I now understand why Joan Didion was a respected writer before The Year of Magical Thinking.
In her journalism, she spells out the facts and adds subtle commentary only in subtext. She points out patterns, oddities, or things to watch for in her subtextual commentary, but just when you think she’s going to make a bold statement, she withholds. This creates a style that is both seductive and exploratory.
Her choice of subjects and her handling of them creates a portrait of mid-sixties California that I would call “realism” if she were painting. It is a rejection of romanticism.
The title essay “Slouching Towards Bethlehem” has done more to explain San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury hippies to me better than any other article or documentary I’ve seen (not that I’ve seen much).
She wrote these essays in the sixties, but some in the “Personal” section are surprisingly relevant to today’s reader. I’m thinking of “Self-Respect” and “I Can’t Get that Monster out of My Mind.” Her essay “On Keeping a Notebook” would probably be helpful to anyone at any time.
“Goodbye to All That” in her “Seven Places of the Mind” section is relatable and beautifully written. It well captures the malaise of reaching the end of young-adulthood after having spent that young adulthood being out in a challenging world, optimistic and ambitious, finding every new thing fantastic until every new thing becomes an old thing.