Doris Lessing’s The Golden Notebook

On the process

It’s been very interesting to read everyone’s thoughts on the process.

I think that, coming into the project I was the person with the most experience writing online (even though my own blog is sadly neglected, I was lead writer for a long-running online story/game). So I guess it was quite easy for me to get into the habit of posting regularly; I’m used to the way that online writing works.

Having said that, I did find it difficult to get over the concern that my comments weren’t incisive enough, and this led to some self-censorship. I wonder if the other readers felt the same. I think it was partly because I hadn’t read the novel before: my feeling is it’d probably be better for all readers to be in the same boat, either having read the novel or not having read it and approaching it ‘blind’. Added to this, posts to our forum were sometimes startlingly negative. I know that trolls are inevitable, but I was surprised at the ratio of negative-to-positive.

I suspect that what some of the other readers have suggested is true: this kind of project is much more fun to participate in than to read! I think a logical extension of the project, and one which would have a lot of value, would be to make the platform open to other (out-of-copyright) books and reading groups. It really was exciting to be waiting for comments, to feel we were reading all together, to get into arguments and indeed to learn more about the history of the female orgasm! It enriched my understanding of the book, and made me engage with it much more deeply. It’s a very valuable reading experience, and it would be wonderful if more people had the opportunity to experience it.

As to the composition of the group, it was interesting. Clearly it was a group of very erudite, informed and analytical women; I loved the range of different perspectives we brought to the book. I did sometimes have the feeling that we were like a manufactured Girl Band - brought together by the lovely Bob Stein but without there being necessarily much to draw us together otherwise. Perhaps that also made it hard to keep conversations going. Or perhaps if we’d all known each other very well, there’d have been a temptation to turn to in-jokes or not to argue with each other at all! I think I agree with Nona that I’d rather there had been a token man or two in the mix. Because, yes, ‘women’s books’ shouldn’t only be discussed by women. I’d certainly be interested to repeat the experiment - or see the experiment repeated - with a group of friends, or with a group of total strangers whom I’d never met. I think it’s worth doing in many ways, to find out how altering the parameters changes the outcome.

As a final thought - I think this project has changed the way I read. Not massively, but subtley. It’s made me want to talk more about my reading, to seek out people who’ve read the same books as me to be able to discuss them. I’ve never really enjoyed ‘book clubs’ but this was different, and encouraged a level of analysis one doesn’t get outside academic settings (probably because of the quality of the readers involved here!). Some friends and I are talking about setting up a system similar to the Golden Notebook project so that we can do an online book group together. I think I’m going to continue to pursue this way of reading: it’s inspiring and enriching.

Author avatar

Naomi Alderman
on February 15th, 2009 at 3:45 pm