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Slouching Towards Bethlehem: Essays by Joan…
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Slouching Towards Bethlehem: Essays (1968)

by Joan Didion

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    Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe (WSB7)
    WSB7: See "things falling apart" in very different (?) cultures.
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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 a Death Valley motel room, and, especially, the essence of San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury, the heart of the counterculture. ( )
  MarkBeronte | Mar 4, 2014 |
Didion’s famous collection of nonfiction essays gives readers a glimpse into the rapidly changing world of California in the 1960s. From hippies in San Francisco to a piece on Joan Baez and her Institute for the Study of Nonviolence, Didion traces the paths of a new generation of Americans across the state.

Her prose takes your breath away with it’s descriptive beauty. Regardless of the subject matter, it's so easy to get lost in her words. She tells each person's story without condemning or praising their belief system.

"She does try, perhaps unconsciously, to hang on to the innocence and turbulence and capacity for wonder, however ersatz or shallow, of her own or of anyone's adolescence."

I felt like the essays on Didion's personal life and experiences were a little stronger than the rest. There was also a story that opens the book, "Some Dreamers of the Golden Dream," that really stayed with me. It's about a woman convicted on murdering her husband in a burning car. It was a haunting tale, as so many things are in Didion's hands. Even a trip to the tropical isles of Hawaii becomes a morose reflection for her.

"Las Vegas is the most extreme and allegorical of American settlements, bizarre and beautiful in its venality and in its devotion to immediate gratification."

One of my favorite pieces in the book is about how we change when we return to our childhood homes. Our personalities revert back to the roles we took on within our family dynamic. Our spouses often can’t understand the strained relationships or odd attachments that we have with the place and the people there.

“I had by all objective accounts a ‘normal’ and a ‘happy’ family situation, and yet I was almost thirty years old before I could talk to my family on the telephone without crying after I had hung up. We did not fight. Nothing was wrong. And yet some nameless anxiety colored the emotional charges between me and the place I came from.”

BOTTOM LINE: As with most short story collections, not every single piece was my favorite, but with a writer like Didion you’re sure to find some gems. Didion conveys moods and feelings with such incredible talent and this collection is one of her best.

“I have said that the trip back is difficult, and it is – difficult in a way that magnifies the ordinary ambiguities of sentimental journeys.”

"Innocence ends when one is stripped of the delusion that one likes oneself." ( )
  bookworm12 | Feb 21, 2014 |
Joan Didion has written a group of essays about the 60s that compare with the very best collections of short stories. Largely set in California and it includes essays about Joan Baez, John Wayne, and Howard Hughes. Also included are stories on morality, keeping a notebook, and going home. Many essays are very personal and the themes of the importance of place and having a home repeat. The writing is beautiful. Didion often just lets the answers to her interview questions tell the story without comment.

While many of the essays are well worth the time to read and enjoy, the title essay, "Slouching Toward Bethlehem' is astounding. It describes the drug culture in Haight-Ashbury in the 60s and is informative but also frightening. Didion interviews the inhabitants of the area and their stories will shock and amaze. Near the end of the essay Didion makes her own observations of what want wrong and why. I would quote some of these observations but I think they are best read in the context of the story. I find myself thinking about this story frequently. This story should be required reading in our schools.

There are 20 essays in the book and I limited myself to one a day to stretch out the pleasure. ( )
  phillies | Nov 3, 2013 |
One of the My Ideal Bookshelf books that showed up on many of my favorites, so figured I needed to tackle me some Ms. Didion. Glad I did, even if a few of the essays had a dated feel to them. Ms. Didion writes good, good words. Not too many of them. But all evocative. Faves: On Keeping A Notebook, On Self-Respect, The Seacoast Of Despair, Goodbye To All That, and - of course, the titular essay. ( )
  beckydj | Sep 27, 2013 |
Good lord in heaven. I was transported in time and place in a way I didn't think possible from a collection of essays. If there was some way I could hop into my car, point it west, and drive to the California of the 1960s I'd already be on the road to bask in the culture, the uncertainty and the weirdness of the times.

I can't wait to read more Didion. ( )
  dtn620 | Sep 22, 2013 |
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Epigraph
W. B. Yeats's poem beginning:

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;


...is set down in full, as well as a quote from Miss Peggy Lee:

I learned courage from Buddah, Jesus, Lincoln, Einstein, and Cary Grant.
Dedication
For Quintana
First words
This is a story about love and death in the golden land, and begins with the country.
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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.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0374521727, Paperback)

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 way or another, things are falling apart, "the center cannot hold." An incisive look at contemporary American life, Slouching Towards Bethlehem has been admired for several decades as a stylistic masterpiece.

Contents:

I. LIFE STYLES IN THE GOLDEN LAND
Some Dreamers of the Golden Dream
John Wayne: A Love Song
Where the Kissing Never Stops
Comrade Laski, C.P.U.S.A. (M.-L.)
7000 Romaine, Los Angeles 38
California Dreaming
Marrying Absurd
Slouching Towards Bethlehem

II. PERSONALS
On Keeping a Notebook
On Self-Respect
I Can't Get That Monster out of My Mind
On Morality
On Going Home

III. SEVEN PLACES OF THE MIND
Notes from a Native Daughter
Letter from Paradise, 21° 19' N., 157° 52' W
Rock of Ages
The Seacoast of Despair
Guaymas, Sonora
Los Angeles Notebook
Goodbye to All That

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:59:41 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

American novelist Joan Didion's first volume of nonfiction essays, first published in 1968, consisting of twenty works that reflect the atmosphere in America during the 1960s, especially in California.

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