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Slouching Towards Bethlehem: Essays (1968)

by Joan Didion

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
3,547712,871 (4.11)123
2013 Audie Award Nominee, Short Stories/Collections Universally acclaimed from the time it was first published in 1968, Slouching Towards Bethlehem has been admired for decades as a stylistic masterpiece. Academy Award-winning actress Diane Keaton (Annie Hall, The Family Stone) performs these classic essays, including the title piece, which will transport the listener back to a unique time and place: the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco during the neighborhood's heyday as a countercultural center. This is Joan Didion's first work of nonfiction, offering an incisive look at the mood of 1960s America and providing an essential portrait of the Californian counterculture. She explores the influences of John Wayne and Howard Hughes, and offers ruminations on the nature of good and evil in a Death Valley motel room. Taking its title from W. B. Yeats' poem "The Second Coming," the essays in Slouching Towards Bethlehem all reflect, in one way or another, that "the center cannot hold." Slouching Towards Bethlehem is part of Audible's A-List Collection, featuring the world's most celebrated actors narrating distinguished works of literature that each star had a hand in selecting.… (more)
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I've awarded five stars to Joan Didion's remarkable Slouching Towards Bethlehem: Essays, a very rare rating from me for any work of nonfiction. I probably can't add anything to the acreage of praise her work has garnered through the years, latecomer that I am to this author's work. So instead I'll try to say how it makes me feel.

One thing I love about good writing in any genre is that I feel as though I were trying on somebody else's head. The view from Didion's head has crisp, bright edges and an underside of unsparing vulnerability. She has a way of turning--turning not magically but gyroscopically--keen observation into still meditation. I feel that I'm experiencing a crystalline vision of whatever she sees, in all its rounded and jagged reality, and also the echo of pain in the tender being of the observer.

And yet she never fully exposes her mind and its secrets. Instead she steers us toward our own, bringing clarity as well as deeper questions.

In this volume, images of the 1960s in San Francisco, New York, Los Angeles and elsewhere are served with a quality of moving air that makes me feel that I am breathing in these scenes as the author experiences them. In the title essay in particular, the poignancy of her depiction of the Haight in the summer of 1967 is almost too vivid for my sensory imagination. I wasn't there. I was in Boston that summer, Boston's own summer of love. A summer that bridged the nation.

I've already read and drunk in The Year of Magical Thinking, which helped me greatly in my first months of widowhood. I'll be seeking out the rest of her work. ( )
1 vote Meredy | Apr 30, 2022 |
This is a collection of Joan Didions writing first collected in 1968. There are pieces written about celebrities, about herself, about America and the fantastic eponymous essay about the San Fransciso counter culture. There's a good range of stuff in here, and although some of the topics are a little dated the writing still feels fresh and precise. ( )
  AlisonSakai | Apr 29, 2022 |
After a viewing of Griffin Dunne's 2017 documentary, The Center will not Hold, I finally picked up Didion's debut work. As a cultural history of a singularly tumultuous time, the book is invaluable. But its real value is in the light it shines on the quickening of a great woman of letters, of a voice that would always be of its time yet still manage to detail the deep and lasting effects of mundane horror. Whether commenting on the ethics of self-respect or morality, or documenting the hippie culture in San Francisco's Haight Ashbury, Didion pulls the veil back in ways most authors would shudder at, exposing herself, and us, in every line. it's an evocative, and self-exorcising, read, and evidence of a truly unique intellect.

Highly recommended.
5 bones!!!! ( )
2 vote blackdogbooks | Mar 6, 2022 |
(review soon--Wow.) ( )
  jstruzzi | Jan 14, 2022 |
(review soon--Wow.) ( )
  jstruzzi | Jan 14, 2022 |
Showing 1-5 of 71 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (3 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Joan Didionprimary authorall editionscalculated
Keaton, DianeNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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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.
Quotations
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.
It is often said that New York City is a city for only the very rich and the very poor. It is less often said that New York is also, at least for those of us who came there from somewhere else, a city for only the very young.
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2013 Audie Award Nominee, Short Stories/Collections Universally acclaimed from the time it was first published in 1968, Slouching Towards Bethlehem has been admired for decades as a stylistic masterpiece. Academy Award-winning actress Diane Keaton (Annie Hall, The Family Stone) performs these classic essays, including the title piece, which will transport the listener back to a unique time and place: the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco during the neighborhood's heyday as a countercultural center. This is Joan Didion's first work of nonfiction, offering an incisive look at the mood of 1960s America and providing an essential portrait of the Californian counterculture. She explores the influences of John Wayne and Howard Hughes, and offers ruminations on the nature of good and evil in a Death Valley motel room. Taking its title from W. B. Yeats' poem "The Second Coming," the essays in Slouching Towards Bethlehem all reflect, in one way or another, that "the center cannot hold." Slouching Towards Bethlehem is part of Audible's A-List Collection, featuring the world's most celebrated actors narrating distinguished works of literature that each star had a hand in selecting.

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