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Slouching Towards Bethlehem
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Jenn | 223 comments Mod
Our book for January is Slouching Towards Bethlehem by Joan Didion. Please post your discussions here.


Jenn | 223 comments Mod
Has anyone seen the Netflix documentary on Joan Didion?


Michelle (artemitch) | 96 comments Jenn wrote: "Has anyone seen the Netflix documentary on Joan Didion?"

I wasn't aware there's a documentary on Joan Didion! Might have to check that out.


Jenn | 223 comments Mod
How are you all coming along? I must have read Joan Didion in college. I know I did. But I can't remember what, and I don't know how I don't remember. Her writing is incredible.


Miguel (miggy126) | 74 comments I am currently still on hold for this one at the library. They didn't have many books available at neighboring libraries so hopefully i get it soon.


message 6: by Wendopolis (new)

Wendopolis | 77 comments I just requested it from the library and it will be here tomorrow. Thanks for the reminder!


Michelle (artemitch) | 96 comments It's on my Kindle! I haven't started it yet, but I'm about to.


Michelle (artemitch) | 96 comments I've read up to the titular essay and am almost finished with Part I. I agree -- the writing's incredible!

I'm enjoying these essays so far; the topics covered are interesting. Wouldn't say I love it yet or anything.


message 9: by Wendopolis (new)

Wendopolis | 77 comments I'm having a hard time with this book. While Didion writes quite well, it's not really catching my attention. :(


Michelle (artemitch) | 96 comments Wendopolis wrote: "I'm having a hard time with this book. While Didion writes quite well, it's not really catching my attention. :("

I'm sorry that you're not liking it much, but I totally understand. I'm moving my way through it pretty slowly, too. The writing is really tight and neat -- maybe too much so; I find it a bit rigid, but then again, I'm not used to reading essays like I do fiction.


Michelle (artemitch) | 96 comments So I finished it a couple of days ago and thought it was a fine read. A lot of people seem to revere the collection, but I admit I only felt that way about a few of the pieces.

I enjoyed reading about California through Didion's eyes, and although I live in the state now, I'm unfamiliar with the Central Valley and California in the '60s other than what I'd learned about the Counterculture Left and their radicalism (for its time). There's a strong sense of nostalgia imbued, which I predict I will echo about California one day.

Really well-written, but also really impersonal, in my opinion, even when she's talking about herself. She connects a lot of her experiences with things beyond her, by which I mean sliding into the contemplative quite often with an authoritative voice that sweeps all else under.

I'm also going to admit that I went through the book quite slowly. It might be because of Didion's style. I know her prose is fantastic and amazing and whatnot, but on a personal, subjective level, I found it overwrought and too academic, and thus made the narrative voice kind of distant, if that makes any sense.

I wonder how people who have lived through the '60s in California feel about it. Or even New York. I might return to this and reread it years later and see how I feel about it then.


Julie Place | 87 comments I give this book 2.5 stars it was good but not great. I really liked the parts about California in the 60s. This woman did a lot and experienced a lot for a young adult. There were parts where I felt like I was maybe reading her notebook there were so many random thoughts that didn’t make sense to me during some points I was “like why do I even care?”

It definitely was something different and not something I would have picked up myself. That’s what I love book clubs the expose you to so much you don’t even realize is out there. So I’m not disappointed at all in reading this selection


Michelle (artemitch) | 96 comments Julie wrote: "I give this book 2.5 stars it was good but not great. I really liked the parts about California in the 60s. This woman did a lot and experienced a lot for a young adult. There were parts where I fe..."

I'm sorry you were disappointed, but I'm glad to hear that you're reading something out of your comfort zone.

I would say that I myself was expecting something a little different, but have nothing against Didion or the essays here. I do agree that it's sometimes difficult to connect with her.


message 14: by Jenn (last edited Jan 31, 2019 11:16PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jenn | 223 comments Mod
I very much enjoyed this one.

"California Dreaming," short and mean, is my favorite from the collection. Didion reports on the Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions, a sort of club for rich men to discuss politics and society, but one that publishes their conversations.

Of her experience interviewing these self-important buttholes, she writes:

"'Don't make the mistake of taking a chair at the big table,' I was warned sotto voce on my first visit to the Center. 'The talk there is pretty high-powered.'

'Is there any evidence that living in a violent age encourages violence?' someone was asking at the big table.

'That's hard to measure.'

'I think it's the Westerns on television.'

'I tend [pause] to agree.'"

She spends the rest of the article laughing, in the her literary way, at the thousands of people who took this club's publications seriously. It's pretty awesome.

*

There's a part in "Slouching Towards Bethlehem" when one of the hippies, who isn't a native of California, comments on the pace of life here (I'm in California too.):

"'I feel it's insane,' he says, and his voice drops. 'This chick tells me there's no meaning to life but it doesn't matter, we'll just flow right out. There've been times I felt like packing up and taking off for the East Coast again, at least there I had a target. At least there you expect it's going to happen ... Here you know it's not going to.'"

I've heard this observation from other non-native Californians, and I've heard it said specifically about San Diego, where I'm from. It always fascinates me, this idea that San Diego is some sort of limbo that drains people of their ambitions. I don't see it, but I'm from here and haven't ever lived anywhere else. Is that how we are?


*


It's a little surreal reading Joan Didion's essays and knowing they were written half a century ago and not today. They have an awareness, a wokeness if you will, that wasn't prevalent in popular books even 10 years ago. That said, she has her moments, referring to 17-year-old young women as "little girls" and saying Joan Baez is prettier in person "since the camera seems to emphasize an Indian cast to her features."


I love how every single essay has a feminist undercurrent, even if the subject of the essay has nothing directly to do with women or women's issues.


Re: the writing is too distant
I appreciate distance in writing like this. I know some people don't. I have a friend who thinks this kind of distance is inappropriate in most writing, even in academic writing. His reasoning is, we're not God, so why pretend to be? We're not objective and our reader knows it, so why pretend? I like it, though. The distance feels comfortable to me--maybe because that's the sort of writing I grew up reading. And plenty of readers don't know that you're not God, in a sense, when you write that way: you lay out facts and details without (much) judgment, and, by the end, your readers feel as though they've come to their own conclusions about those details, even though you actually led them there. Maybe readers today are savvier, though, maybe they're catching onto all that.

Idk, it's late and I'm rambling. Good night.


Michelle (artemitch) | 96 comments I welcome rambly posts! I love seeing an impassioned take on a book. I'm so glad you enjoyed it, Jenn.

I think Bethlehem is one of those books I'll have to revisit later and read, if not the whole thing, then select essays. I agree that there are a lot of astute observations here; guess I can learn to appreciate it a second time around.


Miguel (miggy126) | 74 comments A month later the book is finally ready to be picked up from my library. It's about damn time!


message 17: by Wendopolis (new)

Wendopolis | 77 comments Today I read an essay by Joan Didion in the Saturday Night Post, a reprint from 1966. It was very personal, funny and well-written, light years away from how she wrote in Slouching. (Not The well written part). I found this very interesting.


Miguel (miggy126) | 74 comments Okay I finished reading it in a small amount of time. As Julie stated, it was also hard for me to get through this book at times. I would read a paragraph and not know what she was talking about. This is currently the 2nd book I have read from a journalist and they both have been disappointing. I didn't see a point to this book aside from some stories of her interviewing hippies in California.

I did enjoy the 1st or 2nd story with the wife who kills her husband. It wasn't too long and didn't drag on like most of the stories without some sort of structure. That's one thing that really bothered me when I was reading her stories is that I didn't know what the purpose of some of them were. I experienced this towards the end of the 1st part and all of the 2d.

Her stories of California I thought were decent and her interviews with the different people during that time and their stories. I've read a small amount about the 60s and the "Vietnam" era in the US. I find there is some correlation between the young people of that time and the young people of today. I believe a part of the generation today wants to go back to that way of life for peace and love. I maybe wrong here but just a thought.

Overall, I am sorry Michelle but I didn't enjoy this book too much. There was some interesting stories but overall I had to ask myself what she was talking about and why. I didn't see a point to most of her stories but then again maybe there wasn't???


Michelle (artemitch) | 96 comments Miguel wrote: "Okay I finished reading it in a small amount of time. As Julie stated, it was also hard for me to get through this book at times. I would read a paragraph and not know what she was talking about. T..."

Yeah, I understand why you would feel that way. I actually asked myself the same question during several of the essays, but I came to the conclusion that perhaps Didion wanted us to form our own opinions based on the observations she's given us. The way I see it is she's very subtle about what she wants us to pick up. She just kind of leads us through the scenes without making clear a destination, and I can respect that.


Michelle (artemitch) | 96 comments Wendopolis wrote: "Today I read an essay by Joan Didion in the Saturday Night Post, a reprint from 1966. It was very personal, funny and well-written, light years away from how she wrote in Slouching. (Not The well w..."

What was the essay called? Or what was it about?


message 21: by Wendopolis (new)

Wendopolis | 77 comments It was about when she decided to make Christmas decorations and things didn’t go well. Something about rock candy.


Miguel (miggy126) | 74 comments Michelle wrote: "I actually asked myself the same question during several of the essays, but I came to the conclusion that perhaps Didion wanted us to form our own opinions based on the observations she's given us. The way I see it is she's very subtle about what she wants us to pick up. She just kind of leads us through the scenes without making clear a destination, and I can respect that. "

That's a good take on her essays. I usually read stories with more structure so this one being different made it a more difficult read. Maybe in the beginning if there was some introduction as to what her essays were going to be about and why that would've helped the expectations of it. However, i know this book has some good reviews so it might just be me.


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