Heart Books

Eva over at A Striped Armchair has a very thought-provoking post up: what are your “heart books,” or books that have impacted you so powerfully that you’ve never forgotten them? The heart books she writes about are Sara Maitland’s From the Forest (which I haven’t read, but would like to, simply on the basis of how strongly it seemed to resonate with her!) and Jane Austen’s Emma, which I’m actually in the middle of reading right now.

Anyway, after reading Eva’s post and thinking of my own heart books, one in particular immediately came to mind: Doris Lessing’s The Golden Notebook. For those of you who are unfamiliar with it, The Golden  Notebook is the story of Anna Wulf, a writer, and her five journals. Each journal is a different color, and represents a different point in her life (the red notebook, for example, tells of her time as a member of the Communist party). The fifth notebook–the golden notebook–is her attempt to tie all of the other notebooks, really all of the other parts of herself, together.

The Golden Notebook i’s now considered a feminist classic, but at the time, I didn’t know that. I picked it up from my local library on a whim; perhaps I recognized the title, or just thought the cover was interesting.

Then I started reading it, and it was as if a blinding light suffused me. This book–despite being  published in 1962, from the point of a view of a Communist and a mother–was speaking directly to me. Anna is disillusioned, confused, warring with both the freedom and the confusion that post-war London has brought her. She’s talented and ambitious, but emotionally and psychologically lost–floundering.

I read The Golden Notebook at a time in my life where I was struggling to define myself in a job that felt increasingly unfulfilling. (And that’s not to say that I have all the answers now, but I do have a slightly better sense of the things I find important in a career.) I’ve always measured my self-worth by my academic and my work output, and after college, I felt a bit lost. I wanted to be a writer, but found it impossible to corral my thoughts enough to actually put words to paper (or computer screen). I was dissatisfied with living in NYC and craved change–I just didn’t know exactly what. It’s a feeling, I’m sure, that many people can commiserate with. And that’s what The Golden Notebook did for me: it commiserated. It showed me that these challenges were particular to ambitious women. I didn’t even need a happy ending; the commiseration, defined so unequivocally, was enough.

As I’m going through a similar period of dissatisfaction–of wondering how to best live by my values and still be able to provide for myself–I should probably pick up The Golden Notebook again, to see if it holds any new revelations for me.

What are your heart books?

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