Reading through Slouching Towards Bethlehem was like taking a journey through beloved sections of my home state. At times searingly insightful and at others nostalgic, this novel was breathtaking. I want to begin reading it again to find insights and nuance that I missed the first time.
The novel is composed of many articles, some short some long, that Didion wrote for various magazines during the 1960s. While the topics are varied, they all revolve around one centralized point; the chipping away of the glass encasing we put around beloved objects and periods to reveal the heart of the matter, the emotional core. Didion’s writing evokes many emotions in the reader and, in turn, exposes her emotions about the topics she writes. She does not shy away from complex and intense emotion but embraces it. She looks deeply into the movements of her time to show not only a changing America but a changing populace. Those insights into the chancing populace are still pretty darn relevant too. She looks at the Summer of Love in Haight Ashbury in the 1960s from various angles, which for me was incredibly fascinating and a little disturbing. She definitely looked at the less popular viewpoint of the Summer of Love.
My favorite article, however, was one she wrote about her hometown of Sacramento and of the Central Valley. Being from the Central Valley myself, it was incredible to see her describe a Valley I was never able to experience. I am of the generation from the changed Valley. The Valley that has grown into something it can’t quite handle. Not just focused on agriculture anymore but not sure where else to go.
Didion writes with so much pathos and honesty it’s hard not to fall under her spell. You travel right along with her as she hops from the sunny California coast to the busy streets of New York. She cracks the shell of a city and a movement and gets at what’s underneath it all. What propels it forward or has stopped it in it’s tracks. She exposes the truth in a way that’s hard to deny even if it might be hard to accept. It’s easy to see why some have called her the master of prose. She writes with command, poise, and honesty making her instantly relatable. I think that her honesty is what allows her to see into the hearts of various people and look at them in a way that shows who they really are and not just what they are trying to present themselves as.
Stay tuned for the next book in Book Battle 2015. A hint, it’s inspired by a popular TV show.
Happy Reading all!