I finished Joan Didon’s Slouching Towards Bethlehem and I LOVE HER STILL. Or more, depending on how you look at it.
The preface begins with Didion’s explanation of the title: “This book is called Slouching Towards Bethlehem because for several years now certain lines from the Yeats poem…have reverberated in my inner ear as if they were surgically implanted there.”
I love the way she ties everything in, what she sees, smells, reads, talks about.
One of my favorite essays was the last, “Goodbye to All That.” Didion writes about her time in New York in the sixties, how little things like the smell of Henri Bendel jasmine soap or the perfume she wore transport her back to that place.
She talks about the changes New York wrought on her in a short time, how she wondered what happened to that old self:
I know now that almost everyone wonders something like that, sooner or later and no matter what he or she is doing, but one of the mixed blessings of being twenty and twenty-one and even twenty-three is the conviction that nothing like this, all evidence to the contrary notwithstanding, has ever happened to anyone before.
When I read this, I thought, No, I’m not like that. I mean, other people are, sure, but I know there’s nothing new. I know we are all the same.
And then I look at how I actually operate, and it seems like Didion knows me without having met me. I wish I were so levelheaded, so logical and able to weigh evidences, but it seems that the feeling of uniqueness is built into us.
Ha, what a contradiction.
I think Didion’s strength (or one of her strengths) lies in her ability to be honest but not whiney. Honest but without begging for pity. She is removed enough from her subject – her self – that she can bring the reader in with nods of agreement, of recognition. I felt this even with the memoirs of her darkest times, Blue Nights and The Year of Magical Thinking.
I like her because she gives a voice to so much of what I feel.