Friday, June 20, 2014
This Book Will Change Your Life - Slouching Towards Bethlehem by Joan Didion.
We are so travel and so read and there are so many books to riff on, but this week it all starts, and ends, with Slouching Towards Bethlehem by Joan Didion. What we think we know is that this is an essay collection about place, California specifically, but also our place in the world, where we're from, and where we land, how we make sense of our history and roots, and how this history drips into the present, twisting itself around a life. What we also think we know is that we are supposed to finally read this collection, here, now, as we go to California, and Los Angeles in particular, for the first time in so many years. It is a place from our youth, summers spent away from New York and back east, slouching on the beach in Santa Monica, watching Blade Runner and Stripes, chasing girls in bikinis, despite having no idea what we would do if we caught one, and reading so many books for the first time, Carrie and Catcher in the Rye. All things that impacted who we are today. All formative and nostalgic. It is a trip about memory, and an essay collection about the same. Early on Didion writes about Lucille Marie Maxwell Miller, a woman who may just have murdered her husband, "Of course she came from somewhere else, came off the prairie in search of something she had seen in a movie or heard on the radio, for this is a Southern California story." And this is our story too we realize. We are searching for something as well, a place that feel different, that moves us, and invites the sense that a new life is right there, waiting, if we can just find it. But despite the sand, tacos, donuts, books, and sun, all things we love as much as we love anything, this isn't our experience. We aren't moved. We are vacation and we are happy, but we do not find, or feel anything. It isn't the place we wanted. Now, this may be the children we have to chase around, or the fact that we don't make it to Venice Beach until our last day in town, but something is not happening. Later in writing about leaving New York, Didion writes, "It never occurred to me that I was living a real life there. In my imagination I was always there for just another few months," followed even later by "There were years when I called Los Angeles 'the coast,' but they seem a long time ago." And maybe that's what it really is, place is home, Chicago may be where we live, and California may represent an idea, nostalgia, and memory, but home is home, and we are so not there, and haven't been in so very long.