This is my first in depth experience with Didion’s writing (although likely not my last as I have Year of Magical Thinking already on this year’s to read list). Slouching Towards Bethlehem as a title caught my imagination years ago and has stayed with me (I was unaware it was a further literary illusion, missing the Yeats connection). This is Didion’s definitive portrait America, but most specifically California, in the 1960s.
I read plenty of books published outside of my own lifetime, but reading Slouching Towards Bethlehem felt unique to me, almost more akin to reading someone’s journal even though much of the book is Didion’s journalistic non-fiction writing, not memoir. Perhaps it was that I read it on vacation, displaced from my own day to day, perhaps it was the Supreme Court’s decision about Roe v. Wade that placed us more closely in line with 1965. But whatever it was, it made for a peculiar read.
Didion’s essay about acid-tripping counterculture of San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury where the book takes its title essay was perhaps my least favorite, I found it difficult to stay with. I had the opposite reaction to Goodbye to All That. I was sucked in by the way she crafted an introspective look at her time in New York City in her 20s. In between we get Didion’s precise, eloquent prose on subjects as varied as billionaire Howard Hughe, folk-singer Joan Baez, John Wayne, Alcatraz Island, of a Californian woman convicted of murdering her husband, and a Las Vegas wedding.
This book satisfies task 23 in this year’s Read Harder Challenge, read a book by a disabled author as Joan Didion had chronic migraines, Multiple Sclerosis (although it remained in remission), and Parkinson’s disease.