01 April 2007

March in Review

That's March in book review, actually. A couple of months ago I reviewed reading month and hoped to do it regularly, but have not kept up with it. Well, it's time to try again.

March was an interesting and challenging reading month mainly because I decided to read Doris Lessing's The Golden Notebook. It is a 650 page novel published in 1962. Not exactly high on Oprah's reading list. On the surface it takes on issues of feminism and communism but ultimately it reads like an inquiry into self-expression, categories, and creativity. I'm not sure whether I enjoyed it or not, but I certainly feel enriched for having read it. That's probably not going to make it as a book blurb any time soon.

The main character, Anna Wulf, keeps four notebooks in which she tries to divide and organize her thoughts. Each notebook has a theme. Her idea in the beginning seems to be that if she can organize her thoughts, they will make more sense or be easier to deal with. I think it's the second. Somehow, she believes that organizing her thoughts is a way to control them instead of feeling controlled by them. The novel is a combination of narrative and excerpts from the notebook. As a result, the time line is complex and the shifts between Anna's fiction and Lessing's story can be difficult to follow. Near the end, however, things start to fall apart. Anna begins a relationship with an American boarder and they journey together into a self-destructive madness.

At this point, the novel becomes more difficult to read and increasingly repetitive. The writing mimics or embodies the madness. One of the outcomes of this madness, though, is that the four notebooks are finally discarded after years of use in favor of a single golden notebook. Anna discovers that organizing her thoughts has not brought her any peace and proceeds to combine her thoughts in one notebook. This can be interpreted as an end to dividing herself and a consolidation of herself into one person. In the end the American boarder actually leaves with the notebook after Anna gives it to him. This can be interpreted in various ways but it isn't the core of the story. The core is about the struggle with categorization and division in life and of our sense of self.

The Golden Notebook is described as one of Lessing's greatest works. Personally, I'm glad I read it, but I would only recommend it to someone who wanted a challenge.

Other readings for this month included Carlos Ruiz Zafon's The Shadow of the Wind, which was a wonderful story about books, love, and intrigue in Barcelona. They even mention the Calle Joaquin Costa that I used to live on! Last night I finished Thorton Wilder's The Bridge of San Luis Rey. This one falls into the category of highly praised American literature. He won a Pulitzer Prize for it. The four profiles that are the central elements of the text are nice, but it was not the compelling read I was hoping for. More than anything it left me wondering why an American was writing about Peru. Not something I would have expected.

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