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Slouching Towards Bethlehem: Essays

4.25 of 5 stars 4.25  ·  rating details  ·  14,540 ratings  ·  1,160 reviews
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 ...more
Paperback, 256 pages
Published October 28th 2008 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (first published 1968)
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Jul 12, 2007 Matthew rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: desert people
It would be interesting to track precisely when Didion went from an essayist of surprise and guts and instinct to a useless "journalist", a neurotic upper-upper-middle-class self-chronicler and collector of the obvious--when she lost heart and became her own problems.

But I read this, often over and over, and fall in love with what she was, even her outsized narcissism and implied cruelties, even her contagion and paranoia, and know that even knowing the reprehensible, shriveled porcelain doll s
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 wi ...more
“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

"The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;"

- The Second Coming, Yeats


I'm sure at some point Joan Didion will disappoint. I'm positive the ho
Quinn Slobodian
I realize what is disturbing about these essays and what leaves the acrid aftertaste on the leftist tongue about Didion. And I don't think it has much to do with her relatively measured take on the drug-addled Haight-Ashbury scene. For better, but admittedly and sadly often for worse, the radical leftist imagination has been characterized by a willingness and a desire to leap out of our skin into the skin of others, to experience a jump of radical empathy in which the concerns of "they" become t ...more
In reading the essays in Slouching Towards Bethlehem, I feel a vague sense of unease. Within each essay, there is some revelation of anxiety or untruth. Within every person, there is a moment of quiet desperation. Within a the placid calm of a country marriage, there is a murder. Within each city, there lie feelings of lost hope and disillusionment. Within each person, there is some quiet desperation. In reading these essays, some rough beast has come 'round at last.

Didion's style is taut, but
Joan Didion is an insightful and skeptical thinker, an astute ironist, and a beautiful prose stylist: Slouching Towards Bethlehem exemplifies her craft. While all of her essays are exemplary in form, some fall by the wayside of memory, and even only a week removed from my first foray in Didion, only a few remain with me with any moving power. Slouching Towards Bethlehem skirts the two worlds of my known (intimacy) and my unknown (distance): what it means to be a twentysomething, a skeptic, a thi ...more
I don't mean to be super fangirl about this collection, because a lot of the essays were fine but didn't blow my socks off. However, the ones that I really liked? I really fucking liked. And I know that a couple of months from now, probably even a few years from now, even with my shitty-shit memory, I will look back at this collection and think happy thoughts because of the essays that made my little Grinch heart explode into brightly flavored fireworks of flowers and sunshine and unicorns.

I don
Diane Librarian
Joan Didion, where have you been all my life? My husband has been trying to get me to read her books for years, and I see now how blindly stupid I've been in not reading her sooner.

Most of the essays in "Slouching Towards Bethlethem" are wondrous; there were only a few that didn't amaze me. (The piece on the Haight-Ashbury district, for example, dragged on way too long and wasn't as interesting as it would have been when it first appeared in 1967. Similarly, the 1964 piece on Hollywood was so e

I loved the sheer beauty and rigor and power of the sentences. I'd never read anything by her before but I'd heard great things. I picked this up for 50 cents on a lark and found it to be ideal subway reading.

I don't say this lightly, mind- I spend a lot of time reading on subway ( ars is pretty longa and vita is DEFINITELY brevis ) and having a book that meshes well with the overal mise en scene is key. It might be that Didion seems to be uniquely fascinated with urban landscapes and t
Julie Ehlers
I decided to get my Joan Didion on this summer in preparation for the biography that comes out next month, and Slouching Towards Bethlehem, her first essay collection, seemed like a good place to start. It's true that some of these essays are hopelessly dated, kind of like those true-crime articles that appear in Vanity Fair that no one's going to care about in five months, let alone fifty years (although the majority of these particular essays were published in The Saturday Evening Post). But o ...more
“...I think we are well-advised to keep on nodding terms with the people we used to be, whether we find them attractive company or not. Otherwise they turn up unannounced and surprise us, come hammering on the mind's door at 4 a.m. of a bad night and demand to know who deserted them, who betrayed them, who is going to make amends. We forget all too soon the things we thought we could never forget. We forget the loves and the betrayals alike, forget what we whispered and what we screamed, forget ...more
Hunter Murphy
This is the book that made me fall in love with Joan Didion. Her prose is like a razor. What style she has. Her essays in this collection prove that it's not what you write but how you write it. Of course, I appreciated her subject matter too and her eye for a good story, and the way she cut through social issues, as she did the hippie myths of Haight-Ashbury during the 1960s in San Francisco.

One of my favorites is one called, "On Keeping a Notebook," where the great Didion talks about writing (
James Smith
I have sort of read Joan Didion backwards, beginning with her masterful memoir, The Year of Magical Thinking, and now working my way back to Slouching Towards Bethlehem--one of those books that casts a long shadow over contemporary nonfiction. I picked up this book as a companion for a recent trip back to Los Angeles, both because Didion is one of those rare creatures who is a "native" of California, but also because California figures prominently in these essays. But I became so absorbed in the ...more
I find very attractive the skeptical, reflexively ironic persona that comes through in these essays, as well as the unshockable sang-froid of her prose rhythm--but to call the book a classic, or a "stylistic masterpiece" as the back cover does, seems a bit much. None of these essays, singly, is anything I could cherish. If I encountered any of them in a magazine I would think "she's a good writer" and move on. There's nothing--at least for intellectual pith--that compares with Richard Rodriguez' ...more
Patrick O'Neil
Everyone I know who reads a lot or considers themselves writers has told me to read Joan Didion. I always cringe and go the other way when too many people tell me to do the same thing. I’m not sure where, or when, this resistance to Didion started. But it has somehow manifested itself in my psyche.

During my first semester at Antioch University, Rob Roberge, in one of his brilliant seminars, made a few comical references to her. Not her writing, but of Didion, or more precisely the cult of Didio
Aric Cushing
Incredible. The nonfiction piece 'Dreamers of the Golden Dream' I have read over and over through the years. An incredible depiction of California desert life, and the 'true crime' murder of a dentist. I cannot do it justice here because I am writing quickly, but this POSITIVELY is a MUST READ, if not just for the first nonfiction piece in this voluminous collection. (This entire book is also in the collection "We Tell Ourselves Stories in Order to Live", which is all of Didion's work.)
Surprisingly, I found the title essay to be the weak link in this collection: too meandering and alarmist, in my opinion. Most of the others were sharper and often wonderful, though, especially the one about her girlish infatuation with John Wayne, another about the pleasures and neuroses involved with keeping a private journal, and another about being young and naïve in New York City (during the bittersweet twenty-something years when you're giddy about your expansive future and its myriad poss ...more
Ryan Chapman
Mar 27, 2008 Ryan Chapman rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Ryan by: Megan
Shelves: nonfiction, essays
This woman writes like I think. When I'm at my most lucid and firing all of my synapses. The essay "Slouching Toward Bethlehem" was as great as I'd heard. "On Self-Respect" was shattering in its clarity--Didion doesn't write about things, the writes them wholly. And the last piece, "Goodbye to All That," about living in NYC, was beautiful at parts. I just hope I don't drown in myself the way she did and have to move.
At thirty three or four, Didion of Slouching Towards Bethlehem is still a girl. I recognize the signs. (Some people capable of voicing their thoughts on subjects such as "Self-Respect" and "Morality" are born middle-aged; others, possibly due to their specific upbringing, remain questioning, uncertain, young.)

Her parents relocated multiple times during her childhood (her father was in the military), which left her feeling a perpetual outsider.

Her voice is that of a well-mannered young woman, qui
Theo Logos
Slouching Towards Bethlehem has been labeled a classic of what was once called the New Journalism. It was written during the first decade of my life, and now, entering my sixth decade, I finally have made its acquaintance.
I use the word "acquaintance" quite literally; Joan Didion's voice infuses the pages of her essays inescapably. Having read this collection, I feel that I have met its author. I don't like her. The woman whose voice overwhelmed me in this collection strikes me as sharp minded,
Sep 15, 2010 Emily added it
Shelves: read-in-2010
Back in May, in an Essay Mondays post, I kicked myself for waiting so long acquaint myself with the wonders of Joan Didion's writing. After that post I lost no time in acquiring Slouching Towards Bethlehem, a classic collection of her early investigative reporting and personal examinations published in magazines from the early to late 1960s; and having now read it, my admiration for Didion has only increased.

The bulk of the collection consists of mood pieces featuring the California and Nevada
Nonostante in un capitolo (questo libro raccoglie articoli usciti su riviste) dal titolo “Non riesco a togliermi quel mostro dalla testa”, la signora Didion esprima opinioni tranchant su Kubrick, Antonioni, Visconti, Bergman, dimostrando per la prima e unica volta che anche lei può sbagliare, prendere cantonate e dire bestialità, ho amato questo libro e amo profondamente questa meravigliosa scrittrice, sentimento costruito su una breve intensa conoscenza (incontrata per la prima v
When I was feeding my mother's cat over Thanksgiving I liberated this from her shelves, an ancient copy that one of my best friends (who is still one of my best friends) gave me in high school -- it's inscribed "Lovely Lisa Meter Maid, where would I be w/o you?" and has as a bookmark a postcard I wrote to another high school friend but never sent, thick with all sorts of stupid private jokes and code words. Since today is Joan Didion's birthday and since I don't have the attention span for anyth ...more
The wry and casual elegance of Didion's prose style remains quite special despite the endless attempts at imitation in the decades that have followed; she also has that rare talent of being able to make you think you're reading something lightweight, even disposable and then at the last minute flooring you by unleashing an unexpected torrent of significance and resonance.

But as lovely and thoroughly enjoyable as these essays were, I will always be grateful for a disclosure Didion makes in the co
Hansen Wendlandt
When the whole world seems to be falling apart, a light tends to shine on those parts of your own life that tremble with the least stability and most ambiguous significance. For Joan Didion, in this collection that rings nearly as relevant today as it did initially in 1968, she shares gracefully from her scarred history, as she describes our world decomposing with moribund beauty—-a pessimistic aesthete. Hope exists, though it is neither revolutionary nor inevitable; any “rough” peace for one’s ...more
This is the kind of writing that makes me dizzy with admiration, envy and despair (because of the 2nd thing).

Of the three sections in this book of essays, I like the reportage section least -- Life Styles in the Golden Land-- and least of those, the rather dull essay “Slouching to Bethlehem.” If there is anything more boring than hanging out with a bunch of drugged-out people when you’re not, it’s reading about a bunch of drugged-out people when you’re not. Written in 1967 when Joan visited the
Nora Dillonovich
I like Joan Didion... and now I want to leave Oregon and move to California, though wonder if my staunch New Englandness can truly make such a move with comfort or a modicum of ease or will I simply feel like a foreigner, like a spy sent from a far to see how the other side lives and to debunk the mythology I created growing up back east of California? I am a New Englander, truly; in many ways the puritanical pragmatism is ingrained in my bones and is the tendency I fall back upon despite valian ...more
Really? People like Joan Didion? Really? The best thing about this book is the fact that she includes William Butler Yeats' "The Second Coming." I'd never read Yeats before and he is amazing!

I always felt like Joan Didion was one of those authors I should read, and she does write lovely, fluid, effortless prose; I'll give her two stars just for that. However, the theme tying these essays together seems to be that things just aren't like they used to be. Didion was only in her thirties in 1968 wh
Diane S.✨
Hard to believe but this is the first Joan Didion book I have ever read. In this book, a series of essays, Didion takes on the sixties and the many different components that makes this time period so memorable. Her wide range of subject matter is amazing, from a courtroom and a trial. to Las Vegas weddings, from Haight-Ashbury to John Wayne and much more. Her writing is so clear and concise, basically I loved it. This is my first, but not my last Didion.
Joan Didion is a pleasure to read. I picked up this book because of the essay on keeping a journal but was captured by the essay "Slouching towards Bethlehem" named after the Yeats poem. The essay concerns San Francisco in the 60s and the powers growing here or the "beast". I am moved by her language and insight and her way of circling and sliding up to truths.
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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.
More about Joan Didion...
The Year of Magical Thinking Play It as It Lays Blue Nights The White Album A Book of Common Prayer

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“I think we are well advised to keep on nodding terms with the people we used to be, whether we find them attractive company or not. Otherwise they turn up unannounced and surprise us, come hammering on the mind's door at 4 a.m. of a bad night and demand to know who deserted them, who betrayed them, who is going to make amends.” 442 likes
“...quite simply, I was in love with New York. I do not mean “love” in any colloquial way, I mean that I was in love with the city, the way you love the first person who ever touches you and you never love anyone quite that way again. I remember walking across Sixty-second Street one twilight that first spring, or the second spring, they were all alike for a while. I was late to meet someone but I stopped at Lexington Avenue and bought a peach and stood on the corner eating it and knew that I had come out out of the West and reached the mirage.” 144 likes
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