Review: “Slouching Towards Bethlehem” by Joan Didion

Thumbs up for Slouching Towards Bethlehem by Joan Didion. Nonfiction.

My only excuse for not already having read Didion is that I don’t read many books of essays; and furthermore these essays are mostly about things I do not care about. That doesn’t matter. Her writing is so good it’s like the taste of water when you’re thirsty. Not many people can see truthfully or write beautifully; Didion does both. She is knock-you-down great.

From On Self-Respect:
To protest that some fairly improbable people, some people who could not possibly respect themselves, seem to sleep easily enough is to miss the point entirely, as surely as those people miss it who think that self-respect has necessarily to do with not having safety pins in one’s underwear. There is a common superstition that “self-respect” is a kind of charm against snakes, something that keeps those who have it locked in some unblighted Eden, out of strange beds, ambivalent conversations, and trouble in general. It does not at all. It has nothing to do with the face of things, but concerns instead a separate peace, a private reconciliation. Although the careless, suicidal Julian English in Appointment in Samarra and the careless, incurably dishonest Jordan Baker in The Great Gatsby seem equally improbably candidates for self-respect, Jordan Baker had it, Julian English did not. With that genius for accommodation more often seen in women than in men, Jordan took her own measure, made her own peace, avoided threats to that peace: “I hate careless people,” she told Nick Carraway. “It takes two to make an accident.”

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