Reading “Slouching Towards Bethlehem”

The title must mean something. Something biblical? I have no idea. I didn’t know how it ends up in my audible library, when I bought it, why I bought it. I guess it was on sale during one of the previous holiday seasons and I bought several in one shot. The incomprehensible title, the discount, the holiday cheer–such criteria for selecting a book I don’t even know I possess. Checking the Wikipedia page, I find Joan Didion a journalist. She must be a beautiful and successful and well connected writer, all the things that I am not. It’s a wonder that one can read and enjoy the work of writers who one doesn’t really resemble, agree with, share traits with, or even talk with if given the chance. For example, George Orwell. I love his essays and novels, except 1984, but I can just imagine how surly and depressing he can be if I could have met him. The same sentiment can be applied to Mencken, Waugh, Maugham, Ephron, Wharton, Yeats, Byron. Probably E.B. White is an exception to the rule, but he’s so private a person that he never wants to meet anybody unless absolutely necessary. This is why I really don’t understand why so many people want to meet the writers, who write something they like to read. I can understand the desire to meet movie stars, politicians, sports personalities, since visual performance has always been an important part of their charm and meeting in person will enhance that charm. Writing and reading belong to something completely different–all about imagination. Even the non-fiction writing has a lot to do with imagination when one considers all the interpretations, projections, guesses involved. Meeting the author may very well damage that imagination, contrary to the original intention of the meeting.

Now back to the book, which contains journalistic pieces on various news and events in California in 1960 or 70s, all very exotic to me since I have no notion what it is like in those days in the sunny California. The death of a dentist and his dysfunctional family and the sensational murder trial of his wife. My mind tries to make sense of it and I wonder if this is a prelude to the cases like Menendez brothers and O.J. Simpson. John Wayne’s charm. I have no idea of John Wayne, but I can imagine he’s like Brad Pitt, Chow Yun-fat, Tomokazu Miura. The unpredictable current of a big river in or around Sacramento–well, I can’t imagine California has big rivers since it seems to me a dry state where water is scarce, rain is scarcer, lawns are not scarce but rather plastic in recent years. Probably it has gone through the drastic change the author talked about. What I like most is the piece about Hawaii towards the end, in which Hawaiian, Japanese, Chinese, Oriental are all mentioned as if the four words can be used interchangeably. I wonder if it is a fashion at the time or the author did it deliberately to show the uncomfortable articulation of diversity in the era or the inevitable coexistence of the races in the place. Somehow I felt that the author tried to say something but her edges were rubbed off by her editors to make it more commonly acceptable at the time.

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