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Paperback Slouching Towards Bethlehem: Essays Book

ISBN: 0374531382

ISBN13: 9780374531386

Slouching Towards Bethlehem: Essays

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Book Overview

Celebrated, iconic, and indispensable, Joan Didion's first work of nonfiction, Slouching Towards Bethlehem, is considered a watershed moment in American writing. First published in 1968, the collection was critically praised as one of the "best prose written in this country." More than perhaps any other book, this collection by one of the most distinctive prose stylists of our era captures the unique time and place of Joan Didion's focus, exploring...

Customer Reviews

4 ratings

Didion doesn't slouch

I am relieved to have finally read Didion's much acclaimed book of essays, which was published in 1968--and so it's old. So what? Didion is old, too, and probably an even better writer because of it. But even back then her skills were blazingly and brilliantly sharp. Aesthetically the work is not beautiful--there's no poet in Didion, although the title of the book is from a fantastically riveting poem by Yeats, which she quotes prior to the preface. Beauty is no matter, however, because Didion's essays are the archetype, the Platonic Form; put simply: the way it should be done. The book is divided into 3 sections. The first section is comprised of essays on 1960s California. It is here that we find Didion's diamond, "Slouching Towards Bethlehem", which is a quasi-insider's view of San Francisco's Haight-Ashberry drug culture circa 1967. Other memorable essays from this group include an elegy-esque piece for John Wayne titled, "John Wayne: A Love Song" and "7000 Romaine, Los Angeles 38", a portrait of California wealth painted in the image of Howard Hughs. The second group of essays is a collection of Didion's personal reflections on subjects such as self-respect, morality, and the poignant "On Going Home". Didion ends the book with a series of seven essays on places she has visited: Hawaii, Mexico, Alcatraz, Los Angeles, to name a few. Here her ruminations are vivid and blunt, but also exciting. The reader feels as though she has taken a trip of sorts to the places Didion portrays so clearly and persuasively. Clear and persuasive are Didion's hallmarks. Hers is a style whose fruit is a truly a masterful group of essays.

excellent example of the essay form

Didion's collection of essays was recommended to me by writing instructors as an example of excellent essay writing. I found it to be just that. In the first third, she writes a series of remarkable essays about California in the late 1960s. The middle third contains personal essays. And the book finishes with a collection of essays about different places she's been - New York, Hartford, Hawaii, Sacramento. What makes her writing most impressive is her masterful presentation of portraits, inserting herself just occasionally to remind the reader of who the photographer was, to inject humanity. She does an excellent job combining place and character and shows that long sentences can work. This book is useful both an as example to those who aspire to writing better essays and as a memorable voice from the 1960s.

America's finest essayist, at her finest

I have owned several copies of this book, and have given away more copies than I can count. It's a book I come back to, at least once a year since 1980, when I first read it. It seems to me to be better and better each time. The times it's about may be long gone, but the issues at the heart of these essays haven't changed much at all.Much has been made of Didion's take on California, and this book is laden with essays about the place, and the people, and a particular time that - as other reviewers here have noted - has a different resonance in popular culture than the one she presents here. Didion herself recently professed some alarm at the idea that she is an expert on the place (in 'Where I Was From'), but there's no doubt that she's provided more food for thought about contemporary culture than almost anyone else. But the real strength of her writing is in her prose style, in which not a single sentence is sloppy, or ill-considered. Her style is distinctive, but it's not just for show. There are other fine essayists working today, but few are as disciplined and considered as Didion in the way they write.It's probably a toss-up as to whether this book or 'The White Album' is a better place to start with Didion's work. I think 'The White Album' is a more cohesive collection, but there are better individual essays in 'Slouching', including the sublime essays in the 'Personals' section. And chances are that once you've read one, you'll read the other, and in that case it makes sense to start with the earlier collection, which is this one.

Essays of sheer simplicity, intellect, honesty and power!

Slouching Towards Bethlehem is the best book of essays I have ever, by the grace of God, been fortunate enough to own and read. In essay after essay, I found myself saying,"Go on, Joan. You said it, Joan. We are the same, you and I, Joan, etc." That is the type of book Slouching Towards Bethlehem is. Reading it, slowly, meticulously, I felt such a close kinship, a bond, not with the writer but with her words -- so carefully chosen and wonderfully articulated. These essays are not meant, honestly, for teenagers, although, if given a chance, the totality of the book would be most beneficial for their pliable and socially indoctrinated minds. The purport of this book is something that I can so easily identify with: the disappearance of the past for the establishment of a fragmented, roughly organized new society with newfangled, unaccustomed societal perceptions as well as an aggressive casting off of the traditional value system of those who were born and raised a long time before the emergence of the radical, cataclysmic sixties. These essays explore, through author Joan Didion's own feelings and experiences and the feelings and experiences of those she encountered, the disharmononized emotions of the hippy generation vs the elders of the more reactionary periods, periods where: Free Love, Acid Trips, Groovy, Crystal Snorting Gurus and Muumuu Dressed Followers seemed a complex and social oddity in the hierarchy of those who were deemed, "Not with it, man." What is so nice about these essays is that they are not condescending; there were and are thousands upon thousands of citizens and non-citizens alike who had and have no clue whatsoever as to what the counter-culture represented (me, honestly, being one in that vast catagory). Joan Didion thrust herself into its epicenter, and with a keen eye took it all in, trying to understand. The darkness of the counter-culture I think is best represented in the title essay "Slouching Towards Bethlehen" on page 101: "Pretty little 16-year-old chick comes to the Haight to see what it's all about & gets picked up by a 17-year-old street dealer who spends all day shooting her full of speed again & again, then feeds her 3,000 mikes & raffles off her temporarily unemployed body for the biggest Hight Street gangbang since the night before last. The politics and ethics of ecstasy..." That was the darkness of the counter-culture, but that is not representative of the entirety of it. Didion's family can be traced back all the way to the Donner-Reed tragedy in which cannibalism was the well known result. Thus, California is liked to that sole dark act; it is forever historically and symbolically linked, California becoming tarnished and not the land of "Golden opportunity." That is one way of looking at the counter-culture. Or it can be viewed in this fashion, in the essay: "Rock of Ages" about Alcatraz Island on page 208: "I saw the shower room (in Alcatraz) with the soap still in the dishes. I picked

Slouching Towards Bethlehem Mentions in Our Blog

Slouching Towards Bethlehem in Literature of the Everyday: The New Journalists
Literature of the Everyday: The New Journalists
Published by Theia Griffin • March 22, 2021

A group of writers never fail to capture my interest. They fall within a specific genre of writers now loosely deemed literary nonfiction essayists, journalists, and authors that Tom Wolfe called "The New Journalists" like Joan Didion, Hunter S. Thompson, Truman Capote, and more. Read more to learn about what that means and why it's such a special genre all its own.

Slouching Towards Bethlehem in 11 Book Releases We're Excited About This Month
11 Book Releases We're Excited About This Month
Published by Ashly Moore Sheldon • January 06, 2021

It's a new year and for us that means lots of new books to curl up with on these cold winter days! January is packed with must-reads. Here are eleven releases that we're excited about this month, along with suggestions of what you might want to read first.

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