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Slouching Towards Bethlehem: Essays

4.23  ·  Rating details ·  20,917 Ratings  ·  1,616 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 in ...more
Paperback, 238 pages
Published October 28th 2008 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (first published 1968)
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Julie Christine
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
Darwin8u
Aug 23, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2015
"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 ho
...more
Cheryl
"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 experien
...more
Jenny (Reading Envy)
Aug 31, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Jenny (Reading Envy) by: Ellen Gilchrist in The Writing Life
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.

orsodimondo
Feb 19, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: americana, reportage
BEI TEMPI ADDIO
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 perfino 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
...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
Mar 20, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: essays-theory
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
Hadrian
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
...more
El
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
...more
Lynne King
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Vanessa
Apr 17, 2017 rated it liked it
3.5 stars.
The writing exemplifies the sentiments and mood of the counter culture of the 60's, Didion does indeed capture it exceptionally well. Dry and sharply delivered and filled with references and dissections of social issues she is definitely the voice of a generation albeit it comes across a little dated now. I wish I could say I liked this collection as a whole, not all essays resonated with me and left me underwhelmed more often than not, I had high hopes for this so maybe my expectatio
...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
Diane
Aug 15, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Julie Ehlers
Dec 28, 2013 rated it really liked it
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
Hunter Murphy
Feb 18, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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 (
...more
James Smith
Jul 19, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Bloodorange
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
...more
Nate D
It should come as no surprise that this collection of Joan Didion's essays and journalism from the the mid sixties leading up to her publication of Play It As It Lays is thoroughly good, cynical, and perceptive. She writes about societal malaise and the ominous leisure landscapes of California all quite wonderfully, in particular. Though it does leave me wanting to grab more of her fiction soon, as well.
Edward
Hey, yeah. The 1960s? Happy times, heavy times. These are the opening lines to the 1972 cartoon movie Fritz the Cat - a movie I was drawn to decades later when I discovered it in my late teens. For me it was a window to a more exciting time, an era narrowly missed, a world that was only just waking up, when to be young meant to live freely and love easily, and to seize the day and change the world required no more than to step outside one's own front door.

Well, that's how I saw it at the time,
...more
Eric
Dec 18, 2008 rated it liked it
Shelves: essays, bagatelle
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
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.)
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
Diane S ☔
Sep 17, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Ryan Chapman
Mar 23, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  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.
Stephanie Sun
"...California is a place in which a boom mentality and a sense of Chekhovian loss meet in uneasy suspension; in which the mind is troubled by some buried but ineradicable suspicion that things had better work here, because here, beneath that immense bleached sky, is where we run out of continent."
Emily
Sep 15, 2010 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
...more
Paul Haspel
Dec 09, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Lisa
Dec 05, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
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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...
“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.” 559 likes
“...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 who we were.” 198 likes
More quotes…