Thursday, June 17, 2010

Why The Golden Notebooks?

So, after another semester of carrying around the same book for months, it's the summer, and I'm feeling ambitious, like the kid who wants to win the library summer reading prize kind of ambitious. So, my plan is to read 2-3 books a week, and write about them here. Now, every good blog needs rules so: Rules!

1) Lots of fiction, maybe some poetry. This year I had that "I assign so much non-fiction, I'm a second rate sociology/history teacher instead of an English teacher! Harold Bloom was right!" moment that happens to the best of us. Then I awoke from this nightmare and realized that Harold Bloom was still wrong and I was just hankering to read some more fiction.

2) Lots of stuff I already have on my shelves but haven't read, especially that friends have given me and cause me endless guilt every time I stare at my floor to ceiling shelves. (Seriously, those there are my shelves! Pretty cool, no? And they've filled up since then! I still need the leather chair and the sliding ladder, though.) And lots of stuff that will require much much shame of the you've never read what variety, like that game in that David Lodge novel (which, no, I haven't read).

3) Book Club! My friends at Open Letters Monthly are making The Tale of Genji this summer's Infinite Jest. A worthy choice, but for me it will be the summer of George Eliot. A few friends will be tackling Middlemarch this summer, so I'll post on this one throughout. Which has been sitting on my various shelves since it was given to me by my high school mentor, which makes it the queen of the guilt for not having read club.

4) I might post about non-books, but will try to keep the someone is being wrong on the internet stuff to a minimum, for obvious reasons about the shortness of life.

So, why the Golden Notebooks? Well, of course, because. I first read Lessing's masterpiece in a Modern English Literature class back in my undergrad days. The prof. was a little self-conscious, as male profs. are somewhat want to be, about teaching this feminist classic to a bunch of young feminists at a woman's college, so he asked if any of us wanted to teach it. Being the not-yet-recovering terminally "Good Student" I was at the time, I volunteered. I don't remember a lot about what we did when we taught it, but I remember defending it from some complaint or another. Something must have stuck because some six years later I taught in this seminar. Now assigning all of a 635 page novel (in a course where we were reading about five other novels) was probably one of the more naive things I did back when I was a naive young graduate student (ah, the early aughts . . ) I prepared this whole lesson on British politics of the period because I was afraid they'd be vexed that these middle class women were canvassing for Communists. Instead the students were upset that they slept with married men. Go figure. But, seriously, how can you not love a 635 page novel whose summar is best described by its character: "Men. Women. Bound. Free. Good. Bad. Yes. No. Capitalism. Socialism. Sex. Love. . ." I'll spare you going on and on about the brilliance of the four notebooks that capture different parts of a life - the political and the artistic, the personal and the public, memory and the present - and how this is the best treatment I know of some thing I think about a lot - the struggle to live an integrated life. I'll especially spare you any thoughts on the way too obvious observations one could make about how blogging might be transforming the long proud tradition of 'notebooks' as important women's writing - whether actual diaries or fictional ones like the ones in Lessing's novel. Lessing is a bit grumpy about The Kids, and she'd probably hate that. But, Sei Shonagon is dead, so she can't complain, and my new girlfriend Sady says it best.

No comments:

Post a Comment