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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 11 September 2009
A number of journalistic pieces collected under Flamingo's Sixties Classics imprint, one can see how this book made an impact in America on publication. Joan Didion is a highly respected writer and though many of the name-checks and cultural appurtenances went over my head, I enjoyed this even though I felt I was looking through the wrong end of a telescope some of the time.

Her piece about the sixties in Haight Ashbury, when the flower-power `revolution' was happening, is suitably sceptical of the times and the culture of San Francisco's hippy scene. Drug-taking, child neglect and sexism, lay just under the counter of the synthetic sixties, yet there is a sense of the freedom, or an illusion of freedom, wafting in the air. She does not write much about the music, however, which remains a severe loss to the totality of the picture painted.

The hippy article and that of the title, are the most interesting pieces in the book, which consists elsewhere of a kind of travelogue of various places where Didion has lived. The title comes from the W B Yeats poem and sets up a dark frisson which is never quite lived up to in the content.

"A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, it's hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?"

Nb. Why is the same review repeated six times on this page?
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It has been years since I read any Joan Didion, but I remembered her as an acute, honest observer of the human condition, who wrote incisive prose. Now that the `60's rank with the ancient history of the Peloponnesian Wars for over half the American population, I decided to re-read one of her classic works, and was not disappointed; in fact, her essays aged well, and resonated with my own life experiences.

The essay that lends its name to the title of this collection is the longest, "Slouching towards Bethlehem," concerning Haight-Asbury in 1967, and a title taken from a W.B Yeats poem. It is a sad, honest portrait, and Didion highlights the inarticulateness of those who washed in, seeking a new utopia. None of the portraits show much empathy, and some are justifiable frightening, particularly how the young children were being raised. And she foreshadows the dark side of what would become of the "summer of love."

Overall, the collection of essays is divided into thirds, with the first part focusing on various aspects of California. I felt the strongest one is "Some Dreamers of the Golden Dream," which concerns a woman who fled a fundamentalist existence in Manitoba, marries, pursues the "dream," and eventually burns her husband to death. There are other telling vignettes on John Wayne, Howard Hughes and Joan Baez, along with a "Comrade Laski."

The second section of essays are personal reflections, such as the thoughts on maintaining a notebook, and the third section is entitled "Seven Places of the Mind," in reality her reflections on visits to her "real" home in Sacramento, and others on Hawaii, Alcatraz, Newport, R.I., Guaymas, Mexico, her new home of Los Angeles, and NYC. Literary references abound, from the title given to the Sacramento piece, "Notes from a Native Daughter," and she thought it suitable to borrow Robert Graves' reflections on WW I to mark thoughts of her youth in NYC, Good-bye to all that: An autobiography And proving that it all ties together somehow, I just purchased a book entitled "String Too Short to Keep," and in Didion's essay "On Keeping a Notebook," she says about a particular entry:"...about bits of the mind's string too short to use..."

The essays are replete with her observations on life, beautifully expressed: "As it happens I am still committed to the idea that the ability to think for oneself depends upon one's mastery of the language..." Concerning the "palaces" built by the obscenely rich of another gilded era, she says" "that the production ethic led step by step to unhappiness, to restrictiveness, to entrapment in the mechanics of living." In another essay, the one on the "hippies," she is assured that, at 32, there are "old" hippies too. And of her youth in NYC, after a long lunch with Bloody Marys and gazpacho,: "I was not then guilt-ridden about spending afternoons that way, because I still had all the afternoons in the world."

A wonderful, 5-star read, for one of those delightful, remaining afternoons. Thanks for the re-issue to FSG Classics.

(Note: Review first published at Amazon, USA, on September 30, 2009)
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on 29 January 2003
Slouching Towards Bethlehem is "what was going on in California in 1968" and reads as a complete mix bag of tricks. There's a description of a murder trial, a wild goose chase through hippy and drug culture, a trip to Hawaii and a middle section "personals" which is about Didion's life. As a collection of articles rather than a story there are no characters to emphasise with- interest is purely concentrated on the subject Didion is discussing at the time. This makes it quite difficult to connect with the text despite the attempts of the author to include herself in the writings.
Another problem in reading this book is its place in time- it was written in 1968 for 1968- many of the people, ideas and places no longer have the importance they once did so the book reads like a piece of historic spectatorship. In understanding the late 1960's this is fine- but as someone who did not live through this time many references are lost on me, as I'm sure they would be on most people under 40.
Possibly the most engaging and dynamic piece in the book is its namesake Slouching Through Bethlehem which focuses on interviewing young, drugged up hippies and Didion's attempts to find them. What emerges most out of this chapter is the character of these people- they predominantly seem innocent and friendly if naive and disillusioned. There's an openness that exists among them even though some are heavy heroin users and as such have to break the law and live in squalor as a daily routine. This is where the book stands up and demands to be noticed. Didion seems to sympathise with these drop outs even though in her introduction she writes explicitly- "writers are always selling people out"- in this case she is defiantly not selling the people she has met out.
Didion suffered a stroke before writing Slouching Towards Bethlehem and subsisted off a daily intake of gin and painkillers to keep going. Her unfortunate circumstances it seems may have made her emphasise more with the hippies she met- they are the few human characters that can be perceived from her writings. In comparison the friends she sometimes mentioned are fleshless and two dimensional- it is clear what an impact the interviews she did made on her.
Slouching Through Bethlehem is a flawed work- there is a lack of cohesion between most of the essays in it. The few in which she shines- the fore mentioned being one and to name another: Rock of Ages a look at the empty Alcatraz prison are between unengaging pieces. An expansion of the good and editing down of the bad would have made the book far easier to read and filled in the gaps that infuriatingly feel empty in the treatment of hippy youth. This is a worth reading but somewhat lopsided work.
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on 12 April 2014
As usual, Joan Didion writes so well. This book is a collection of essays about California in the 60s. In particular, "Slouching Towards Bethlehem" is a must-read.
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on 15 February 2015
Somewhat (surprisingly) boring. Frustrated that I wasted my money, only one of the essays was engaging. I just didn't relate to or care about the others.
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on 6 January 2015
better books have been written on 60s americana-the art of motorcycle maintenance to name one-not altogether bad.
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on 29 January 2003
Slouching Towards Bethlehem is "what was going on in California in 1968" and reads as a complete mix bag of tricks. There's a description of a murder trial, a wild goose chase through hippy and drug culture, a trip to Hawaii and a middle section "personals" which is about Didion's life. As a collection of articles rather than a story there are no characters to emphasise with- interest is purely concentrated on the subject Didion is discussing at the time. This makes it quite difficult to connect with the text despite the attempts of the author to include herself in the writings.
Another problem in reading this book is its place in time- it was written in 1968 for 1968- many of the people, ideas and places no longer have the importance they once did so the book reads like a piece of historic spectatorship. In understanding the late 1960's this is fine- but as someone who did not live through this time many references are lost on me, as I'm sure they would be on most people under 40.
Possibly the most engaging and dynamic piece in the book is its namesake Slouching Through Bethlehem which focuses on interviewing young, drugged up hippies and Didion's attempts to find them. What emerges most out of this chapter is the character of these people- they predominantly seem innocent and friendly if naive and disillusioned. There's an openness that exists among them even though some are heavy heroin users and as such have to break the law and live in squalor as a daily routine. This is where the book stands up and demands to be noticed. Didion seems to sympathise with these drop outs even though in her introduction she writes explicitly- "writers are always selling people out"- in this case she is defiantly not selling the people she has met out.
Didion suffered a stroke before writing Slouching Towards Bethlehem and subsisted off a daily intake of gin and painkillers to keep going. Her unfortunate circumstances it seems may have made her emphasise more with the hippies she met- they are the few human characters that can be perceived from her writings. In comparison the friends she sometimes mentioned are fleshless and two dimensional- it is clear what an impact the interviews she did made on her.
Slouching Through Bethlehem is a flawed work- there is a lack of cohesion between most of the essays in it. The few in which she shines- the fore mentioned being one and to name another: Rock of Ages a look at the empty Alcatraz prison are between unengaging pieces. An expansion of the good and editing down of the bad would have made the book far easier to read and filled in the gaps that infuriatingly feel empty in the treatment of hippy youth. This is a worth reading but somewhat lopsided work.
0Comment|2 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on 29 January 2003
Slouching Towards Bethlehem is "what was going on in California in 1968" and reads as a complete mix bag of tricks. There's a description of a murder trial, a wild goose chase through hippy and drug culture, a trip to Hawaii and a middle section "personals" which is about Didion's life. As a collection of articles rather than a story there are no characters to emphasise with- interest is purely concentrated on the subject Didion is discussing at the time. This makes it quite difficult to connect with the text despite the attempts of the author to include herself in the writings.
Another problem in reading this book is its place in time- it was written in 1968 for 1968- many of the people, ideas and places no longer have the importance they once did so the book reads like a piece of historic spectatorship. In understanding the late 1960's this is fine- but as someone who did not live through this time many references are lost on me, as I'm sure they would be on most people under 40.
Possibly the most engaging and dynamic piece in the book is its namesake Slouching Through Bethlehem which focuses on interviewing young, drugged up hippies and Didion's attempts to find them. What emerges most out of this chapter is the character of these people- they predominantly seem innocent and friendly if naive and disillusioned. There's an openness that exists among them even though some are heavy heroin users and as such have to break the law and live in squalor as a daily routine. This is where the book stands up and demands to be noticed. Didion seems to sympathise with these drop outs even though in her introduction she writes explicitly- "writers are always selling people out"- in this case she is defiantly not selling the people she has met out.
Didion suffered a stroke before writing Slouching Towards Bethlehem and subsisted off a daily intake of gin and painkillers to keep going. Her unfortunate circumstances it seems may have made her emphasise more with the hippies she met- they are the few human characters that can be perceived from her writings. In comparison the friends she sometimes mentioned are fleshless and two dimensional- it is clear what an impact the interviews she did made on her.
Slouching Through Bethlehem is a flawed work- there is a lack of cohesion between most of the essays in it. The few in which she shines- the fore mentioned being one and to name another: Rock of Ages a look at the empty Alcatraz prison are between unengaging pieces. An expansion of the good and editing down of the bad would have made the book far easier to read and filled in the gaps that infuriatingly feel empty in the treatment of hippy youth. This is a worth reading but somewhat lopsided work.
0Comment|Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on 29 January 2003
Slouching Towards Bethlehem is "what was going on in California in 1968" and reads as a complete mix bag of tricks. There's a description of a murder trial, a wild goose chase through hippy and drug culture, a trip to Hawaii and a middle section "personals" which is about Didion's life. As a collection of articles rather than a story there are no characters to emphasise with- interest is purely concentrated on the subject Didion is discussing at the time. This makes it quite difficult to connect with the text despite the attempts of the author to include herself in the writings.
Another problem in reading this book is its place in time- it was written in 1968 for 1968- many of the people, ideas and places no longer have the importance they once did so the book reads like a piece of historic spectatorship. In understanding the late 1960's this is fine- but as someone who did not live through this time many references are lost on me, as I'm sure they would be on most people under 40.
Possibly the most engaging and dynamic piece in the book is its namesake Slouching Through Bethlehem which focuses on interviewing young, drugged up hippies and Didion's attempts to find them. What emerges most out of this chapter is the character of these people- they predominantly seem innocent and friendly if naive and disillusioned. There's an openness that exists among them even though some are heavy heroin users and as such have to break the law and live in squalor as a daily routine. This is where the book stands up and demands to be noticed. Didion seems to sympathise with these drop outs even though in her introduction she writes explicitly- "writers are always selling people out"- in this case she is defiantly not selling the people she has met out.
Didion suffered a stroke before writing Slouching Towards Bethlehem and subsisted off a daily intake of gin and painkillers to keep going. Her unfortunate circumstances it seems may have made her emphasise more with the hippies she met- they are the few human characters that can be perceived from her writings. In comparison the friends she sometimes mentioned are fleshless and two dimensional- it is clear what an impact the interviews she did made on her.
Slouching Through Bethlehem is a flawed work- there is a lack of cohesion between most of the essays in it. The few in which she shines- the fore mentioned being one and to name another: Rock of Ages a look at the empty Alcatraz prison are between unengaging pieces. An expansion of the good and editing down of the bad would have made the book far easier to read and filled in the gaps that infuriatingly feel empty in the treatment of hippy youth. This is a worth reading but somewhat lopsided work.
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on 25 September 2014
very good
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