Slouching Towards Bethlehem Review

Title: Slouching Towards Bethlehem
Author: Joan Didion
Genre: Essays

Blurb: 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.

Me: I almost didn't write this review, because it's been a while since I've been so ambivalent about a book. It was well-written, but it left me empty and didn't add any astonishing insight.

The Ups: If one thing's for sure, it's that Joan Didion is a magician with words. She knows prose like no other. And that was really what I was focused on while reading this: the wicked prose. So many lines are just phrased so sharp you could prick fingers in them. She must have been an editor's dream- nothing is clunky or odd. 

With her beautiful words, there are definitely many quotable moments in the essays. For instance: "The ability to think for one's self depends upon one's mastery of the language." There are well-put insights on self-respect, on writing, on the condition of people in her time. The essays are definitely unapologetic in their wide scope of topics and honesty, and I appreciated that.

Just a personal favorite, but the essay that stuck with me the most was the last one: "Goodbye to All That." Mostly focusing on Didion's feelings about New York, I loved how she described her love for it. She said that often to people from the East, "New York is just a city, albeit the city..." but for those from the West and South, "New York was no mere city. It was instead an infinitely romantic notion...the shining and perishable dream itself." She later explains why she eventually left NYC, but being younger than Didion when she wrote this book, I still feel all of that magic about the city. For me, it is still that place of dreams. 

The Downs: The beautiful language aside, I felt that the individuals and stories showcased were hollow and unresolved. I understand the appeal of snapshots of time and people, and I definitely thought I'd enjoy those little slivers of life. But in the end, I was left without much meaning from every essay and no individual was remarkable enough to last with me. 

Even in her titular essay, "Slouching Towards Bethlehem," which is famous as an encapsulation of life in San Francisco and the counterculture, I felt that other depictions of that lifestyle and that time, from Kerouac to Ginsberg were more intriguing and vibrant.

Maybe it's because Didion seems to speak to a certain truth. There is something undeniably jaded and sorrowful about the stories she has chosen to tell. I have personally loved the vivacity and passion of the Beat generation and compared to that, the truth seems drab. 

I hope to revisit this soon, and maybe will get more out of it then. For now, I'll just admire the stunning words. 

Rating: 3 kisses!

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