect how and why things were then, and are now, falling apart in America: "the center cannot hold," as Yeats had warned.
An incisive look at contemporary life, Slouching Towards Bethlehem is still admired as a stylistic masterpiece. "Didion is one of the very few writers of our time who approaches her terrible subject with absolute seriousness, with fear and humility and awe. Her powerful irony is often sorrowful rather than clever," as Joyce Carol Oates noted. "She has been an articulate witness to the most stubborn and intractable truths of our time, a memorable voice, partly eulogistic, partly despairing; always in control."
"In her portraits of people, Didion is not out to expose but to understand, and she shows us actors and millionaires, doomed brides and naive acid-trippers, left wing ideologues and snobs of the Hawaiian aristocracy in a way that makes them neither villainous nor glamorous, but alive and botched and often mournfully beautiful....A rich display of some of the best prose written today in this country." Dan Wakefield, The New York Times Book Review
"This is not a new book, but a re-release of a classic book of essays (that has been previously 'released'). Nearly four decades have passed since these works of reportage were first published in places like the Saturday Evening Post and New York Times Magazine, but they are as present and pertinent as ever. Didion crafted the story of 1960s California, but this collection is as much an ode to life, and humanity's myriad imperfections....Without overstating the obvious, she delicately weaves together nuances that collectively reflect the melancholy of marriage that leads a wife to murder. Didion tells it as she sees it....Beyond the notorious love, peace and happiness, Didion found broken lives. Some are affirming, some are depressing, but almost all Didion's tales are intensely vibrant." Brynn Mandel, Republican-American
"The story between the lines of Slouching Towards Bethlehem is surely not so much 'California' as it is [Joan Didion's] ability to make us share her passionate sense of it." Alfred Kazin
"A slant vision that is arresting and unique....Didion might be an observer from another planet—one so edgy and alert that she ends up knowing more about our own world than we know ourselves." Anne Tyler
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 Haight-Ashbury, the heart of the counterculture.
About the Author
Joan Didion is the author of several novels and works of nonfiction, including Slouching towards Bethlehem, The White Album, Miami, Salvador, After Henry, and The Year of Magical Thinking. She lives in New York City.
Table of Contents
I. LIFE STYLES IN THE GOLDEN LAND
Some Dreamers of the Golden Dream
John Wayne: A Love Song
Where the Kissing Never Stops
Comrade Laski, C.P.U.S.A. (M.-L.)
7000 Romaine, Los Angeles 38
Slouching Towards Bethlehem
On Keeping a Notebook
I Can't Get That Monster Out of My Mind
On Going Home
III. SEVEN PLACES OF THE MIND
Notes from a Native Daughter
Letter from Paradise, 21° 19' N., 157° 52' W
Rock of Ages
The Seacoast of Despair
Los Angeles Notebook
Goodbye to All That
What Our Readers Are Saying
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