Slouching Towards Bethlehem by Joan Didion
I picked this book up at a store in Mexico City. It was wrapped in plastic.
Slouching Towards Bethlehem by Joan Didion is a set of both professional and personal essays Didion wrote in the 60s. While I was not alive at the time, hers is a powerful voice, softly spooning scenes of this era in America into your mind, not violent, but not calming. She said she was a good journalist because she was so small and unimposing that people hardly noticed she was there. This is what her essay writing does. It is a phantom itch.
From suburban murder mysteries to the San Francisco drug and art scene, through to dreams of New York and coming home to your roots, Didion writes the times. She introduces American icons of the time like John Wayne, Howard Hughes and Joan Baez, and shares what she witnesses in the intellectual salons of the West, where men talk shop, science and politics as their wives follow little but "go out floating on air." She explores the tropes with we imagine and reimagine around Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Hawaii and New York, with the various dreamers they attract, for love, fame, escape or wealth, mixed with the realities of the scene as viewed by Didion - a fly on the wall.
In the end, it really doesn't matter the subject of Didion's writing. The magic of her work is that it wasn't necessarily a story you thought you'd want to know, nor is it told the way you'd tell it, but you will read it, and appreciate it, and find yourself thinking about it later on all the same. And, in the moments when Didion shares herself in her writing, you quickly get the sense that you know her, in her observances, in her melancholy, in her experience on the road and on the page. You keep her on your bookshelf because she feels familiar, and this journalistic talent is a skill that cannot be taught.