Rachel Ann Brickner's Reviews > The Black Notebooks: An Interior Journey

The Black Notebooks by Toi Derricotte
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's review
Oct 14, 2009

really liked it
bookshelves: journals, memoir, undergrad-books, read-in-2009
Read in October, 2009

The chapter that I found to be the most interesting model for me in The Black Notebooks is “The Club.” Something I have been thinking about in relation to my final project for a class I'm taking called "The Writer's Journal" is how to make a timeline and cover events and things I went through over several years in twelve to fifteen pages. After reading “The Club”, I realized that perhaps I could accomplish this by breaking down the material I want to write into months. I began to map out how this would work for the project I’m envisioning, and I think sectioning things off in this way allows me to do a lot more of the type of work that I’m interested in than if I attempted to create a fluid, seamless narrative.

In “The Club” I like how the month subtitles allow Derricotte to not have to explain how things happened over time. We see for ourselves how her feelings of isolation, anger, depression, and longing continued month after month without her having to say ‘And then in December.” We can just get straight to the heart of it. I also liked how sometimes there would be more than one entry for one month and then a few months would be skipped over, ostensibly because Derricotte hadn’t been writing or because what she wrote during those months wasn’t appropriate for this particular chapter.

Furthemore, another thing I gained by attempting to emulate this format was looking at the variety of content Derricotte deals with in each monthly chunk. It is not always the same. Sometimes we get a scene with very little exposition. Other times we get entries that sound like an essay, seeming somewhat calm and detached. Many times we see how her present situation triggers family memories and how those memories fit in with her life today and show her something else about herself, her reactions, and how little racism has changed over the years. Yet, even though the content is not always the same in each monthly section, “The Club” works because Derricotte has given us a sense of time with the monthly subtitles and everything she includes relates to feeling ostracized because of her race and the repercussions of that, which is triggered by her family not being invited to their neighborhood's club in the first place. I’m looking forward to seeing if I accomplish something similarly with my project, which also takes place over approximately six years like Derricotte's The Black Notebooks.
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