Today is the birthday of Nobel prize winning writer Doris Lessing. There are days when I'm rather sobered to realize how many Nobel laureates I've never read, and now, I must begin to admit, will likely never read.
I've tried to read Doris Lessing. I understand her importance. I just don't like her books.
In the 1980's, I started reading feminist authors in earnest. I subscribed to Ms. magazine. Doris Lessing's name kept coming up. So many of my favorite authors mentioned her work, and in particular, the book The Golden Notebook. I could hardly wait to read it.
I tried to slog through it during the summer of 1985. I was commuting to Southeast D.C., where I worked as a housing counselor for Lutheran Social Services--like President Obama, I was a community outreach organizer, of sorts. I tried to connect poor people to services and grant money. We had money to winterize houses, and we did that. I answered the phones and helped people file paperwork that would keep them from losing their homes. There were hours of downtime where I simply waited for the phone to ring and could read. Plus, I was commuting by bus and subway, which meant I had more time to read. I often carried numerous books with me.
I tried so hard to read The Golden Notebook. I wanted so much to like it. I just didn't. I finally gave up. Occasionally, I returned to Doris Lessing, but I could never finish her books.
Later, in graduate school, I was happy to understand her place in British literature, but I had other female authors from the 20th century whom I liked better: Margaret Drabble and Iris Murdoch for example. I could write about Doris Lessing for my Comprehensive exams, but I never managed to actually finish any of her books.
I don't understand why I can like Joyce but not Lessing. Well, I suspect the key is having a good teacher. In graduate school, I had the fabulous Dr. Rice guide us through the works of Joyce. None of my grad school professors had us read Lessing. I suspect they felt the same way about her work that I did.
Still, I'm happy that her writings came when they did, that The Golden Notebook was there to guide the development of other feminist writers who would be so important to me.
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