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The Archivist
by Martha Cooley | Literature & Fiction
Registered by crazy-book-lady of Toronto, Ontario Canada on 11/22/2003
Average 8 star rating by BookCrossing Members 

status (set by jinnayah): to be read

3 journalers for this copy...

Journal Entry 1 by crazy-book-lady from Toronto, Ontario Canada on Saturday, November 22, 2003

6 out of 10

From the back of the book:

"Matthias is a librarian, a man of orderly ways, responsible for safeguarding a sealed cache of T.S. Eliot's letters. Roberta is a young poet with an inabashed and oddly intense interest in the letters. What begins as a battle of wills soon evolves into an unlikely friendship - a relationship that not only unsettles Matthias's solitary life but forces him to confront long-buried memories of his wife, her mental breakdown, and the dissolution of their marriage."

I enjoyed the book until I got to the middle section which is a glimpse at the diary entries of the wife while she is institutionalized. I found that her voice didn't really ring true and the entries were tedious. I think the novel would have been stronger without them.

This is the author's first novel.

Journal Entry 2 by crazy-book-lady from Toronto, Ontario Canada on Saturday, September 11, 2004

This book has not been rated.

Mailed to jinnayah who offered to find a good home for it! 

Journal Entry 3 by jinnayah from Ann Arbor, Michigan USA on Friday, September 17, 2004

10 out of 10

What a gorgeously new copy of The Archivist, nicely adorned with little BX stickers! I had forgotten there was a book on the way to me and so was overjoyed to find the little package. I love this book. My own copy is missing, so I have it out from the library (same edition) and am trying to reread it from the beginning. That'll make about the fourth time through in two years, although it was not straight through each time.

See other copies of Archivist that have passed through my hands here (1), here (2), and here (3).

I intend to pass this book along in Writinreader's Books I Enjoyed Bookbox, but not before I've put a sizable dent in the prose again.

More later!


Journal Entry 4 by jinnayah from Ann Arbor, Michigan USA on Saturday, September 18, 2004

This book has not been rated.

This is my intro entry to The Archivist. I want it to be attached to every copy on my bookshelf. More notes particular to this copy when I've read the book more again.


The first night I started reading Martha Cooley's book in earnest, I sent out the following HELP! email to a dozen of my friends:

I saw The Archivist a few months ago in Borders. I read a few pages from the middle of it, at which point it is a character's diary (through most of it it's first-person narration). I knew there were concepts I wanted more of. Now I have it out from the library, and I started it in earnest yesterday, and I REALLY need help. I need someone else to be reading this book. As you can see, I am making this request to many friends, because I know how busy you all are. But please don't assume you can let it slide because someone else won't.

The Archivist, by Martha Cooley, is about T.S. and Vivienne Eliot and Emily Hale. It is also about religious conversion, conviction, and denial; alienation in marriage and parent-child relationships; depression; libraries, and the literary life. It does things like this:
[Here I cited passages from the first 100 pages of the book. They began as follows:]
**(90)Perhaps all children are solipsists; perhaps I was merely more of one than most.
**(59)In the early 1950s, Judith began writing about the Kabbalistic myth of God's exile. One evening I asked her to explain this notion. How could a divinity responsible for all things be in exile?
**(22)Judith's been gone for so long. She began leaving many years before her death, in fact. And I had a hand in her departure.
**I keep going back to Eliot's work because it has something to teach me. About craft, obviously, but more than that. The hollowness that Eliot could describe like almost nobody else. But even that's not all.

As I am very well met in my friends, several responded, and we had wonderful reading together. Some of their early reactions:

“Twenty pages in—I am reminded of the beauty of words.”
“Lord! I’ve only read your few excerpts and I’m already trembling.”
“It's about much more than I thought it would be about.”

I corresponded more later with some of my friends on this. A fourth told me after reading it that, though the ideas had power and the book was a good story and a good read, he felt the author was too green. (It is Cooley's first.) She should have let the ideas percolate for another twenty years, he said. I can credit the opinion that the Ms. Cooley bites off a heck of a lot and has trouble chewing it, but in my experience she does eventually manage to swallow it all. As do I.

Journal Entry 5 by jinnayah from Ann Arbor, Michigan USA on Wednesday, November 03, 2004

This book has not been rated.


This book's former custodian does not like Judith, or at least not her own voice. A friend of mine felt bruised by Judith's anger and pain, another energized and empowered by it. She makes me feel known and understood.

I did not initially find the anger so sharp and overwhelming. I noticed more Judith's beautiful ideas of tikkun olam, of exile and the yearning for return. Well, her Jewishness frames thse feelings, but I think her intelligence and depression (like mine) produce them.

She sees the world so clearly, so sharply, and yet with such a horrible, tragic bias. Judith's filters are perfect, making the world a frightened, oblivious place. She believes in love, Judith does believe in responsibility and goodness, but that belief has become academic to her: she no longer sees it reflected in he world. She's wrong, of course. But that's what depression does.

Crazy-book-lady questions Judith's voice. I can agree that her journal is strangely written, far too ... descriptive. She remembers too well. That's not how real journals sound. And I don't approve of dispensing with quotation marks, as Judith does. But try looking at the 'journal' as an internal thing, her thoughts and interpretations rather than her records. As descriptive as she is, she describes not the real world but the world as seen through her tragic filters.

I have sometimes spent months obsessively repeating to myself important conversations to fix them in my memory. As much as I want to remember accurately, I know what I fix is the-event-in-my-world, not the-event-in-the-real-world. I understand that Judith builds her world--consciously and unconsciously--through the words of the middle third of The Archivist. I understand the rules of her game. I pity her, I admire her, I love her.

Mailed off in WritinReader's Bookbox yesterday, November 2, to bookaholic2

Journal Entry 6 by jinnayah from Ann Arbor, Michigan USA on Wednesday, November 03, 2004

This book has not been rated.

Just now I cruised the UMich Graduate Library stacks and I turned up Jewish Perspectives on Christianity, ed. Fritz A. Rothschild. "Mystery and Commandment," by Leo Baeck, is actually not about Christianity, but about the Jewish unity of the two titular experiences, the "two experiences of the human soul in which the meaning of his life takes on for a man a vital significance" (46).

Baeck speaks of the timelessness of mystery and commandment, their way of uniting past and future, where you've come from and what you must do, "the consciousness that we have been created versus the consciousness that we are expected to create" (47). He says,
For Judaism, however, this endlessness is something positive, it gives a man something. A commandment that can be fulfilled completely is merely a human law. The commandment of God is a commandment which leads into the future and involves a mission which, in the words of the Bible, continues "from generation to generation" (51).
Dietrich Bonhoeffer could agree, only from his perspective we don't have to do it alone, and Christ's intercession makes our lifelone, impossible mission a light burden and an easy yoke.

"She said she'd wanted to imagine what it would be like to serve God in an extreme way, without any withholding" (28). The more I read The Archivist, the more I feel Judith got something essentially right about her faith, despite that she had to discover Judaism on her own. Baeck speaks also of a faith without withholding, a continual recommitment to live in the tension of the mystery and commandment, the now and the world to come. "Whoever experiences both, both in unity, lives in the world and yet is different, is different and yet is in the world" (Baeck 54). He writes of a life transformed continually by faith, not once for all but in a lived way. Israel struggles with God and man and prevails.

Each of us has something to offer the Creator, and it tisn't belief. It's the returned Shekinah--the bridging of masculine and feminine, life and death. It's redemption, in which each of us is called to participate. Nothing else matters (Cooley 59).
Judith feels thwarted in her mission to reform the world. Her paths to the shards she must collect are blocked, perhaps by others who think they have her best interests at heart, perhaps by world complacency, certainly by her own mental illness. She loses her talent for fighting. "Judith had tried to set up her Jewish faith like a home, and over time [Matt] chipped away at it until finally there was no place for her to go" (22).

A man who truly lives in the unity of createdness and creating shouldn't have that problem, Baeck implies. "Wherever Jewish piety is found, we encounter this strong drive to create, to fashion for the sake of God, to build the kingdom of God" (55). Jesus, too, spoke of building the kingdom of God. "Behold! The kingdom of God is among you." There is no excuse. There is no waiting period. There is only the responsibility to get out there and create some grace!
First light, then language; first the en-sof, the unknowable, then the letters of the Torah all jumbled, from which we were supposed to construct a world--somehow!--though how did He expect us to do this once Adam the dust-man had broken the sacred vessels and scattered the light like motes of his own pale dust everywhere, leaving what the Kabbalists call shards (Cooley 109).
It's hard to do God's work, howbeit that we were created for it. It takes a lifetime, and it takes a little help from your friends. Christians would say it also takes the companionship of Christ, and that it takes the church as the body of Christ. Judaism, I think, says it takes a people.

Maybe Judith would have had a better chance had she not been such a loner. She cleaved unto a man who loved her "but could only approach her, approach but never reach her." Not a fit partner "for the repair of our breach, to restore grace" (Cooley 28). Did she need someone whom the force of intimacy did not frighten (19) but enlivened, someone who could have guided her righteous anger into social responsibility and connection? "If I knew how to atone, I would. Or what to atone for" (Cooley 175). Did she need someone who would not say "I don't think atonement is the issue"?

This has often been called the realism of Judaism--trust in the world, or, to be more precise, the assurance of reconciliation. ... Reconciliation is the liberating assurance that even now, during our life on earth, while we are coping with what is given and assigned, we are related to God. ... Wherever we have both mystery and commandment, we also encounter the possiblity of such reconciliaiton; for there it is possible for a man to become certain of his origin as well as of his way ... --he can always return to himself" (Baeck 52).
Judith was not taught to return to herself. And so she was left with no place to go. 

Journal Entry 7 by Ramya from Plainsboro, New Jersey USA on Tuesday, November 23, 2004

This book has not been rated.

I've picked this out of the "Books I enjoyed" bookbox. I haven't yet decided what I'll put into the box. 

Journal Entry 8 by Ramya from Plainsboro, New Jersey USA on Wednesday, January 12, 2005

This book has not been rated.

I'm taking this from the "Books I really enjoyed" bookbox and replacing it with "The crime at the Black Dudley" by Margery Allingham. I'll be getting to the PO on Saturday to (finally!) ship the box off.


Journal Entry 9 by jinnayah from Ann Arbor, Michigan USA on Tuesday, July 12, 2005

This book has not been rated.


Yippee! I wrote Martha Cooley a second fan letter (I wrote last fall and received no answer) and she responded this morning! Whee! She says she didn't receive my first fan letter. Silly Little, Brown. Maybe I'll send her another copy. I've got the long version of the first letter still.

Anyway, this is what the author has to say about Judith:

As to my character Judith's world...well, it wouldn't be an easy one to inhabit all the time, as I learned while inhabiting it imaginatively so as to create her journal (which is, as you say, less an actual "journal" than a chronicle of the inner life). But I believe we all have within us the capacity to choose (and keep re-choosing) our angle of approach, as it were, to the world. (Perspectives are endlessly variable, thank goodness!) Depression obviously complicates that capacity, but needn't fully deny or remove it. And it's good we live in better times than Judith did, in that depression itself is now much better understood and treated.
I'll be adding this little bit to each of my journal entries for Archivist

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