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Slouching Towards Bethlehem: Essays (1968)
de Joan Didion
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I am honestly shocked by the rhapsodizing I've heard concerning her over the years. But I guess I shouldn't be. This smug sophisticate is precisely placed to give the establishment what it wants. It's very sly the way Didion guilelessly slouches through each scene, pulling out rugs, trying to spotlight ironies. She's the high-society poet of ennui, the vanquisher of unstylish rebels.
Viewed through the lens of her privileged bubble, challengers of the establishment, those rabble-rousing political types, are simple grotesques, naive child harbingers of chaos. This is because the ravages of inequality, injustice, state violence are faraway abstractions for her, unpleasantries to ruin a cocktail party (where she might show up just to look waifish, hide and judge people). Her heroes are figureheads of the capitalist fantasy machine like swaggering John "The Duke" Wayne and mega-rich playboy Hughes.
I finally had to stop after her nauseating ode to those 'self-loving' pioneers of the American frontier. You know the ones who swarmed the continent like locusts so we can have shopping malls instead of forests. Genocide can be wholesome fun as long as the victims are brown. Whoop-dee-doo for self-love. Her only previous mention of anyone of color is her painfully awkward and derisive depiction of a few faceless "negroes" in a crowd.
Does Didion deliver an insight or clever bon mot here or there? Hell, she spends every moment of her (stilted/shoe-gazing/chain-smoking/coke-swilling) life racing to jot down her every thought. She's bound to kick over a shiny pebble or two. But always she holds herself at a safe distance from life, never fathoming it in its essence.
New England is infinitely better than California, always has been always will be
The first essays are great, but the last ones only so-so.
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.
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The "dazzling" and essential portrayal of 1960s America from the author of South and West and The Year of Magical Thinking (The New York Times). Capturing the tumultuous landscape of the United States, and in particular California, during a pivotal era of social change, the first work of nonfiction from one of American literature's most distinctive prose stylists is a modern classic. In twenty razor-sharp essays that redefined the art of journalism, National Book Award-winning author Joan Didion reports on a society gripped by a deep generational divide, from the "misplaced children" dropping acid in San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury district to Hollywood legend John Wayne filming his first picture after a bout with cancer. She paints indelible portraits of reclusive billionaire Howard Hughes and folk singer Joan Baez, "a personality before she was entirely a person," and takes readers on eye-opening journeys to Death Valley, Hawaii, and Las Vegas, "the most extreme and allegorical of American settlements." First published in 1968, Slouching Towards Bethlehem has been heralded by the New York Times Book Review as "a rare display of some of the best prose written today in this country" and named to Time magazine's list of the one hundred best and most influential nonfiction books. It is the definitive account of a terrifying and transformative decade in American history whose discordant reverberations continue to sound a half-century later.
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Classificació Decimal de Dewey (DDC)814.54 — Literature English (North America) American essays 20th Century 1945-1999
LCC (Clas. Bibl. Congrés EUA)
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I guess this is what journalists do, but a good journalist isn’t a Montaigne just because she’s considerably better than the low average. Yes, it’s rather interesting that she was in but not of the 60s generation, and that her critique could be labeled “conservative” while no one adopting that label would ever adopt her. Moderately interesting, like her writing and her insights. Nothing more.