SLOUCHING TOWARDS BETHLEHEM by Joan Didion

 

SLOUCHING TOWARDS BETHLEHEM is the third Joan Didion book I’ve read in as many years. Her relatable voice holds its own unique place in journalism. I am awed at her use of language and her ability to beautifully sculpt a story out of seemingly ordinary beginnings.

The title, taken from a Yeats poem, represents a collection of essays written by Didion during the 1960’s. The essays are mostly about California (adding a personal benefit for me as a new Californian.) She talks about things like having dinner with John Wayne, growing up in the Sacramento Valley, and specifically about her journalism (…we would now say she was ‘embedded’…) during the Haight- Ashbury days in San Francisco. Among the many stoned-out hippies she encounters during her San Francisco travels she meets Susan, a five-year-old on acid. Susan tells Didion she’s in High Kindergarten. She lives with her mother and some other people, just got over the measles, wants a bike for Christmas, and particularly likes Coca-Cola, ice cream, and the beach. For a year now her mother has given her both acid and peyote.⠀

The chapter I connected with the most was: On Keeping a Notebook. She describes the odd and random things she writes in her notebooks. Things that wouldn’t necessarily make sense to anyone but her. Quotes that aren’t necessarily about the words, but the feeling evoked when she heard them.⠀

“The impulse to write things down is a peculiarly compulsive one, inexplicable to those who do not share it… Keepers of private notebooks are a different breed altogether, lonely and resistant rearrangers of things. I sometimes delude myself about why I keep a notebook, imagine that some thrifty virtue derives from preserving everything observed.”⠀

Oh how I understand this sentiment. My children will someday find my notebooks of phrases and desultory thoughts and may very well give up looking through them and simply toss them away. My hope is that they don’t throw them away in youth, pre-50’s let’s say. They’ll find more use for them as they age. So much of what didn’t make sense before will eventually begin to weave together their history. Their shared story.⠀

SLOUCHING has been sitting on my shelf for over a year. I am so grateful to have read it for #theunreadshelfproject2020. Grateful that the words have now soaked into my marrow, the way all Didion writings do. This also checks off the #mmdchallenge to read something from the decade you were born (I’ll save you from looking it up: it’s the 60s. -ha!)

The book ended up heavily underlined by the time I was finished; ideas and phrases I want to be able to look back and remember. I’m so sorry I haven’t read this collection sooner. I thoroughly enjoyed it…proving that you don’t have to read the ‘latest’ books. This 1968 publication was just as relevant today. (Hoping this 1965’er can be as well!)

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