The Golden Notebook -? readers wanted 06.18.2008, 4:50 AM
posted by bob stein
if:book readers may remember my excited post from last October when Doris Lessing won the Nobel Prize. I had coincidentally re-read The Golden Notebook over the summer and when I realized that none of my younger colleagues had read it, or even knew anyone of their generation who had read it, I started musing about the possibilities of having readers from two generations reading it together, commenting publicly in the margins in something like CommentPress.
I mentioned this idea to Antonia Byatt of the British Arts Council only to find that she, by coincidence, had also just re-read the book over the summer. Antonia was intrigued by the idea and eight months later we have a grant from the Arts Council and a deal with Harper Collins that will make this a reality. In mid-October 3-5 readers will begin reading The Golden Notebook and carry out a conversation in the margins. The site will be open and the rest of us will be able to follow their reading and participate in a related public forum.
Who do you think should be the readers? The book is perhaps best known for its role in the beginning of the women's liberation movements of the 1970s but it also confronts complex issues of race and the political fall-out from the ideological collapse of the soviet union. The original idea was to invite women from different generations, but we're open to other ideas.
Please, tell us who you would like to see as the designated readers. We're interested in general categories but also in specific recommendations. You can even nominate yourself. [The Arts Council grant includes a generous honorarium for each of the readers.]
By the way we're working with a fantastic group in London, apt, to build a completely new CommentPress-like application that should be much better for reading both the text and the comments.
Posted by bob stein on June 18, 2008 4:50 AM
meimaimaggio on June 18, 2008 7:34 AM:
This project sounds like something that could be highly interesting, shedding new light on history, literature and culture - personal and national. Or it could turn into a dull reading group.
It might be interesting to see the reactions and comments of a group of people for whom the book holds no apparent cultural or historical relevance (e.g. an imaginary load of Anglophone Korean teenage boys from Korea); they would just be reading it on its merits as a story. And for that group to interact with another lot of people for whom the book has a lot of supposed significance (e.g. some old literary hippies). Forgive my vagueness - I've never read the book. I did read The Fifth Child which I thought was pretty terrible.
Another idea: just choose five people who have the initials DL and don't think about anything else.
I'm sure this is all, as they call it, a no-brainer. I guess I just wanted to chime in and say what a fun idea this project seems. Perhaps I will read along too with the group.
Will this "conversation in the margins" be carried out online, with software or by paper? Or something else?
Laura Deisley on June 18, 2008 9:04 AM:
This is such exciting news! I don't know how to apply, but I would be so interested. My father, who will turn 75 in September, and I read a Nobel Prize winning author each summer. We've done this for three years now, and this year we are reading Hesse's "Siddhartha." I just sent him this link, and he chuckled: "They must have been reading our emails these past few years!"
I am particularly excited to see you offering this in a Comment Press-like application. I am a consultant working with schools to shift their learning environments to more student-centered, participatory practices that integrate web 2.0 tools. I'm beginning to work with the high school division of a K-12 independent school, and I think Comment Press has so many possibilities!
Thank you! Looks like I'll be reading two Nobel Prize winners this year!
KF on June 19, 2008 3:19 AM:
This is extremely exciting news -- and I hope to be able to follow the text and discussion's unfolding with a class I'm teaching this fall.
How about this as a suggestion: what if you begin the discussion with four women readers, of four different ages, whose readings and annotations might somehow refract the work done by the notebooks themselves? My sense is that you don't want to stay focused only on so-called "women's issues," but they seem a good way to begin a conversation. If there were then an associated public forum further out on the margins of the text, where any reader can respond to what these four women are writing, other issues and voices might present themselves organically, which you can then draw into the conversation within the book...
Paula Sharratt on June 19, 2008 6:10 PM:
As a fifty year old woman who studiously avoided Doris Lessing as a teenager (as she seemed to be required reading), I think I will now read her and encourage my daughter and her boyfriend to read her work (as well as my partner who'll groan as he thinks the pile of books he's never got on top of is a problem!).
If it's ok to comment or blog comments without neccessarily 'applying to be' the reader, it's a great idea to be on the margins of the margin anyway!
Dean C. Rowan on June 19, 2008 6:53 PM:
A terrific idea, and the comments so far are productive, too. Apropos of the suggestion to select readers with the initials DL, why not see about the availability of the author herself? I read The Golden Notebook twice several years ago, and I'd love to reread it, perhaps even in this public forum. (Note, however, that I am male.) Although its significance indeed is strongly tied to its connections to the women's movement and important political concerns, you shouldn't neglect its value as written text, as literature. Anna, after all, is a writer!
Lisa Spangenberg on June 21, 2008 2:12 AM:
This sounds like an interesting project, though I have to confess I haven't read The Golden Notebook, or, honestly, anything else by Lessing.
Have you seen the comment features of BookGlutton?
Gary Frost on June 23, 2008 2:20 AM:
(aptstudio blog is format is more efficient reading than if:book)
Garth Somerville on June 23, 2008 8:42 AM:
The new reader sounds interesting. Will it be more like the Annospace reader?
sol gaitan on June 25, 2008 12:27 PM:
"'This is what The Golden Notebook is about, the crack-up of the 1950s,' Ms. Lessing says. Or more specifically, the 'crack up' of the left after Nikita Khrushchev's 20th Congress speech in 1956, in which he admitted that Joseph Stalin had been less than a perfect leader." (Doris Lessing as quoted by Emily Parker in "Provocateur" in the Weekend Interview with Doris Lessing, the Wall Street Journal, March 15-16, 2008.)
In an interview with John Freeman for the San Francisco Chronicle, talking about why "The Golden Notebook" was so popular, she says: "I think in part because it was the first book that had feminist ideas in it, but also I was writing out of enormous energy at the time. It was the late '50s and my whole personal life was in turmoil, and communism was shredding before your eyes, and all that went into my book. The energy in that book is, I'm sure, why it goes on.... Nobody is going to believe this, but when I wrote "The Golden Notebook," I had no idea I was writing a feminist book. Because I had been putting into it the sort of thing women had been saying in their kitchen. But something said doesn't have the effect of something written. People behaved as if I had done something amazing, yet I just wrote down what women were saying."
If the book was not written for women only, why limit the readers' scope of your project to women only? One of your readers should definitely be a woman from an English-speaking country where women are saying the sort of things they were saying when the book was written, but in the 21st Century's context. A reading in today's context will render a book as different as the one Pierre Menard wrote.
sol gaitan on June 25, 2008 12:34 PM:
Actually, an English-speaking woman from a country where women are saying the sort of things women were saying then.
Joanne Swenson on July 17, 2008 5:20 PM:
I read the Golden Notebook as a high school student, without any mentoring or guidance. It sent me into a tailspin, or merely accelerated my adolescent centrifugality. I'd welcome an opportunity to re-read and newly understand this book with the wisdom of a diverse group. I myself am a 50-ish woman, Ph.D, at peace with the compromises of marriage and raising children.
Michelle on August 1, 2008 12:54 PM:
If you do decide to select four women from different generations, perhaps consider choosing one from Southern Africa where Lessing spent much of her childhood. I'm a 30-year-old South African woman who has never read The Golden Notebook. I'm involved in publishing fiction on mobile phones here in the RSA, so the public digital engagement you propose intrigues me...
Roberto Forns-Broggi on August 20, 2008 6:12 PM:
I have the book in one of my shelves. I wanted to read it, but I couldn't find a push to read it until I read the call for women-readers... Since English is my second language and I am a very busy college professor and writer-filmmaker-in-progress--you can see for free my short film "The House of Wisdom" at www.undergroundfilm.org--, I was thinking I have no chance to be there, or maybe because I care about the book I would love this challenge to read it and even to be paid for it.
I guess I can use my inner feminine side to participate with enthusiasm in the project...
Let me know if I fit in this troupe of readers...