I decided to read some of the late Joan Didion’s factual writing after watching an excellent documentary about her on Netflix.
Slouching Towards Bethlehem was her earliest collection, comprising a series of articles she wrote for various magazines and newspapers in the 1960s. I’m not entirely sure at what point journalism pieces become essays (or vice versa), but I saw these as very much on the journalism side of the tenuous divide. However you classify it, this collection is particularly good on Sixties culture and counter-culture.
Pieces that particularly stuck in my mind covered:
- sixties counter-culture in the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco (the collection’s title piece);
- a counter-cultural school for the study of non-violence set up by the folk singer Joan Baez;
- spending time with John Wayne during the filming of The Sons of Katie Elder;
- keeping a notebook.
The writing is stylish, precise, ruthless and unsentimental, with a heavy emphasis on Didion’s native California. In the introduction she writes:
My only advantage as a reporter is that I am so physically small, so temperamentally unobtrusive, and so neurotically inarticulate that people tend to forget that my presence runs counter to their best interests. And it always does.
So, definitely journalism, them.
An excellent read.