28 December 2010

The End of the Year Wrap-up that got out of hand...

    
My annual recap turned into a bit of a mind explosion.




I was going to wait until 2011 to do my year-end recap. But I am pretty certain I am not going to finish any more books in the next three days. Versions of this year end wrap-up have been floating around the book blogosphere of late. Here is my contribution.
 
How many books read in 2010?
A measly 68. Far fewer than the 110 I read in 2009. I put this down to working more, buying a house, and taking on both War and Peace (1,352 pp) and The Golden Notebook (640 pp). Oh and my misguided attempt to read all the Penguin English Journey series in April really undercut my reading mojo.

Fiction/Non-Fiction?
Ha! When I first saw this one I assumed the number of non-fiction books read this year would be a whopping great zero. But I actually read about 11 non-fiction books this year. Mostly memoir-ish type things. A history of Penguin Books, and of course some of the previously mentioned Penguin English Journey series.

Male/Female authors?
I assume this means the ratio of male to female authors as opposed to male to female transgendered authors. Not surprisingly for me, the ladies edged out the gentlemen. I read 30 books by males and 38 by females. Even more telling is that 8 of my Top 10 for 2010 were by female authors.

Favorite read?
See my Top 10 for 2010. I think if I had to pick just one that provided the most unqualified reading groove it would have to be Dorothy Whipple's collection of short stories, The Closed Door.

Least favorite read?
Keep in mind that I tend not to finish books I don't like. I use Nancy Pearl's Rule of 50. So if I don't like it by page 50 I don't keep reading. This is why so few clunkers end up on my books read list. As mentioned, I certainly struggled to enjoy the Penguin English Journey Series. I did enjoy many of them and bits and pieces of most of them. But taken as a whole (which was a mistake), it felt more like pain than pleasure. But if I had to choose just one book that I would be least likely to ever want to re-read, it would be Sophie's Choice.

Most read author?
Both Dorothy Whipple and Maggie O'Farrell provided four titles each. And both were new to me in 2010. Doris Lessing, Anita Brookner, and E.M. Delafield both provided two titles each.

Least read author?
Ha, ha, I just made this category up. Just imagine, I would have to list every author whose work I didn't read this year.

Author read this year I would most like to meet
I was going to take some time thinking about this, but then I realized I read an E.M. Forster book this year. Not only is his work spectacular, but I would love to chat with him about having to live a closeted life. Plus I would want to sit with him while he watched all the film adaptations of his books.

Favorite reading experience of the year (warm weather)
Reading and dozing by the pool of our private sala in Phuket.

Favorite reading experience of the year (cool weather)
Snuggling on the couch reading Little Boy Lost with Lucy laying across my chest.

Favorite Penelope read this year
Fitzgerald. Other years it could have been Lively, but this year in the Penelope face off, Miss Fitzgerald wins.

New books purchased in hardcover?
Only 3. Cunningham's By Nightfall, Ferris' The Unnamed, and Simonson's Major Pettigrew's Last Stand.

Best blogging related experience?
Meeting two great local bloggers for a fun book shopping get together, and meeting seven more great book bloggers in London.

Author crush?
Joshua Ferris

Biggest disappointment?
That my Barbara Pym fantasy is unlikely to come true.

Blog posts I am most likely to read?

1. Anything to do with a list. Even if I don't agree with the criteria or the subject, a post about lists will always get my attention.

2. Anything with pictures of books. I prefer the stacks of owned books. For some reason piles from the library fail to inspire me.

3. The more personal and newsy the better. I love hearing about your hobbies, your travel, your cooking and baking, your pets, and even your kids (unless it falls into the "children are our future" camp of over adulation).

Blog posts I am least likely to read?

1. Anything with vampires. I just don't dig the paranormal and I find this genre tedious.

2. Young adult fiction being read and reviewed endlessly by grown women. I am not dissing YA, and I am not dissing those who have a professional interest, those who review them for a YA audience, or those who review one or two of them in passing. But this year I was a judge for the YA category in a blog beauty pageant and it really soured me on the legions of twenty-something females who appear to be frightened of leaving their tween years behind them. One expects them to have Justin Bieber posters on their walls and fluffy pom-poms on the ends of their purple pens.

3. Reviews of audio books. I read and enjoy reviews of TV shows and films, but I just pass over audio book reviews.

4. The one million Booker Prize recaps. I used to pay attention to these, but there just seem to be too many of them these days.

5. Anything by bloggers who seem to be completely devoid of any sense of humor.

6. ARC reviews. I won't say that I never read them, but I prefer to see what bloggers read when they get to choose for themselves. (Full disclosure: I have reviewed one ARC. But I would have picked up the Maggie O'Farrell novel anyway.)

Biggest shortcomings as a book blogger?

1. My over the top, intolerant, un-nuanced pronouncements that make me feel temporarily smug (see the answers to the previous question).

2. My inability to recap plots in a way that isn't boring or overly reductive.

3. I am sure there are more...but I am too lazy to think of them.

4. I get lazy.

One thing I wish every blog included?
Geographic location of the blogger. I don't need to know the street you live on, but I really like knowing where a blogger lives. And unless you live in Gibraltar it would be nice if you could be a little more specific than just noting thecountry.

Things that puzzle me

1. British bloggers tend to get lots of influenza. What's up with that? I worry about you all.

2. Mailbox Mondays. Who is sending all of these books? Is there an international directory of mailing addresses that I don't have access to? I don't necessarily want to get books, but I sometimes want to send books. But I feel like sending books unsolicited would seem a little creepy. How does one ask for an address without seeming to be a stalker?

3. Feeds.

4. Mincemeat.

5. Why I am using up months' worth of blog post topics in one out of control stream of consciousness.

 

22 December 2010

Contrarian Book Reviews (with parenthetical jibber jabber)

    
In the vast, wide world of reading, there is room for infinite points of view. (What else could explain James Patterson?) And even within the much smaller world of book-bloggers whose reading tastes align with my own there is room for much diversity.

Sometimes we all sound like we are in an echo chamber, with heaps of praise bouncing around from blog to blog as if we all shared a brain. (I was going to reference the Borg, but I am not sure how many of you would catch the Star Trek reference. I am not a Star Trek geek, but I did have a boyfriend back in the 1990s who, rather enjoyably, inculcated me into the world of ST:TNG. For my part, I turned him into a fan of Upstairs, Downstairs.)

But then there are those times when a chill wind blows through the cozy world of cardigan novels. When the teapot is upset and biscuits fly across the room. When the garden party is rained out. When the ginger beer causes wind. When, well you get the idea, when book-bloggers think to themselves "maybe I don't know this person as well as I thought I did".

Well, today is one of those days. One of those days when, like an unruly, ungrateful teenager needlessly rebelling against hearth and home, I risk the warm, welcoming bosom of my bosom-buddy book-blogger friends. Of course I am not the first to risk provocation. There have been some thoughtful blog posts lately about respectful disagreement here and here. (And of course there was that brouhaha some time ago that had the Atlantic seething with raw emotion as the old country attempted to put a former colony in its place. I largely stayed out of that one, but from my point of view it was so poorly reasoned and with only weak anecdotal supporting data that it seems its only purpose was to incite blog traffic. Is that what I am doing now? I doubt it, my readership isn't as vast, I don't think that that blogger reads my blog :-(  and I don't Twitter so it is unlikely I will see much of an uptick in traffic. On the other hand, I do hope it incites lots of comments from regular readers and especially you lurkers who remain so quiet. After all, part of the narcissistic pleasure of blogging is having your own literary brilliance reflected back on you by your adoring fans. Although I shouldn't joke because I genuinely do like getting comments, especially those that move the conversation forward or in another direction. I usually respond to them all, sometimes posing questions to commenters because I truly like to hear more about you and what you think.)

So which sacred cow will I injure first? I think I will start with the one about which I have less to say--and may God and Simon Thomas forgive me--Miss Hargreaves by Frank Baker. I liked the fact that the main character was an organist, we don't get many of those in fiction. And I liked the premise of the novel quite a bit, it was very creative, and to my experience at least, very original. There was something in the execution of the plot, however, that left me wishing to rewrite it. If any of you saw the dreadful movie Inception you know that I am talking about. Fine, create your whimsical, supernatural world, but you still need to maintain an appropriate logical structure within the parameters of the world you have created. I am not saying Miss Hargreaves was a bad book (but Inception was a bad movie) by any means. It just didn't keep me as enthralled as I wanted to be. (And as long as I am letting it all hang out, I must say I have been let down by most of my Bloomsbury Group reading experiences. It appears I like the idea of them much more than I like the actual books. (A huge exception would be in their Mrs. Harris reissue, but I read that in an older edition anyway.) And I won't even mention the poor quality of the paper. No doubt its rough, pulpy quality is the result of being green, but the feel of it on my hands makes my teeth itch.)

The second sacred cow I will poke in the eye, is one of my own making. As a lover of all things Whipple, I was disappointed by her novel Someone at a Distance. My previous experiences with High Wages and The Priory were fantastic. And I liked her short stories in The Closed Door even more. As I mentioned in my review, I think Whipple's plot arcs are much better in her short fiction. She sometimes has problems with plot in longer fiction. She doesn't so much as lose the plot in her novels as compress a whole lot of action into too short a period. I liked HW and TP so much that, while I noticed it, it didn't bother me. Not so with Someone at a Distance.

Whipple spends most of the novel presenting a rather wrenching tragedy, but then with lightning quickness, in the last 30 or so pages makes everything groovy. (Although, if I am being fair it is still somewhat tragically groovy.) I suppose she did the same darn thing in HW and TP, but for some reason in those novels it seemed like a more natural progression. And in SAAD (what an apt acronym) the motivation for most of the characters was more than a little hard to swallow. Louise was selfish and wanted to right a wrong with a whole series of wrongs. And far worse than Avery's infidelity was his extreme cowardice. One began to wonder if he had a set at all, but he must have or he wouldn't have gone after Louise in the first place. Plus it seems to me that his little bed and clothes at the office suggest that Louise wasn't the first piece of tail that Avery went after. And then there is Ellen. Poor, suffering Ellen. Not willing to lift one finger to save her marriage. Accepting everything as it came along. Brilliantly playing the martyr so she can go live out a Marie Antoinette fantasy at an old folks home. And you know what? Anne is 17 freaking years old, if she has to give up her horse, big whoop. Life sucks sometimes Anne. You think losing your horse is bad? Try watching your 20-year marriage disappear in an instant. And then of course there is noble Hugh. Not a cent will he take from his father, giving up Cambridge just to show how much he hates the cheating bastard. And then out of nowhere Miss Daley, who we didn't even know needed rescuing gets caught up in the happy denouement as well.

As awful a human being as she was, I am far from believing that Louise was the villain of the book. They all played their role in the destruction of their lives.

I probably don't dislike this book as much as I am making it sound. I would still probably give it a 6 out of 10. But I think what puzzles me is why it is such a favorite Whipple, so much so that it is a Persephone Classic. And fear not, I am still a faithful member of Team Whipple. But as with everything in life, one must realize that even our heroes are fallible.

19 December 2010

My Top 10 of 2010

  
I know, I know, it isn't the end of the year, how in the world can I choose my top 10 for the year?  Easy, I know the four or five books I hope to finish by midnight on 12/31 and none of them, while being enjoyable, will make it into the top ten. (Sorry Simon, Frank Baker won't make the cut, but Richmal Crompton will!)

I really liked a lot of the books I read this year, but it was still pretty easy to separate ten from the herd that particularly rocked my reading world in one way or another.



Not surprisingly for me, only one of the ten was published even remotely recently. Besides the Niffenegger, the "newest" title is about 17 years old. This is why I don't fear the e-book. Plenty of old books for me to read.

So, in no particular order...

Stoner by John Williams
Happily this book has been getting lots of attention in the blogosphere this year. The novel has an academic setting, but you don't have to like that kind of thing to like this one. Amazing book.

The Awakening by Kate Chopin
A classic that I had never read before. There are some novels where the writing just feels right. This one grabbed me instantly.

Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger
This is NOT normally my cup of tea. And I do NOT think it is a fine, or amazing book. And I will NOT want to read anything else by Niffenegger. But boy did I enjoy reading this one. I picked it up in the resort library last January in Thailand and it was perfect vacation reading.

A Way of Life, Like Any Other by Darcy O'Brien
Such a smart, funny novel about a child of hasbeen movie stars trying to grow up normal.

As We Are Now by May Sarton
A devastatingly tragic novel about being old.

Old Filth by Jane Gardam
The novel I wish had been expanded to Trollopian lengths.

The Enchanted April by Elizabeth Von Arnim
Delightful comfort read. Sigh.

The Closed Door by Dorothy Whipple
I love Dorothy Whipple's work. I read two novels of hers this year that I loved, and I am reading a third right now. But this collection of short stories are brilliant in a way that her longer fiction is not.

A Closed Eye by Anita Brookner
I love every novel Anita Brookner has ever written, but there was something about this one that I really liked.

Family Roundabout by Richmal Crompton
Out of the ten, this is the one that I most wish I could discover again for the first time.

      

Sunday Painting: Snow, Boulevard de Clichy by Paul Signac

     
In honor of the first snow of the season. Although I am not sure I should be honoring snow since the snow in the UK has delayed a visit from good friends by at least two days. Here is hoping they arrive tomorrow night.

Snow, Boulevard de Clichy, Paris, 1886
Paul Signac, 1863-1935
The Minneapolis Institute of Arts
 

18 December 2010

Last Weekend

   
Last weekend we had a holiday open house for friends and neighbors. It was the first chance since we moved in in May that we have been able to share some hospitality. The party got a little too busy for pictures, but we did manage to document some of the prep.








That's right, I baked all of this.

The chocolate sour cream Bundt cake looks appropriately festive.

The Latest Crop of Lucy Photos

   
Couldn't resist. You dog lovers will enjoy these.

Helping me get ready for the party.

She was sleeeepy

Really sleeeeepy


Arco Lamp does dual duty as doggie lookout point


16 December 2010

Book Review: By Nightfall by Michael Cunningham

  
I have read all of Michael Cunningham's fiction. I certainly don't rank him as one of my favorite authors, but I do find his novels consistently interesting and well written. His earlier books are pretty standard family/relationship narratives. And I guess in many ways his more recent stuff is as well, but with decidedly more complex narratives that have a more conceptual, artistic bent. His big breakthrough novel was of course, The Hours which weaves together three narratives into one novel with Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway as a unifying theme/element. And then Specimen Days which is more like three short novellas connected by Walt Whitman and the fact that each story has a man, a young boy, and a woman as the central characters. His latest novel, By Nightfall, harks back to his earlier fiction in that the narrative is much more straightforward, but its setting, deep in the heart of artsiest NYC, makes it feel more like the more cerebral Hours and Specimen Days.

In By Nightfall, 43-year old art dealer Peter Harris is going through a bit of a midlife, mid-marriage, and mid-career crisis. Unfortunately, I had read a review or two of this book before I read it so a few of the plot twists were spoiled for me. I won't do that to you here. I think this is a book that I would have preferred had not been spoiled. Being about the same age as Peter, there were many moments in the book where I could quite understand his emotions (or lack thereof). Those moments where, no matter how much you know, how sophisticated you are, and how well you think you have things figured out, there are still things in life that leave you confused. Whole swathes of life and love where you are dangerously naive. And as with poor, dear Peter, there are still those moments when life can take you to your most vulnerable and then kick you right in the gut, and hard.

Some have complained that the milieu that Cunningham creates in this book--the world of contemporary art in New York City--feels like Cunningham is trying to show off. Dropping too many names and too many inside references. But I actually think that that uber-sophisticated world, with all of its high artistic and poetic ideals, is a perfect metaphor for the tumult in Peter's head.

So much of art, whatever the media, is filled with ideas and ideals that make no sense in real life. People don't really die of broken hearts, but look at how much music would have you think so. People don't often sacrifice their whole lives for another person or a high minded ideal, but just think of how many novels or poems would have you think so. And how many of us in our day-to-day lives feel the elation or the despair that so many painters capture on canvas? Not many of us could really say that these kinds of artistic fictions are the basis for our lives, but I think most of us can point to when they were true for a minute, for an hour, for a month, at least in our heads. And so it goes with Peter. All of the tragedy and joy of art is about to explode in his real life. He himself wonders if it can really be that way.

And then the flip side of setting Peter in this world is the contrast of perfection and high ideals with the baser side of human experience and emotion. Sometimes something beautiful comes out of something messy and ugly. And sometimes there is nothing seemingly profound in art at all--it is born out of base sexuality, greed, or vanity. But even those can create something that transcends the sum of their parts.

I am not saying this is a brilliantly written, perfectly wrought novel. There are more than a few themes that didn't really pull together for me. But it did at times tap into something very emotional for me. And anyone who can get me to see Damien Hirst's ridiculous shark in a tank in a new light is doing something worth looking into.

I saw these two meet this morning. Guess how it ended.

 

This morning I was about four houses away from my own house when I saw a large bird swoop down on the sidewalk directly ahead of me and pick something up. The bird flew up to a nearby roof and perched. I quickened my pace because I wanted to get a closer look to see what kind of bird it was and to see what it had caught. As I got closer to where it was perched, the bird took to flight again. But this time, instead of flying away from me, it crossed over about 20 feet in front of me and only about 10 to 15 feet in the air. I couldn't believe how close it was and practically at eye level. It was such an amazing thing to see at such close range.

I had noticed hawk-like silhouettes circling high above the tree line in our neighborhood on a few previous occasions, but to see one swoop down on the sidewalk right in front of me and catch its prey was amazing. And then to have it do a fly by right in front of me was surreal. I thought about trying to capture it on my cellphone camera, but I knew that just watching it and not missing a thing was way more interesting than getting a blurry picture of it.

I am pretty sure it was a red-shouldered hawk. And I am even more sure that it was an American grey squirrel. May he or she rest in peace. Circle of life and all that...
 

15 December 2010

Santa didn't come...

 

Today was supposed to be the big reveal for the Persephone Secret Santa, but, due to weather-induced postal complications, I still don't know who my PSS is. As you may have noticed I have been on a bit of a Persephone roll, having read two very recently. And today I started Someone at a Distance by Dorothy Whipple. I will have to make do with that until I get my PSS package.

13 December 2010

Book Review: Family Roundabout by Richmal Crompton


I am trying to think of a clever way to begin this review because I know it is one of Simon's favorite books. But alas, no such creativity is at hand. Even worse is that I don't have the energy to string together a bunch of observations into coherent paragraphs. So a bullet point review it will be:
  • I loved this book.
  • I have been trying to write a plot bullet for about 20 minutes now and can't seem to get anything I like.  Nothing I come up with makes the book sound as charming as it is. It is the story of two families whose lives become more and more entangled as the offspring of each family become friends, lovers, spouses, and enemies.
  • One matriarch Mrs. Willoughby, rules with an iron glove. Extremely efficient, she instills fear and makes things happen. The other matriarch, Mrs. Fowler, is kinder and gentler She just kind of lets things happen, yet she too manages to make things happen.
  • The character I absolutely loved: Mrs. Fowler. Such a gentle soul but with a fire that she has kept tamed over the course of her married life. Even into her widowhood she still is of two minds, the independent thinking Millicent she was before she got married and Milly, the more passive woman she had to be once she got married. She is the grandmotherly figure you want to run to when something is wrong.
  • The character who I loathed: Belle. One could maybe choose Helen or Mrs. Willoughby for this distinction, but they are both pussycats compared to the atrociously petty, self-centered Belle. God I hated her. A bit of an archetype, she is the one you would hiss at when she came on screen if this book were a film. (I wish.)
  • To varying degrees we get to see the lives of each of the characters develop, fall apart, and eventually get mended. Through the joys and pains, everything comes full circle. Hence the name of the book.
  • I didn't realize that  a Merry-Go-Round could be called a roundabout in the UK. (Oddly enough it wasn't this book that first made me aware of it. It was actually the one I read just previous to this one, Little Boy Lost. In that book Hilary takes Jean to a circus where he rides a roundabout.)
  • The name Richmal Crompton alone should enticee one to pick up this book. In my head I always think of a sort of healthy breakfast cereal when I hear her given name.
  • One of the funnier characters in the book is Arnold Palmer, a handsome and vain novelist, who I think must be there so Crompton can poke a bit of fun at herself. He wrote forty-some novels, so did she. He talks about his proclivity to introduce too many characters in the opening chapter, so does she. I wonder if Crompton "casually" laid good press clippings around her study when she was expecting guests?
  • I really didn't want this book to end. As far as Persephone goes, it ranks right up there with the best of the Whipples.
  • Wait, are you still here? Go read this book.

09 December 2010

Book Review: Little Boy Lost by Marghanita Laski

    
This fantastic photo from a Flickr page belonging
 to burningoutofcontgrol
Even though I very much enjoyed Little Boy Lost, I think I am going to be in the minority on this one. Many bloggers have loved this novel and commented on the fine quality of Marghanita Laski’s writing. I agree with them in their enthusiasm for Little Boy Lost. It was one of those books that I didn’t want to put down once I had started. But I felt like there were too many tidy progressions in the plot that were so obviously just meant to move things along. It wasn't so bad that it really bothered me, but it did keep me from thinking that Laski was a great writer.

To provide a succinct, spoiler-free plot description: Hilary, an Englishman, still bereft over the death of his Polish wife at the hands of the Nazis, goes to France after World War II to find his young son. When he encounters a boy who might be his child, emotional confusion results. Is the child really his? You’ll have to read the book.

It is in fact Hilary’s emotional confusion that provides the real meat of this book. When he meets Jean, the boy who may or may not be his child, Hilary is smacked in the face with his own emotional ambivalence. So much so that I wondered whether Hilary had a heart at all. Part of me just put it down to the fact that he was English. (I know, I know...before I get hate mail from my English friends, you must forgive me my deep seated and probably unjust notion that the English are capable of an emotional detachment that can be breathtaking. No doubt this stereotype is the equivalent of those English depictions of Americans being loud, crass, slack-jawed, idiots.) But as I thought a little more about it I realized that Hilary was also a prisoner of his time and gender. What else could explain the fact that despite having a big ol' farm and plenty of money, he could only imagine taking the child if he could pawn the him off on his parents or by marrying his f*** buddy, gal pal Joyce (see there is that crass American coming through). I shouldn't really fault 1940s Hilary for not living up to what we might expect today. But then I think of the husband in Dorothy Canfield Fisher's much earlier book The Homemaker or even Martin in Richmal Crompton's Family Roundabout and think "Hilary, you fool, break out of that box!" I mean really, why go searching for a son that you only intend to farm him out to someone else to take care of.

I also found myself screaming (silently) at Hilary "For god sake man give the kid a sandwich--he can't live on Raspberry soda thingies alone." And having been brought up Catholic I couldn't help but be annoyed by the Mother Superior being overly, but not surprisingly given her position, concerned about Hilary not being a Catholic. Right, better to be a Catholic orphan than the son of a non-Catholic.

I didn't mind, as many of you did, the introduction of the slutty number toward the end of the book. Perhaps clumsily inserted into the story sure, but it does add a psycho-sexual dimension that really heightens the emotional stakes. Laski does mention Hilary's sex life earllier in the book when he is hanging out with Pierre, but nothing that prepares us for the possibility that Hilary is going to let his penis make the decision for him.

And how is that for a review of Little Boy Lost? I managed to offend an entire nation, dropped and f-bomb, and used the word "penis".

Job well done, Thomas. Job well done.

(But seriously, read the book. You'll like it.)
  
The endpaper from my lovely Persephone edition.

04 December 2010

Book Review: The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing

   
Before reading The Golden Notebook I had read two other novels by Doris Lessing. The Summer Before The Dark I really enjoyed. I also enjoyed The Fifth Child, and it was so disturbing. But I felt like I hadn't really read Lessing yet--The Golden Notebook is the only Lessing title people seem to know. And by saying that people know the title, I mean very literally that, people know the title. Hard to find someone that has actually read the book. And of course Lessing's 2007 Nobel Prize for Literature means that legions more know the title but not the book. So I felt I had a mission. Kind of like I did with that other, much thicker, door stop I read this year War and Peace. I read it because it was there. And because one can't claim to know the author until the magnum opus is read. And because I narcissistically wanted to be able to say, "oh yes, I've read that."

And like War and Peace, The Golden Notebook was at times brilliant, and enthralling, and well, at times, a bit of a slog. I had also read about 200 pages of this 635-page book when I picked up the 1358-page War and Peace. So I think I first started The Golden Notebook back in September and have read eleven other books since then. Needless to say my reading experience suffered somewhat from such a long, drawn out read. The good thing is that there were so many things that made me stop and think along the way, that I put post-it notes through the book as I read. So now as I crack open the early chapters to see what I was thinking about months ago, I hope there is adequate fodder for a decent review.

To sum up the story (and the whole notebook thingy). Anna Wulf is keeping four notebooks. A black one where she writes about her experiences in Africa. A red one in which she writes about her political life as a member of the Communist Party in Britain. A yellow one that contains a novel she is writing. And a blue one in which she keeps her diary.  And then at the end she chucks all those aside and writes a golden notebook where she decides to tie it all together. (I think this may be the source of the title...)

I know there are bloggers out there who love this book, and I can understand why. There is much to like and be fascinated by, and much that is intellectually and emotionally engaging. By the time I got to the end I found it somewhat hard to really say I liked this book, even though I know there were about at least 400 pages that I really did enjoy.

And since this "review" is starting to become as sprawling as Anna and her amazing technicolor notebooks I am going to go back and look at my post-it notes and just take the thoughts as they come.

Post-It Note #1
An entry in the black notebook which takes place in Africa during World War II, has the following interesting insight which had never occurred to me before:
There was another reason for cynicism...This war was presented to us as a crusade against the evil doctrines of Hitler, against racialsm, etc., yet the whole of that enormous land-mass, about half the total area of Africa, was conducted on precisely Hitler's assumption--that some human beings are better than others because of their race.
Post-It Notes #2, 3, 4, and 5
I have no idea why I thought these passages were important enough to tag. At some point I felt I had something I wanted to say about these, but as I go back and read them, I have no clue what that might have been. I guess next time I should write something on those post-its.

Oh god, I have lost track of the number of post-its that make no sense to me now. I remember being struck as I read by how serious the whole Communist thing was back in the 1950s and 1960s. Not just the "menace" to the capitalist West, but the fact that the Communist Party had (and has) legs in Europe that it never really grew in the U.S. Of course we had those delightful communist witch hunts that might have put a damper on things

And there was one passage that I really wanted to write about, that I now seem to have misplaced, that occurred in the yellow notebook--the one in which the main character is writing a novel. As I read this particular passage I was struck by the levels of the narrative. It made me want to make a graphic. Without being able to find the passage I think I have it characterized correctly below:


Did you follow all of that? Doesn't this beg a really big question? Why in the world did Lessing have to bury the story behind so many layers of narrative? I know that a big part of the story is the complexity of Anna's life and mind and writing and everything else, but it just seemed to me after about page 500 that it could have been done differently. I know, I know the book is genius, I am being too simplistic, etc. Lessing tackles so many things, gender, sex, mental health, racism, politics, and so on. But by the end I just didn't care. There is also much, especially in the last 200 pages that just seems way to overwrought with meaning. If my everyday life was full of the much portent I think I would need to be admitted to care.

Lovers of The Golden Notebook, don't be too hard on me. There were many things that I got and appreciated. This is truly a book that deserves close study in any number of disciplines. But overall I got to the point where I just didn't care. I will continue to read Lessing's novels. They are fascinating, and so far no two have been alike. And even this one that I found frustrating had way too much that was good and interesting to give it a bad review. Although I realize it may sound like that is exactly what I am doing. Like Anna, I am a complex, confusing, person.