Slouching Toward Bethlehem
by Joan Didion
1968 / 256 pages
audio / Diane Keaton / 6h 53m
rating – 7 (?)
I’ve wanted to read this since probably 1968 (when I heard of it) but the book and I were never in the same place at the same time – that’s all I can think. I really wish I had read it at some point in the 1970s, I may have read parts – the first section was very familiar.
The title is from the Wm Butler Yeats poem “The Second Coming,” (1919)
Reading (listening) to this book at the tail end of 2012 must be a different experience altogether from what a reader got in 1968. The book is basically about California – the California and other parts of the far western US (Arizona, Nevada, Hawaii) of the very late 1960s and a bit of what led up to that. Didion lived here for a long time – I’ve lived here for a long time. California has changed – well – like – what else is new? It’s been changing since the Gold Rush.
I barely recognize what Didion is talking about now – I was in Haight in 1967, I wasn’t raped or drugged up against my will (although I did enjoy myself). I must not have got into it as deep as Didion did – I don’t remember seeing any 5-year olds. And I’ve lived in the Southern San Joaquin Valley for about 40 plus years – some parts of what Didion wrote about linger – others are gone now.
I was in Hawaii a couple times in the 1990s and the war was pretty much confined to the Pearl Harbor area and not many people go there now. The Arizona is NOT in commission although it does fly the flag.
One particularly irritating aspect of listening to the book is that apparently Diane Keaton has never been to the San Joaquin Valley – She mispronounced Tulare, Merced, Delano, Tule (fog) – even San Bernardino (San Berndino?) That probably wouldn’t bother a non-Valley person but it would likely bother Didion.
I’m not big on Didion’s prose – I always feel like she’s putting the sound and feel of the words above conscientious reporting. But these are essays – opinion and memoir pieces – so I guess it’s okay – It was called the “New Journalism” at the time.
Didion quote in The Paris Review:
“It’s hostile in that you’re trying to make somebody see something the way you see it, trying to impose your idea, your picture. It’s hostile to try to wrench around someone else’s mind that way. Quite often you want to tell somebody your dream, your nightmare. Well, nobody wants to hear about someone else’s dream, good or bad; nobody wants to walk around with it. The writer is always tricking the reader into listening to the dream.”
“I’m going to go ahead and read “Where I Was From ” as it’s already on my TBR shelf. I’ve read “The White Album” (1979), The Year of Magical Thinking (2006), and the fiction “A Book of Common Prayer.” ‘ Imo, The Year of Magical Thinking was her best so far – that one felt authentic.
Original NY Times review
Maybe the problem I have is that I live the reality AFTER the center did not hold.