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Slouching Towards Bethlehem

4.18  ·  Rating details ·  42,173 ratings  ·  3,189 reviews
The first nonfiction work by one of the most distinctive prose stylists of our era, Joan Didion's Slouching Towards Bethlehem remains, decades 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
Paperback, 238 pages
Published October 28th 2008 by Farrar Straus Giroux (first published 1968)
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Iniville The essays are short but immersive. Slouching Towards Bethlehem or The White Album are both good places to start. My favorite is Where I Was From, whi…moreThe essays are short but immersive. Slouching Towards Bethlehem or The White Album are both good places to start. My favorite is Where I Was From, which is more of a book-length essay about California. I am also a big fan of Play It As It Lays. It's a brutal, atmospheric novel. There's a documentary about her on Netflix made by her nephew Griffin Dunne called Joan Didion: the Center Will Not Hold that might be of interest to you if you haven't read any of her work yet (or even if you have).(less)

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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
Shelves: 2015, recs
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  ·  review of another edition
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
Just unbelievably good. I'm not the right person to write about Joan Didion, but my God, she is real and she can write. ...more
Aug 23, 2015 rated it it was amazing
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
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's Slouching Towards Bethlehem | Book Marks

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
Quinn Slobodian
Sep 02, 2007 rated it liked it
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
Jenny (Reading Envy)
Aug 31, 2017 rated it it was amazing
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.

Glenn Sumi
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
Mar 20, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Steven Godin

I remember being really impressed with Didion's novel 'Play It as It Lays' a couple of years back, and reading her nonfiction for the first time I was equally; if not more so, impressed with this seminal collection of essays, of which I didn't know that quite a lot of them had previously been published as magazine articles. Didion is certainly a powerful stylist, as she looks on like a surveyor at the shifting scene of American life in the Golden State during a time of social upheaval in the sec
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

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
Aug 15, 2007 rated it it was amazing
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 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
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
Joe Valdez
The Year of Women--in which I'm devoting 2021 to reading female authors only--continues with Joan Didion and Slouching Toward Bethlehem: Essays. Published in 1968, the book is a compilation of pieces commissioned mostly by the Saturday Evening Post in the 1960s, ranging from exposés on John Wayne or Michael Laski (founder of the Communist Party USA) to essays on herself to the title piece, which documents runaways in Haight-Ashbury in 1967.

"Slouching Toward Bethlehem" is a wonderfully grimy lon
Lynne King
May 23, 2016 rated it it was amazing
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Patrick O'Neil
Aug 28, 2008 rated it it was ok
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
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
Jeanette (Ms. Feisty)

The best way to enjoy Joan Didion's work is desultorily. Don't be in a hurry, and don't be bothered by expectations.

My favorite piece was the final one, called Goodbye to All That. It's about her experience of falling out of love with New York City. I have never been to NYC, nor do I have any desire to go there, but I am old enough to look back on my youth and understand exactly what she was getting at when she wrote the piece.

"One of the mixed blessings of being twenty and twenty-one and even
Hunter Murphy
Feb 18, 2015 rated it it was amazing
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 (
Jan 03, 2019 rated it really liked it

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
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
Mar 20, 2019 rated it it was amazing
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
Z. F.
Aug 04, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 1950-to-1999, essays
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
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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.

Articles featuring this book

    Pulitzer Prize–winning literary critic Michiko Kakutani, the former chief book critic of The New York Times, is the author of the newly...
70 likes · 14 comments
“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.” 753 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.” 300 likes
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