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The Archivist : A Novel
by Martha Cooley | Literature & Fiction
Registered by jinnayah of Ann Arbor, Michigan USA on 6/3/2004
Average 10 star rating by BookCrossing Members 

status (set by jinnayah): travelling

1 journaler for this copy...

Journal Entry 1 by jinnayah from Ann Arbor, Michigan USA on Thursday, June 03, 2004

This book has not been rated.

Pre-numbered label used for registration. 

Journal Entry 2 by jinnayah from Ann Arbor, Michigan USA on Thursday, June 03, 2004

10 out of 10

Bought at DAVID'S BOOKS, my favorite used-book store in Ann Arbor, for the sake of releasing it. A month or so ago my mom and I purged our bookshelves, took 26 books to David's, and received $50 store credit for them. (This seems more or less fair to me--it's enough for eight or nine books.) Archivist was not bought with that store credit, because my mother, who is getting a bit exasperated by my BookCrossing passion, made me promise to use those $50 for myself. I have used half of it already, and actually I forgot and bought a copy of Tathea with it, but otherwise I have kept to my promise. So I paid normally for this book.

I haven't decided yet who will get it. I love Archivist with wonder and passion, and I cannot bear to release it wild. I know I should be able to, but I want very much that only people who appreciate it will ever get it from me, and I want to know it is going into good hands. This is one of the best books I have read in years. I have read it fully three times now in the past year and a half, and will read at least the last third of this copy before I let it go.

It is also the third copy of Archivist I have registered (the other paperback was also bought at David's). I include the same introductory entry with each copy (including my own permanent copy), but otherwise will write different things about each of them--and each will have different histories eventually. You can read further here and here and here

Journal Entry 3 by jinnayah from Ann Arbor, Michigan USA on Saturday, June 05, 2004

This book has not been rated.

The first night I started reading this 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.

My "think it over" friend is the type of reader who regularly, even as a rule, devours books in a single setting. I think books are best read slowly, but I usually cannot follow through on that opinion. I start out at a reasonable pace, and then am drawn in more and more and whirl through eventually. The night I wrote that HELP! email I finished The Archivist.

I felt I lost a lot by that. The characters go through many significant changes over the course of weeks, or, in other parts of the book, years. I cannot process their whole lives in the matter of a single late night. I do not allow them to live as fully as an author makes them live when I do that. The second time I read this book I did it over the course of three weeks, no more than three pages in a single sitting. The last third, especially, was far better than I remembered it, more subtle and insightful and careful. It is my opinion that one cannot fully appreciate how many years Ms. Cooley may or may not have mulled over the ideas if one gives less than three days to them oneself. In this I disagree with my friend. He believes an opinion is valid independent of the one who holds it.


In the end, The Archivist is encapsulated, I believe, almost entire in pages 112-3, Judith's journal entry of May 3, 1959. Here all the book's many themes come together. I identify very strongly with Judith. One of my fellow-readers said the middle third of the novel, her journal, is a bit like talking to me. She did not read to me as angry as some of my friends read her (for one this anger made the book far harder; another liked tapping into that power). I share some of her demons.

A fellow reader liked Roberta best. "She has a depth that Matt does not, and a balance that Judith lacks," he said. Roberta's questions, of course, are never answered in this book. It is notable that a character who (in the words of the narrator) sees everything through the lens of conversion never once explains satisfactorally what it means to her. Roberta speaks often of other people's conversions and their effects on her. Yet she never gets personal enough.

I will always love this book. And I would love to know whether, and/or how, you do.


Journal Entry 4 by jinnayah from Ann Arbor, Michigan USA on Saturday, June 05, 2004

This book has not been rated.

I started reading the third third of the book this time. It is the section I understand least, and like least, so I feel I need to spend more time with it. I usually do not like reading more than 10 or 20 pages per day in this book, so I have not gotten very far yet. And now I am passing it on to my dad. So this is a copy that was mine only for a short while.

"I allowed a little impatience into my voice, to spur her" (219). This small comment of Matt's struck me strongly a few days ago for its extreme self-possession. He is so in control, at almost all times in his life. I suppose I noticed so much because I am reading the Forsyte Saga, which posits, "the soul of possession is to possess oneself." Is it something extraordinary to be in command of one's faculties to such extremes? Matt looks at himself from without all the time, he sees his effects on others and carefully calibrates that. I can identify with that. My friends and I sometimes agree that we tend to think about ourselves more than the average person, that we are analyzers who feel rarely spontaneous. We decide we like ourselves that way, although it makes some things more difficult. We yearn sometimes to be free of our minds.

Matt never seems to have that yearning. His thoughts about himself are cool, calm, objective; he attempts to avoid passion and the frantic turnings of mind to which I find myself prey. Judith was different from him. I expect she must have thought she could unleash whatever Matt had chained in his mind, allow him to run wild just now and then. "To other women I had shown only the self I felt safe revealing. Judith elicited from me other selves; wordlessly she pushed me to discover how best to please not just her but myself." I don't remember that quote exactly, but I have always remembered its sense. (If anyone else who reads this knows where to find that quote, please let me know.) How much is a relationship about self-discovery? It is one nontrivial component, certainly. As he pushed Judith away from him, Matt cut himself off from that potential path of growth. At the time of the book's 'present,' he has been for a long time alone by choice, knowing only what he already knew of himself. How unsettling it must be to him to learn again--but I would be terrified if I felt I had stopped learning. 

Journal Entry 5 by jinnayah from Ann Arbor, Michigan USA on Wednesday, August 18, 2004

This book has not been rated.

Gave the book to my dad 

Journal Entry 6 by jinnayah at Pioneer High School in Ann Arbor, Michigan USA on Friday, December 03, 2004

This book has not been rated.

Released on Friday, December 03, 2004 at about 8:00:00 AM BX time (GMT-06:00) Central Time (US & Canada) at Pioneer High School in Ann Arbor, Michigan USA.


Student alert!

Released the book to Mrs. Graff, Humanities & Brit. Lit. teacher at Pioneer High School. She plans to read it herself before releasing, but feel free to ask her for it. 

Journal Entry 7 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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