Slouching Towards Bethlehem
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Slouching Towards Bethlehem

4.26 of 5 stars 4.26  ·  rating details  ·  11,323 ratings  ·  936 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, all reflect that, in one wa
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Paperback, 238 pages
Published October 1st 1990 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (first published 1968)
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Matthew
Jul 12, 2007 Matthew rated it 5 of 5 stars
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...more
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
David
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
matt

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...more
Eric
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
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
Rosana
“...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
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...more
Diane
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...more
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.)
Ryan Chapman
Mar 27, 2008 Ryan Chapman rated it 5 of 5 stars
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.
Lisa
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
Emily
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...more
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
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
Alice
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...more
Jesse
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...more
Pat
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.
Elizabeth
I continue to return to this book time and again because of the portraits of people that Joan Didion gives us. Even though this was written before I was born, I am able to picture each essay with clarity thanks to her amazing prose and ability to capture folks from every walk of life.
Jill Malone
A collection of essays that changed the way I look at writing--tone and syntax particularly. A tough, beautiful book.
Paul Haspel
Slowly, gradually, almost imperceptibly, the twenty essays of Slouching Towards Bethlehem develop Joan Didion’s dominant impression regarding life in late-20th-century America generally and 1960’s California specifically; and that dominant impression is grim indeed.

The California of Didion’s essays is a place where a mild climate and a picturesque landscape conceal a social mindset of fear and intolerance, as when a Salinas matron in “Where the Kissing Never Stops” challenges the very existence...more
Greg Brown
To read Didion for the first time is to regret not reading her earlier.

The first section is a wonderful snapshot of California at a particular stage of its existence—not pulling in those searching riches, as in the Gold rush and Silicon boom, but instead in those seeking a certain set of values. Those were the days when you could actually hitchhike, when your life could begin again in a new city. Sure, Didion goes the route of showing how darker intentions can lay under the placid, flourishing e...more
Mason

A word of advice; don’t read Didion before you go to sleep. Or first thing in the morning. Or on a day when you’ve got a lot of work ahead of you. Her words will follow you around, and once they’re lodged in your brain, well, good luck doing anything else but contemplating them over and over again. These essays won’t be everyone’s cup of tea; they are piercing, often brutal distillations of the author’s social anxiety—Didion pours all of her insecurities about herself and the world at large into...more
Lindsay Coppens
Slouching Towards Bethlehem is a child of the 1960’s. At times it is wondrously colorful and fresh. At others it is self-absorbed and annoying.

This collection of 20 journalistic essays by Joan Didion ranges in topic from an unusual murder trial to the under-belly of the hippie movement to post-prison Alcatraz to the author’s move to New York City as a young woman. The tie which binds all the pieces is California in a time that was both more simple and more complex than today. However, the range...more
Suzanne
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...more
Spotsalots
The essays here are of variable interest, one's reactions will presumably go according to one's personal interests and history. The style, which I gather some like and some don't, is spare, individual, and compelling. Now, when I say the style is compelling, I don't mean that it always succeeds in making the topic at hand interesting or in winning the reader over to the author's point of view, but I do think it persuades one to read on, in order to see what comes next.

In a sense it seems mildly...more
blue-collar mind
Nov 30, 2013 blue-collar mind rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: essayists, activists, those who are tired of careless writing
Can I tell you I am shocked by those who do not know Joan Didion's writing? And there are lots of these types, I can tell you. Few under 28 has read her, and I blame the school systems that think (I assume) that she has been over praised, and yet these same schools struggle with explaining how to spot well-written, clear as bell non-fiction. Easy answer is to assign Didion and let them see it.
Who said essaysists are curmudgeons and have a gift for insight into human behaviour? (Maybe the brilli...more
Benjamin Church
"In retrospect it seems to me that those days before I knew the names of all the bridges were happier than the ones that came later, but perhaps you will see that as we go along. Part of what I want to tell you is what it is like to be young in New York, how six months can become eight years with the deceptive ease of a film dissolve, for that is how those years appear to me now, in a long sequence of sentimental dissolves and old-fashioned trick shots--the Seagram Building fountains dissolve in...more
Erik
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
Keri
Didion captures the intersection between our surroundings and our mind, how much our soul can capture a place and haunt us years later. Didion vividly describes California, from the quirky Christian ghost-towns where you cannot find a Catholic or Jew, to the fear and depression from the Santa Anas. Didion has a heightened sense of awareness that permeates throughout the novel. She intricately weaves in numerous places, including Hawaii and ending in New York City. The last short story took my br...more
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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 Blue Nights Play It as It Lays 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.” 337 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.” 122 likes
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