Slouching Towards Bethlehem by Joan Didion
Joan Didion — where do I even start? To say I feel entirely unqualified is an understatement as when it comes to writing, Joan’s talent is quite simply, unsurpassable. I came to this book having read The Year of Magical Thinking many moons ago. As is the tendency of the most powerful books, it never really left me though I wasn’t inclined to pick up her other works as, being honest, essay collections have never really peaked my interest. But, herein lies the blessing of starting a bookstagram account — it has pushed me outside my comfort zone and I decided it was finally time to give Slouching Towards Bethlehem a go.
This book is both a magnificent and precise portrayal of life in 1960s America — predominantly California — and an intimate exploration of Didion’s own understanding of the world. Her depiction of murderous housewife, Lucille Miller, had me utterly gripped; her telling of the drifting adolescents who found themselves in California and ultimately ending up in San Francisco ‘where the missing children were gathering and calling themselves ‘’hippies’’’ is meticulously crafted. The Personals section, where she offers her insights into a myriad of topics — keeping notebooks, self-respect, morality — is spectacular. And this is all because Didion’s ability as both an observer and as a writer is just so sharp. Her precision, the structure of her prose and her eye for each and every detail coupled with her understanding of it, is a masterclass in itself. To conclude with one of her own conclusions;
‘Because when we start deceiving ourselves into thinking not that we want something or need something, not that it is a pragmatic necessity for us to have it, but that it is a moral imperative that we have it, then is when we join the fashionable madmen, and then is when the thin whine of hysteria is heard in the land, and then is where are in bad trouble. And I suspect we are already there.’
Written in 1965, I genuinely don’t think it could be more relevant today.