I just finished reading Toi Derricote‘s literary memoir, The Black Notebooks. For some reason, I have always had a huge fascination with notebooks. I have stacks of notebooks at my parents’ house. Most are empty with nothing written inside for they are still waiting for the perfect something to fill their glorious pages. I was a little crafty something, so I made books and notebooks. I even learned how to make paper to continue enabling this obsession. To this day, I have notebooks upon notebooks: some special, some not so much. Great care has gone into selecting each one. Some are fun to use, most are beautiful – strictly for admiration, some are purely functional – so that I may actually feel comfortable using them or even ruining them to the point they were exposed and naked without their cover. I am so crazy, I have always fantasized about working for an important magazine (preferably, of the art and politics variety) in a fast-paced exciting environment rushing papers to and fro, sloshing coffee on to the floor, braving adventures and triumphing on the 39th floor of a beautiful skyrise. That was my idea of glamour. I collected the covers of The New Yorker in 6th grade even before I knew they were worth anything or coveted by others from the north branch of the Berkeley Public Library. Heck, my Barbies (Happy Birthday Barbie!) even had a town newspaper, BarbieTown. Clearly, I love print media like some sort of addict. Maybe it’s the tactile nature of a tattered magazine that has been so lovingly thumbed through which sends my mind spinning into rosey-hued romance.
So, naturally I gravitate towards book titles that have notebook in the title. I loved Harriet the Spy because she kept a notebook. I loved the PBS mystery, Ghostwriter because I kept a “casebook” along with the characters which was only a composition notebook with my notes. My favorite book, which up until now had been The Bell Jar (which, if I can remember correctly from oh, nine years ago, had nothing to do with notebooks, but magazines!). And now, Lessing’s The Golden Notebook occupies that oh-so-sacred place in my heart. And I wanted so badly to find a novel with the equivalent grandeur and beauty about coming of age as a Black woman. I wanted that so bad. I read and re-read these Candy Dawson Boyd books about a young Black girl who went to a mythical performing arts school in Oakland (oh, how I wished that school existed). And when my Mother and her friend still had their bookstore (Shades of Sienna), I asked her to invite the author to one of their Saturday readings. And I met her. I was elated, because she signed my books, Fall Secrets and A Different Beat. And so, when I picked up The Black Notebooks, I was excited thinking I had found another savior in these dark times.
Until, I read the book. There is almost nothing to say because I was incredibly disappointed. One, it took me 2.5 hours to get through her book. I like to wrestle with books, I don’t want to breeze through it in less than a day. I want to look forward to pulling it out of my purse on my 45 minute subway ride to 8th St. I want to curl up and read it in bed every night. In other words, she should stay away from long form because her instincts are in poetry. Her whole account was choppy and curt – almost rude. She needed to elaborate and flesh her stories out. She didn’t enjoy the construction of each sentence. However, I did appreciate her honesty in recounting many of these obviously painful tales.
Most importantly, I found that I had a bit of contempt for the author because I didn’t think she was quick enough to deflect many of these hurtful taunts. I thought she was weak and incredibly naive to continually pained by these comments. Mostly, because these stories are not new or original. They are as old as the day is long. I would even venture to say racism and prejudice is as old as the Earth, all six billion years of it. And each time, without fail, she was shocked and/or surprised. She walked right into these traps. Now, I’m not asking she become a jaded old woman, but she could learn to anticipate in order to spare herself pain. She never learned anything. And, she left a lot of blanks, far too much went unexplained for a memoir (i.e. her failed marriage). Long before the end, she had already exhausted my sympathy.