1001 Group Read-July, 2012: The Golden Notebook

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1001 Group Read-July, 2012: The Golden Notebook

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Jun 29, 2012, 9:49am

After reading all the exciting comments posted about our June group read, Walden, I am heading for the woods this weekend! So, I am putting up this post for our July read a little early. The Golden Notebook looks like another exciting read. Enjoy!

I will be putting up a post for nominations for our August/September books during the second full week of July. Where has this year gone?

Jul 3, 2012, 8:43am

I have finished the first section. Very good character development. I feel I have known these people--for the most part shallow, self-indulgent, and weak--wanting to cling onto each other, but not wanting to be clung onto like the desperate drowning in the ocean.

Jul 3, 2012, 8:51am

This gives me hope, because I find the concept/ structure of the book a bit scary.
I'll join in here as soon as I am done with East of Eden which I am reading for another GR. Should be done by next weekend latest.

Jul 3, 2012, 8:53am

I just read the introduction, and I agree with Deern, it sounds awfully confusing :P
I currently have little time for reading, so, I'll be back when I've actually read something :)

Editado: Jul 3, 2012, 9:13am

You are giving me hope.... I'm about 70 pages in and thus far not terribly interested in the characters.

Having recently read Lessings' The Grass is Singing... I am thus far surprised about the difference in style between the two books. In TGIS, there was a wonderful rhythm to the book that made me feel like I was sitting on one of the farms in Africa. Haven't felt the same kind of cadence this book, but hoping it happens once Anna starts getting more into her experiences in Africa.

George1295: You've given an awfully good description of the characters there!

Jul 3, 2012, 4:43pm

I have just finished the first section too - and although the structure feels a bit hard going I am now really starting to enjoy it. Totally agree with George's summary of the characters - spot on... so far but lets see where they go.

Reading the preface was an interesting experience - Lessing's views on the education system made me think - I didn't study Literature after the age of 18 and I have often wondered if I am interpreting writing in the right way.... it was refreshing to hear that there is no right or wrong - just a personal response. It is just what I needed before embarking on this particular challenge!

Jul 4, 2012, 2:11pm

Got my copy and will be starting next week.

Editado: Jul 6, 2012, 5:47am

I've made a start, finishing the first section ("Free Women 1"). I quite enjoyed it, but was struck with how static the scene was - except for the short scenes seen through the window, and the last page where Anna goes home, the whole chapter plays in my mind to a fixed camera, like the first Act of a stage play (four characters, lounge room, one window, two doors)

Jul 6, 2012, 8:42am

Puckers, excellent observation. Almost a steril, stationary quality about it. Sterile but somehow unhealthy.

Jul 7, 2012, 1:12pm

I'm joining the group read for the first time. I agree with the comments on the characters (George1295) and the setting (puckers). The characters and the scene are not terribly engaging.

The milkman and his son along with the strawberry vendor provided interest, distraction, and reflection -- like a touch of spice on an otherwise bland dish.

At least the first section confirms that dysfunctional political discourse in not new. I am looking forward to finishing Free Women 1.

Jul 8, 2012, 8:32am

The author frequently calls attention to "subtle signs" during dialog and provides an interpretation.

"Anna and Molly smiled at each other, and at him, acknowledging it was true."

"He waited, a moment, patiently, for Richard's sharply irritated indrawn breath over the word revolution, to be expelled, and went on:"

"What Molly had said was pure spite: she was saying, I'm glad that you're going to be subjected to the pressures the rest of us have to face."

Anna goes on to reflect: "I wish I hadn't become so conscious of everything, every little nuance ... Now every conversation, every encounter with a person seems like crossing a mined field."

Now, first I credit the author for making me feel the same way about the dialog in Free Women 1 - slightly uncomfortable, slightly painful, like crossing a mined field. Then I wonder if this is Doris Lessing sharing her own thoughts. I suspect many authors I have an eye for subtle signs, a sensitivity.

But, a scarcastic turn of phrase doesn't need commentary after to be sure the reader caught the sarcastic turn of phrase.

Jul 9, 2012, 3:45pm

I've read the first instalment of the Black and Red notebooks. George's observations at #2 above certainly apply to the recollections in the Black notebook. I cling to the hope that somewhere in this book someone will have a constructive relationship with someone else! Otherwise this is going to be a rather depressing read. At least the concept of the four (or five) notebooks has me intrigued.

Jul 10, 2012, 8:10am

I finally started the book and so far (only app. 25 pages in) I can say I like the writing very much. However I haven't decided yet if it is a style I will enjoy throughout the 668 pages.

Jul 11, 2012, 1:53pm

I just started the audiobook today. Should take me a week or two to get through, since it's so long. I already have suspicions about where she's taking this plot...

Jul 11, 2012, 2:16pm

I have finished Free Women 2. I'm pretty tired of hearing about Communism, or at least their brand of it. And I just can't picture a group of people being so naive about what went on in the Soviet Union during Stalin's time at the helm. It's like these people belong to an organization and have not a clue about what is going on. But, then, it seems that is the way they approach life as well.

Too, I have no idea why I need to know about anyone's menstrual cycle. I have read other novels which contain descriptions of this natural human function and have yet to figure out what that has to do with the story. The only novel I recall reading in which a description of "the monthly curse" added anything to the novel was Carrie.

I just know that something great is going to happen before this book is over.

Jul 12, 2012, 2:42am

Like George I have now gone two rounds with the Free Women. Finding it all heavy going. So much negativity and bitterness. Will something positive happen before the end of the book?? We'll see... Seconds away, round three.

Jul 12, 2012, 5:37am

I am at 20% now, having finished the first long bit of black notebook, and I can't say I am much looking forward to the red one. I like the writing a lot and the concept is great, but it is indeed very slow going. Does the printed book really have 'only' 688 pages? I am reading the very long Our Mutual Friend parallely, and it goes so much faster. Here I read and read for what feels like hours until my Kindle confirms me another percent as read.

Jul 12, 2012, 8:29am

Richard is a selfish, arrogant, self-indulgent, greedy, weak turd. That is my litterary observation for the day.

Jul 13, 2012, 2:52am

#18. it is fair to say that the men in this book are not portrayed as positive role models. Even the unfortunate Tommy is seen as manipulating all the women around him.

Editado: Jul 13, 2012, 6:39am

>17 Deern: I really wanted to join in on the 75ers Our Mutual Friend group read too...but I'm in the middle of too many long books! :(

ETA: I'm not very far in yet (about 2 hours of a 27 hour audiobook). She's currently admiring her four notebooks for the first time. I had a fortunate (or possibly unfortunate) revelatory-interpretation only a few minutes in. I could be right (I think I am) or I could be terribly wrong. But I'm pretty sure this book isn't as much about what these characters do; but about how they perceive themselves and each other.

This book isn't written in the style that I usually enjoy. But because of my rare (and possibly incorrect) insight, I'm greatly enjoying how the dialogue in the book can be interpreted in multiple ways. I am eager to get through the book and see where it goes.


Jul 13, 2012, 7:16am

OK, I have *finally* finished my exams, so I'm hoping to actually start reading the book soon :)

Some first thoughts on comments so far:
6 I have studied literature, but that really made me only more doubtful about whether we interpret things the right way. It seems like in literature classes people try to find some hidden meaning in pretty much every single word, and I sometimes wonder if maybe the writer was just writing a fun story and not thinking that much about hidden meanings... Lessing herself says in the intro that while writing she really wasn't thinking about how it would be received in literary society, and I can totally imagine that a writer just writes a book, and then literary critics run away with it.
Also, with regards to interpretations being right or wrong: interpretations change over time, you have popular interpretations in time-periods; The Golden Notebook came out when feminism was very much on the rise and was interpreted from a feminist perspective, as were a great many novels by female authors at that time. I think nowadays feminism has become a less 'popular' theory for literary interpretation and the focus has shifted from that, so that if it would have been published now, it might have had a completely different reception...

15 I haven't really started reading yet, so I'm sure you're right in saying that they're oblivious about what's going on in the world, but I guess with regards to communism that perhaps the atrocities of the regime were much less known back then than they are now. A lot of information has become available only after the fall of the Sovjet Union, so maybe it's not that strange that they're still fans of communism. Besides, it was awfully hip those days to be a fan of communism and stuff. My parents still own a copy of Che Guevara's diaries 'because everybody read it', so perhaps they're just being fashionable :P
That being said, I really do not know what was known and what wasn't at that point in time, so you can correct me if I'm wrong...

Ok, I'm off now, hopefully I'll be able to actually say something about the book next time I'm here :)

Jul 13, 2012, 7:32am

Britt: I agree about over-interpreting books. I think literary critiques go a little over-board and sometimes it seems like they try to thrust their interpretations on other people. I think reading a book is a very private experience in some ways, because it will mean something different to each person who reads it. I think trying to analyze every sentence makes the book wooden instead of poetic. But that's me, and other people feel differently. That's fine. We're all different. :)

It's fun having a group to discuss things like this with, though, because I can hear how other people interpret the book, which may give me insight.

Jul 13, 2012, 9:24am

A ray of light! Anna finally shows some grit with Ivor and Ronnie. Out, out damned spot!

#21 "really just writing a fun story" are you serious?! I must be reading the wrong book.

Jul 13, 2012, 9:52am

I'm pretty sure this isn't JUST a "fun story." :) If it were, I'm REALLY not understanding it. :)

Jul 14, 2012, 12:24pm

I am really struggling with this book and the comments from those much further "down the road" are not encouraging me. Ugggh!

Jul 14, 2012, 1:01pm

jasmeyer: I'm in the same boat... having a lot of difficulty getting through more than a couple pages at a time. I at least like the overall story about Tommy.... but that's the only thing that's captured my attention.

Jul 14, 2012, 1:13pm

Don't struggle, just enjoy it :)

By the way, I'm in the middle of the first black notebook, and I really like it so far. I don't think we are to be stuck in the political discussions; the book is more about the relationship between men and women, and how their upbringing affects them.

Jul 15, 2012, 4:40am

23&24 Haha, I meant that about books in general, not this book in specific :D Just because I think books are sometimes over-analysed :)

Jul 15, 2012, 6:26am

Books are often over-analyzed...I just read a quite fascinating book Fantasy Media in the Classroom, which had quite interesting essays about how useful fantasy is for teaching lessons. But there was a horribly unfortunate essay in there about the symbolic depth of Twilight that reminded me why I'm not an literature major. :)

Jul 15, 2012, 12:10pm

Right - I am done. I have to say that I enjoyed the first two-thirds of this very much and the last third not at all.

I can really identify with Anna as someone who suffers from depression myself I felt like I could recognise a lot of her feelings. The idea that you can gain control from segmenting your life was very interesting and her relationships with the people around, while often dysfunctional, added a very human touch to what would otherwise be a very dry book. I can absolutley see why this may have been thought at being a book about men vs women - but for me the over-riding theme wasaround madness and control in various guises. Each character had their own 'brand' of madness - and various coping mechanisms. Surrounded by this lot it is little wonder than Anna feels like she is cracking up!!

I did not like the final sections but I won't say too much about it as many of you are still reading but I give you fair warning it is hard going!!

Jul 15, 2012, 2:30pm

#30 thanks for the warning. Just when I thought it might pick up at the end! I've enjoyed most of the Black notebook extracts but found much of the rest a slog. Glad you enjoyed much of it though - that's the beauty of these group reads, seeing how different people relate to the same piece of writing.

Jul 15, 2012, 3:14pm

Well congrats on finishing the book already :) I've just finished the first part.
Like some of the earlier comments, I agree with the statements that it feels somewhat sterile and static; I feel like the narrator is somehow telling the story from a distance, somehow, if that makes any sense.

Other than that, I mainly found it somewhat depressing... The characters are naieve and arrogant, they seem not very knowledgeable about the world outside their own circles, and at the same time can be very patronising towards others, especially the story of the young communists in Africa in the Red Notebook, they seem to look down upon everybody!
And I find it so very negative at times; Men hate women, women hate men, happy marriages don't exist, everybody hates themselves, capitalism is bad, but then communism is also partly bad, and the world in general is bad... I'm finding it a bit dreary, I have to admit.

Anyway, other than that I do think it's well-written and generally like the style. I think the different notebooks come together quite well, and am looking forward to getting to the rest of it, but I'll be leaving it off for tonight and see if I can read something more cheerful :) I'll start on the second part tomorrow.

Editado: Jul 16, 2012, 7:54am

I've also finally finished.... I really disliked this book immensely and thought about giving it up a few times. I felt like I was being browbeaten with the same information over and over -- Anna's depression and writer's block, men who are selfish and weak. Are these the kind of people that populated Doris Lessing's world? (Because the book has an autobiographical sensibility to it...) So few of the characters had any positive qualities, I just hated them all.

Jul 16, 2012, 9:24am

:) With that shining review I think I might quit. It's just so very hard for me to pick up. The characters are unpleasant and there is very little action--which would be ok since the writing is very good, but it's just so very long! And there are so many other books I want to read before I die...

Jul 17, 2012, 4:45am

Finished, thankfully. Not much to add to the comments above. 2/5.

Our August/September options look more entertaining....,maybe!

Jul 17, 2012, 10:33am

Not been able to post yet, but I have made it to within a hundred pages of the finishing line!

I have very mixed feelings about the book, many of which have been expressed above. I agree that the main themes are so thoroughly discussed in the book that they, at times, feel like big sticks beating me over the head.

It does seem to be a book of its time, rather like an early Atwood. Life has moved on a lot, though there are still aspects of her life that I can identify with.

One thing I found a little surprising was the lack of local colour, I mean I kept forgetting where each part of the plot was based. I don't remember ever feeling this way about a Lessing book.

Jul 17, 2012, 2:44pm

How did people feel about all the 'dreams' in this - personally I hated them - I don't think if a sequence needs to be explained by a dream it has much relevance - and my dreams never make any sort of sense so I find them wholly unbelievable. Wondered what the rest of you thought?

Jul 19, 2012, 8:53am

I am done with this book and none too soon. What a depressing experience. I did enjoy the very short poetic attempt 'Blood on the Banana Leaves'.

Chrissy, excellent observation about the dreams. I frankly thought they had a "too real" quality to them. Like you, my dreams often start out in a rational way, but end up as nonsense---most of the time it's very silly nonsense.

Jul 19, 2012, 9:51am

I also didn't really like the dreams. Also because I realy don't see anything in the (rather old-fashioned) psychotherapy based on dreams thing, but I guess in those days psychotherapy was a lot different from what is done nowadays.

Anyways, I have also finished. And I am.... really torn. I do like Lessing's writing, it really speaks to me, in a way, and I also kind of liked the idea of four different notebooks describing different aspects of Anna's life, and the way in which the notebook's were all connected and came together.
But yeah, I also agree with many of the comments above. Some topics are discussed so much, and in the same words over and over again, that it becomes rather dreary. The book is really negative, and I seriously hope to actually marry a man that doesn't cheat, but in Lessing's world all men cheat, and men and women are just hostile and distrustful towards each other. Not quite the way that I look upon marriage and love (my parents are very happy together, and are actually celebrating their 43rd anniversary today, so I like to think relationships can be good).
That being said, I do also feel that Lessing makes important points and touches upon important issues: the issues of racism, communism and stalinism, the way big corporations act, the way single women are looked upon, and what it means to live alone, as a woman... Though many of her views are somewhat outdated, I do feel like many of her themes are still relevant.

Editado: Jul 24, 2012, 5:25am

I am still reading and only 25% in. RL doesn't allow for much reading this month. I'll try to get through it at some point, but I'll take my time with it. This will be the first month in ages without a finished 1001 book!

Jul 27, 2012, 5:52pm

I'm still reading as well. And I'm a little more than halfway through and struggling on. I don't find it as tedious as many others do, but it has a lot of analysing which I don't agree with.

Jul 31, 2012, 7:17am

I did it!! I kind of liked the book, especially how it was written. A plain story and four notebooks that give us the information about what causes Anna's mental breakdown. But, the hostility between women and men in the book gives me the creeps.

Editado: Ago 3, 2012, 9:10am

I'm toast. I cannot pick up The Golden Notebook again at this time. Perhaps, I will retry this in the future. I tried and failed twice to read The Satanic Verses before successfully completing and enjoying the book.

Ago 1, 2012, 12:59pm

Sometimes it's just not the right time for a book; I think some books just require a certain mood or something, because I agree that sometimes after having tried before and getting stuck, you might actually like the book much on a second (or third) try.
That being said though, I think quite a number of people didn't finish... Maybe it's just not really suited for this time anymore...

Ago 1, 2012, 1:42pm

I think it's not just the mood, it may depend on how much time you've got. I often find that a certain book needs a certain reading pace. I have started some books several times and not getting into them. Suddenly - when I'm free for example - I allow myself to read much slower, and then really enjoy the book.

Ago 1, 2012, 2:36pm

That's true... My summer holidays are now, so I have a lot of reading time, and that does help...

Editado: Feb 1, 2013, 11:15pm

I had to give up on the GR last summer due to RL issues and now I picked the book up again at about 21%, but I checked the contents and saw that it ends at about 70% and then is followed by extensive notes.

I read another 20% in the last couple of days and can follow it better this time, but god is this a painful story! And that last part is still coming. I feel very close to Anna in many ways, maybe that's just the thing about being middle-aged and single and kind of disillusioned.

I also try to see the book as a witness of the time when it was written. It must have been very progressive then, also the views on the communist party which now seem outdated. It's interesting reading that now, because after The Jungle and The Grapes of Wrath which I both read later last year, I can see the development. From enthusiastically welcoming communism as a new revolutionary idea, a possible liberation from the bad side-effects of capitalism, a hope for mankind, to a disappointment, an intellectual concept that couldn't be realized.

I also had blocked out that communism wasn't only frowned upon, but forbidden and prosecuted in the US. And I realized I have no idea how this is handled nowadays. Can you be a communist in the US or at least openly sympathize?