Doris Lessing’s The Golden Notebook

the death of a reader

A recent story in The NY Times asked if stories have a future. If we’re blogging, texting, doing rapid response communicating, who cares about the narrative, tortoise slow and painfully digressive? Naomi’s comment that she needs to come up for air now and then from TGN to overcome the characters’ depressive tendencies makes me wonder WHY DO WE READ? What do we get from books; what are we getting from Lessing? I have just moved from NY to Portland, Oregon with 140 book boxes, the collected treasures of a life spent in books. In each box I am finding approximately one book per 30 worth saving. Looking at them all with fresh west coast eyes, I’m not sure what these books have given me. I can tell you what they’ve taken away: an ability to live a good life OUTSIDE of books. The books surviving the cut? Poetry, novels I vow to read (War and Peace, The Man Without Qualities, Mavis Gallant’s Paris Stories) and nonfiction where the writer is clearly in love with his material and intoxicated by his voice (Macauley, Gibbon, Nietzsche, Robert Caro, Doris Goodwin). 

If I’d never read any of these books I’m chucking, would it have made a difference to me? What difference do books make?

Author avatar

Harriet Rubin
on November 20th, 2008 at 2:21 pm

One Comment

  1. Nona Willis Aronowitz November 20th, 2008 at 9:24 pm

    Stories do have a future, but “painfully digressive” narrative, maybe not. People are still interested in story development, in the twists and turns of everyday drama, and it’s evidenced by the growing industry of tabloids and the stabilized interest in (sometimes very detailed) blogging. What the blogosphere and the texting habit has forced us to do is to think of stories as episodic, as coming in dramatic bursts (blog posts, sound bites, weekly episodes) rather than unravelings of minutiae. My feeling is that if we keep the bursts articulate and multifaceted, we’ll be okay. Unfortunately, the majority of them are not.