Slouching Towards Bethlehem is a collection of beautiful and poignant essays about growing up in California and the meaning of home.
This book was originally recommended to me as a “requirement for coming to age in California,” and I must say that I agree. Didion’s writing is smooth, and, albeit difficult to understand in places, it easily and beautifully covers a wide variety of topics- ranging from Didion’s childhood in Sacramento, to her visits in Hawaii and Alcatraz, to the hippie counterculture in San Francisco in the 1960s. She effortlessly captures the hazy, dreamlike quality of a childhood in California, in addition to the quiet desperation that accompanies living in tiny towns in the desert. What really struck me was how factual this book was- every character, no matter how briefly mentioned or how inconsequential to the essay overall, was a real person, as many brief Wikipedia searches proved.
Didion writes with a timeless quality and a quietly powerful observationalism, proving that life is indeed cyclical- that things change, but people never do. Her writing is uncomfortably personal, but she still somehow manages to capture the reality of the human experience as a whole- through small, ordinary events. The annual arrival of the Santa Ana winds merits a discussion about the kind of sparse unreliability that comes with living in Los Angeles- a visit to Hawaii sparks a discourse on the constant undergirding hum of ‘war,’ what with Vietnam and Cuba. This, I think, is what makes Didion’s writing so special- while calmly narrating her own life experiences to us, she forces us to turn inwards to ourselves and examine what we find within.
Slouching Towards Bethlehem by Joan Didion is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library.