Sunday, January 15, 2006

The Notebook--an essay on a book

Nicholas Sparks, The Notebook (1996)

I admit, this is my first Nicholas Spark’s book. It’s also the closest thing I’ve read to Chic Lit since Bridges of Madison County. And yes, I’ll admit in a rather self-righteous fashion, I’ve read both books and have seen neither movie.

At least half a dozen people suggested I read The Notebook since last summer when my mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Although she is no where near the stage of Allie, in the book, one can only wonder what the future holds. In my mind, my parents have had an idyllic marriage, kind of like Noah and Allie. Noah and Allie met one summer in New Bern, North Carolina, when she was 15 and he 17. Fourteen years and a World War later, they meet again, right before Allie’s wedding to a “hot shot Raleigh attorney. “ (being from NC, I can say that!) As far as what happens after they meet, Sparks leaves you in suspense. Will Allie go back to her attorney or stay with Noah? You don’t learn what happens until the last part of the book when the two of them are in a nursing home. Allie has Alzheimer’s and generally doesn’t know Noah, although sometimes when he reads their story to her, there is a spark and it’s like they fall in love again. But then, “the thief comes in the night” and takes her away again.

In addition to reading the story because of the subject matter on Alzheimer’s, I was recently encouraged to read Sparks because of the settings of his books reminded them of some of my writing about exploring the coastal waters of Eastern North Carolina. Like Noah in the book, I grew up near the coast and spent many days in a canoe exploring the tidal streams. Sparks does a wonderful job painting a picture of the natural environment.

Not only did this book bringing up family issues about dealing with the disease, it also stirred up within me lost feelings from the summer of ’90. I was working in Idaho. Toward the end of the season, I met a teacher from there who had just called off an engagement. We had an intense relationship that lasted only a couple of weeks. Reading Sparks, I once again I recalled nights sitting in hot springs under the desert sky and a snowball fight in late on August afternoon, up in the high country, when we were caught in a winter storm. The highlight of our brief courtship was a dining at a Cajun Restaurant (near Ketchum). The chef served an ice cream dish with brandy blazing as his deep voice sang out “I Only Have Eyes for You.” After the summer was over, she went back to teaching and I headed to a job in New York State. I never saw her again and my calls and letters went unanswered. About a year later a friend in Idaho called me with the news that she’d gotten married. With such memories, I was a bit jealous of Noah’s good fortune.

If someone wants to learn about Alzheimer’s, I would recommend reading David Shenk’s, The Forgetting, Alzheimer’s: Portrait of an Epidemic. I wrote about it in my blog last summer. It’s a beautiful piece of literature about a horrible subject matter. Another recommendation, for about what Alzheimer’s can do to a family, is James Carroll’s, An American Requiem: God, My Father, and the War that Came Between Us. Although this book is certainly not about the disease, it deals with the disease in the closing pages of the book. Carroll, a former Catholic priest, is writing about how the Vietnam War and religion split him and his father (who was an Air Force General). Then, in the end, Alzheimer’s became a hindrance to any true reconciliation between father and son. Carroll’s book, like Sparks, reminds us to make the most of the time we have at hand, for tomorrow may be too late.

If you have read any of these books, I’d love to know your thoughts.


  1. I;ve always wanted to read this book. Now qith your suggestion I will. Hi from Michele's! I couldn't not visit you when your name was sage covered hills. I love it here when the sage is in bloom. So pretty, it covers the hills. It's a couple of months away and I can hardly wait.

  2. I have read 'The Notebook', though it was a while ago. My only memory of it is as a sad, sad love story. I have someone in my family who may be getting Alzheimer's, so I thank you for the other book recommendation. I will find it soon.

  3. Another book that is set in North Carolina that you may enjoy - At Home in Mitford by Jan Karon. I think there are 7 or 8 books in these series (I'm now on the last one) but that's the first one.

  4. I have seen the movie "The Notebook" and just recently another one (forgotten the name) of Sparks' books on a love tryst where a bully boy falls for the preachers daughter who turns out is dying with lukemia but haven't read either book. I'm sure in both cases, the books were better.

    Perhaps the scariest way to go in my opinion is to lose contact with your memories. I hope your mother is able to do it with grace and peace.

  5. This was not my first Nicholas Sparks book and not my last either. I believe I've read 6 now. I liked "The Notebook" because he paints beautiful pictures within the story, the book is a very quick read (only 200-something pages), and a good story, but very sad.

    I prefer his happier ending ones like "Three Weeks with My Brother" about Nicholas and his brother and their 3-week trip around the world. He goes into a lot of detail about where he got his ideas for his books and looks both at the reflections of the trip and his life and experiences. I highly recommend it.

  6. I've read about 6 Nicholas Sparks books. The Notebook was good mostly because he paints some beautiful pictures within, it's a quick read (only 200-something pages), and it's a good story, although a very sad one.

    My favorite Nicolas Sparks books are the ones with a little happier ending. I really enjoyed his book, "Three Weeks with My Brother" which is a story about how he and his brother take a 3-week trip around the world, during which he reflects both on the happenings of the trip and his memories of growing up. It's a true tale which ties into his past experiences and gives us all an idea of where his inspiration for some of the characters in his books comes from. I highly recommend it.

  7. haven't read them but it sounds like a good read. i'll let you know when i finish :)

  8. I have mixed feelings about Nicholas Sparks. I think that The Notebook is his best book, and I love that he was a Notre Dame graduate (Go Irish! Gotta have more Domer published writers!), but when I read his books, I see a glimmer of much better writing, and better plots, and better books than he does. He opts for the commercial, chick lit, pull at your heart strings stuff instead of the great literature that I think he might have inside of him. Soooo.... I keep hoping.

  9. Shortly after my Dad was diagnosed with Alzheimer's I bought my Mom The Notebook. I knew it was a love story that spanned years, but I had no idea that Alzheimers was part of the book. A few nights later my Mom called me crying. I felt so badly for getting her something so close to her heart. Alsheimer's is a tough thing on the partner that has to watch the love of their life drift away from them. It really is sad.

  10. heya! i'm stopping over to say thanks for visiting my blog the other day! i've not read this sparks book.. only one i ever read was message in a bottle and i really liked it... then saw the movie after i read it...

  11. Hi Sage! I'm sorry to hear about your mother being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s; my grandmother is going through the throws of that disease now, so my heart goes out to the both of you.

    I have never read Nicolas Sparks, but I have saw the movie version of The Notebook while on retreat at Omega last year. It was indeed a sad movie. My mother loved the book.

    I tend to read non-fiction; either Eastern Philosophy, or biographies. Currently, while recovering from my latest procedure, I have been reading several books that deal with the CIA. I know, my sister-in-law was looking at my library of books and said, "Okay, Bhakti, there's something wrong with this picture: Jesus, Buddha, Shiva...FBI????

    I'm interested in the intelligence field and especially interested in discovering how the old ways of gathering intelligence aren't helping us win the war on terror--or at least combat it as effetively as we could be.

    Sorry for the rant, but...hopefully you'll find something that I wrote interesting!!

  12. b/c of this post i read the book...very sweet, very touching story.

  13. I just re-read and posted my review. I am linking your review to mine. Infact I am goint to link this review page to my book blog.

    My review:

    The Notebook