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Slouching Towards Bethlehem

4.20  ·  Rating details ·  35,535 ratings  ·  2,738 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
Jeffrey Keeten
”My only advantage as a reporter is that I am so physically small, so temperamentally unobtrusive, and so neurotically inarticulate that people tend to forget that my presence runs counter to their best interests. And it always does. That is one last thing to remember: writers are always selling somebody out.”

 photo Joan Didion_zpskq0hgc41.jpg

One of the cornerstones of friendship is developing some level of trust. It might be possible to be friends with Joan Didion, but the very thing that makes her a wonderful dinner compan
Mar 05, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2015, favorites
First published in 1968, Slouching Towards Bethlehem considers what happens when the center cannot hold and things fall apart: the three-part collection's twenty essays confront the onset of an age of cynicism in American political and social life. The first part contains pieces specific to California, the second personal essays, the third portraits of places significant to both Didion and America at the end of the 1960s. Didion's prose sprawls with meticulous detail, and is tinted with the jour ...more
Bill Kerwin
Nov 17, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 20th-c-amer, essays

Days after Manson died, I kept thinking about him, how he and his Family had summoned the darkness at the heart of the Summer of Love. I remembered how surprised we all were, that the drugs and the smiles and the flowers had come to this, but then I thought, no, not all of us. Joan Didion would have understood; Joan Didion would not have been surprised.

Slouching Toward Bethlehem, a collection of magazine essays and Didion’s second book, is about many things, but mostly it is about ‘60’s Californ
Kevin Kelsey
Jul 01, 2018 rated it really liked it
Just unbelievably good. I'm not the right person to write about Joan Didion, but my God, she is real and she can write.
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


“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
Justin Tate
Apr 08, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
First published in 1968 to wide popularity, this collection of essays and journalism is a time capsule to the 1960s, for better and for worse, and mostly relating to the experience from a California perspective. There's no question to its significance. When it was published, I suspect readers were thrilled to have someone finally describe life in blunt terms. Reading it today, I found its strengths still lie in the authentic, slice-of-life style. Since I didn't live through the '60s, it felt ref ...more
"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 experi
J.L.   Sutton
May 13, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"I went to San Francisco because I had not been able to work in some months, had been paralyzed by the conviction that writing was an irrelevant act, that the world as I had understood it no longer existed. If I was to work again at all, it would be necessary for me to come to terms with disorder."

On Joan Didion

Slouching Towards Bethlehem is Joan Didion's seminal essay collection detailing life in Northern California, most notably the 1960s counter culture. The title essay contrasts Didion's impressions of S
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.

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
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
Glenn Sumi
Nov 03, 2018 rated it really liked it
I read this essay collection – Joan Didion’s first – earlier this year, but of course I had been hearing about it for decades. It and other Didion books like The White Album are famous in a way that few such collections are. And you can easily see why. The best of these pieces open up the possibilities of the essay form, and they show off an enquiring, questing, rigorous mind.

I’ll never forget the book’s opening essay, “Some Dreamers Of The Golden Dream,” which on the surface seems like an acco
Ahmad Sharabiani
Slouching Towards Bethlehem: Essays, Joan Didion

Slouching Towards Bethlehem is a 1968 collection of essays by Joan Didion that mainly describes her experiences in California during the 1960's.

One critic describes the essay as "a devastating depiction of the aimless lives of the disaffected and incoherent young," with Didion positioned as "a cool observer but not a hardhearted one." Another scholar writes that the essay’s form mirrors its content; the fragmented structure resonates with the essa
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

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
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
Lynne King
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
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
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
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
Fascinating time capsule of the 60s. I enjoyed the lens on Sacramento. (view spoiler) ...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 (
California musings.
If I could make you understand that, I could make you understand California and perhaps something else besides, for Sacramento is California, and 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.

Sometimes you fall in love with a book's
Jan 03, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

Life is competition, or so I keep hearing- from a mysterious Greek in the Watergate Hotel bar on New Year's Eve, from my friend's father, who told him years ago, "by the time you're 35, you know whether you're a winner or a loser", from my own internal monologue. And yeah, the impulse is to dismiss it, but how do you know that you're not just trying to console yourself (that friend of mine, incidentally, is scheduled to get married this year at the approximate age of 34 years, 10.5 months)? It's
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
Zachary F.
As it happens I am comfortable with the Michael Laskis of this world, with those who live outside rather than in, those in whom the sense of dread is so acute that they turn to extreme and doomed commitments; I know something about dread myself, and appreciate the elaborate systems with which some people manage to 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.
-from "C
Oct 30, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: essays
Not entirely sure what to say about this one, other than I enjoyed it immensely. Didion's prose is about as good as any other contemporary author I've read, and she's got a knack for powerful imagery and seems to know how to drive a point home with real force and emphasis. As someone who was born a stone's throw away from Manhattan, the last essay in this collection, "Goodbye to All That," was among the most powerful for me. There's something hyperreal about New York, and there's certainly somet ...more
Feb 22, 2020 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I'm not sure how I managed to NOT read this over the last few decades, but I recently read an article listing the top best 15 audiobooks to listen to, and Slouching Toward Bethlehem was on the list. Diane Keaton does indeed do a wondrous job with the narration, though personally this would not be on my "top 15" list of audiobooks. (One of them, for sure, would be Michelle Obama's "Becoming.")

Despite being written 50 years ago, the essays are amazingly timeless, and hold up well today. My favorit
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
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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.

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Famous people! Are they really just like us? In the case of these individuals, the answer is a resounding yes when it comes to loving book...
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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.” 722 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.” 277 likes
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