Slouching Towards Bethlehem

Joan Didion

Sometime in the spring, I was looking for used copies of Didion’s books and instead impulsively bought the Everyman’s Library volume of her collected nonfiction, We Tell Ourselves Stories in Order to Live. It’s taken only brief journeys off the shelf since it’s so darn unwieldy, and I tend to grab something else for on-the-go reading, get caught up in that, put this one back on the shelf, etc.

I had only a passing awareness of Didion before The Year of Magical Thinking. As this is a collection of works written for different publications, it’s less of the “Book” Magical Thinking is. Yet the pieces sit together really well, or they are all interesting in their own right that any inconsistencies in atmosphere hardly matter. While everything in this book was written in the 1960s, it still feels so fresh to me—almost like if I went to Haight-Ashbury today I’d still find it inhabited by hippies getting busted for possession of LSD. I can’t quite figure out what makes Didion’s writing to engaging exactly, though I especially loved the last section of writings about places. She is incredibly evocative about specific locales. It’s perhaps the one part of the book where the datedness feels more what it is, but since her perspective there tends to be more nostalgic, it hardly matters.