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October 11, 2007

Doris Lessing wins the Nobel Prize in Literature
Posted by Patrick at 07:41 AM * 66 comments

And I’m pretty sure this is the first time it’s been won by a one-time Guest of Honor of the World Science Fiction Convention.

Comments on Doris Lessing wins the Nobel Prize in Literature:
#1 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: October 11, 2007, 07:46 AM:

NYT link...I can has paywall!

Or I can hasBeeb link.

Last line of the BBC article: "She can also expect to see a rise in sales."

#2 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: October 11, 2007, 08:10 AM:

Times link switched out for BBC one. I forgot that even though Times Select is over, some of their links to wire-service stories still don't work unless you're a registered user. Registration is free, but...

#3 ::: Alex Cohen ::: (view all by) ::: October 11, 2007, 09:16 AM:

How many Nobel Prize laureates could be considered genre, or at least genre-friendly? Rudyard Kipling, Thomas Mann, Herman Hesse, T. S. Eliot, John Steinbeck, Samuel Beckett, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, William Golding, Wole Soyinka, Toni Morrison, Seamus Heaney, for a start. Not a bad list.

I'm embarrassed to realize how many of the laureates I've never even heard of, much less read their work.

Hooray for Doris Lessing. Maybe I need to read her books now.

#4 ::: Sajia Kabir ::: (view all by) ::: October 11, 2007, 09:16 AM:

Seven years ago I made a list of feminist authors I'd like to win the Nobel: Adrienne Rich, Mahashweta Devi, and Doris Lessing.
I no longer take the literary Nobel as seriously as I used to, nor am I as big a fan of Lessing as I was before, but still, congratulations!
Shame about Adonis, though.

#5 ::: Josh Jasper ::: (view all by) ::: October 11, 2007, 09:33 AM:

I don't know how Nobel judging is done, but I do know her writing ins superb. Good for her. And hopefully for the genre as well.

#6 ::: mayakda ::: (view all by) ::: October 11, 2007, 09:38 AM:

I've never read any of her books. Any advice on a good one to start on? (Meaning one with a good story in it?)

#7 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: October 11, 2007, 10:05 AM:

It is nice to see someone whose work I know, if not very well, and respect, a lot, get the Nobel. Some years it seems to be a really political beauty contest, but awards like this make up for that. May Doris Lessing continue to speak her mind through her craft for many more years.

#8 ::: Steve Buchheit ::: (view all by) ::: October 11, 2007, 10:07 AM:

Well, you know, Swedes, they tend to not to obsessively read the New Yorker or have many pretentions. I think it's the cold and the very dark winters that keeps them more grounded in reality. They also don't have much brie there, that also helps.

#9 ::: RP ::: (view all by) ::: October 11, 2007, 10:26 AM:

I tried to read Lessing's SF as a teenager, and I couldn't get into it. Just recently, I read "A Proper Marriage" - wow! Really fantastic stuff, so I'm now working my way through the rest of her Children of Violence series. Maybe I'm now old enough to tackle Canopus in Argos....

#10 ::: John Chu ::: (view all by) ::: October 11, 2007, 10:40 AM:

Neat. When I heard about it on the radio, I was wondering... I also thought it was nice that NPR acknowledged her genre novels in their overview of her career.

#11 ::: Sean Sakamoto ::: (view all by) ::: October 11, 2007, 10:49 AM:

Professional writer about writers, Harold Bloom on the award:

"Although Ms. Lessing at the beginning of her writing career had a few admirable qualities, I find her work for the past 15 years quite unreadable ... fourth-rate science fiction," Bloom told The Associated Press.

I wonder what the professor considers to be first, second, and third rate science fiction to be?

#12 ::: lalouve ::: (view all by) ::: October 11, 2007, 10:52 AM:

Well, you know, Swedes, they tend to not to obsessively read the New Yorker or have many pretentions. I think it's the cold and the very dark winters that keeps them more grounded in reality. They also don't have much brie there, that also helps.

I take exception to this. We have plenty of brie...
Actually, cold and dark winters is why we read writers like Doris Lessing. What else is there to do in a day that has four hours of daylight?

#13 ::: ethan ::: (view all by) ::: October 11, 2007, 10:56 AM:

lalouve #12: I take exception to this. We have plenty of brie...

Oh, thank goodness. I was feeling so awful for your countrypeople.

#14 ::: Juliet E McKenna ::: (view all by) ::: October 11, 2007, 10:58 AM:

John @ #10,

Well done NPR. That's more than the BBC news bulletin I watched this (UK) lunchtime did. Nope, the SF word(s) never sullied their lips.

Ho hum.

#15 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: October 11, 2007, 10:59 AM:

I think it's marvellous.* There is a cynical part of me, though, that has the prize committee going....

Feminist? Check.
Postcolonial. Check?
Better award the prize soon? Check.

* Though there's a part of me that every year hopes that Kamau Brathwaite will get the nod.

#16 ::: Madeleine Robins ::: (view all by) ::: October 11, 2007, 11:10 AM:

I have thrown myself against Lessing's work a few times and not been able to get into it; I ought to try again, I think.

I love her dry, albeit pleased, reaction to the fuss. "Now we're going to have a lot of speeches and flowers and it will be very nice."

And a big honking check, too.

#17 ::: Adam Lipkin ::: (view all by) ::: October 11, 2007, 11:12 AM:

Sean #11: In the case of Bloom, I think he likely believes that the tiers above "fourth-rate" have yet to be populated.

#18 ::: Doug ::: (view all by) ::: October 11, 2007, 11:25 AM:

re 17 et al.: Actually, Bloom is a big fan of Crowley's Little, Big.

#19 ::: Andrew Willett ::: (view all by) ::: October 11, 2007, 12:03 PM:

Although don't hold that against Little, Big, please.

#20 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: October 11, 2007, 12:09 PM:

The one time I had an extended conversation with Harold Bloom, he told me his favorite SF novel is David Lindsay's A Voyage to Arcturus.

(Teresa and I were, for several years, associate editors of the Chelsea House Library of Literary Criticism, a massive reference work compiled under the rather cough distant cough "editorship" of H. Bloom. In Bloom's defense, I will say that he was entirely amenable to us including large amounts of material about various major SF writers.)

#21 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: October 11, 2007, 12:12 PM:

Mayakda @ 6: My favorite of the few I've read is Briefing For A Descent Into Hell, which, by complete coincidence (I had no idea she was up for a Nobel), I'm in the middle of rereading.

#22 ::: A.J. ::: (view all by) ::: October 11, 2007, 12:14 PM:

Judging by the newspaper articles, Ms. Lessing must be a very entertaining interviewee.

#23 ::: JESR ::: (view all by) ::: October 11, 2007, 12:18 PM:

John Chu @10, I would have applauded when I heard the words "science fiction" in the NPR report, if it had not been just after 5am and I was half-asleep in bed.

I was sorry, though, that neither NPR nor the BBC (KUOW plays BBC World Service from 1am to 5am) nor, apparently, the Nobel committee, gave mention of Lessing's subversive and sometimes almost juvenile sense of humor.

#24 ::: Steve Buchheit ::: (view all by) ::: October 11, 2007, 12:35 PM:

#12 lalouve, I sincerely apologize for not knowing the status of brie supply in Sweden. The enormity of my ignorance regarding all cheesy consumables in your fine country is truly staggering and based on the experience of several Swedes on trains traveling through Germany in the mid 80s.

#25 ::: oliviacw ::: (view all by) ::: October 11, 2007, 01:08 PM:

JESR@23, I too probably heard the news on the radio at 5am while mostly asleep. Which meant that I incorporated the name into a dream - apparently, I attended a baby shower for "Doris" and later found out that it was Doris Lessing. (Two friends of mine are having babies soon, so baby showers are much on the agenda). I was somewhat confused about the dream upon waking until I heard the report again, while more coherent. I'm amused that I gave her a party in my brain for this news!

#26 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: October 11, 2007, 01:36 PM:

Wonderful to hear. How many avowed SF writers have won the Nobel? I'm inclined to include Kipling among them -- Borges? Calvino?

Lessing definitely admitted that what she was writing, betimes, was SF. So how can we advocate for (e.g.) Atwood, John Crowley, or a number of others?

#27 ::: mayakda ::: (view all by) ::: October 11, 2007, 01:58 PM:

TW @ 21: Thanks for the rec. That certainly sounds like a timely title.

#28 ::: Chuk ::: (view all by) ::: October 11, 2007, 02:06 PM:

I live in Canada, and for some reason, all my friends think Lessing is a Canadian writer. I even notice on Boing Boing (http://boingboing.hexten.net/2007/10/11/doris-lessing-wins-n.html), Cory Doctorow refers to her as Canadian. (I thought she was, too.)

But any bio info about her I can find doesn't mention Canada. It's very weird.

#29 ::: Seth Gordon ::: (view all by) ::: October 11, 2007, 02:14 PM:

Are people confusing Doris Lessing with Margaret Atwood?

#30 ::: Dan Blum ::: (view all by) ::: October 11, 2007, 02:21 PM:

Tom @26:

Neither Borges nor Calvino won a Nobel.

#31 ::: Jon Evans ::: (view all by) ::: October 11, 2007, 02:24 PM:

#6: Shikasta isn't a bad place to start, kind of Olaf Stapledon in feel.

#28: I'm think I would know if Doris Lessing were Canadian. (My father, who was born in Rhodesia/Zimbabwe where she spent a considerable portion of her life, once dated her daughter before he emigrated to Canada.)

#32 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: October 11, 2007, 02:42 PM:

What with Harold Bloom and the other snarky comments recorded in the Wikipedia article, Ansible ought to have a Special Nobel Edition of "How Others See Us".

I read Shikasta and didn't care for it (subtle as a WB anvil) but I did like one of the other "Canopus" books very much.

#33 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: October 11, 2007, 02:54 PM:

For some reason, I thought Lessing was Canadian, until I did a quick look-up on her earlier. I read a couple of her books when I was in my teens, and found them generally uninteresting; they didn't leave much of an impression. But I have this niggling feeling that they might have had little "Candian author" maple-leaf stickers on their spines, on the library shelves.

#34 ::: Ben Morris ::: (view all by) ::: October 11, 2007, 03:38 PM:

Well, Harold Bloom lists H.G. Wells, John Cowper Powys, Mervyn Peake, Ursula K. LeGuin, Thomas Disch, David Lindsay and John Crowley in his Western Canon so it doesn't look to me that he has anything against science fiction or fantasy. Also the only piece of fiction he seems to have written (The Flight to Lucifer, a sequel to Lindsay's Voyage to Arcturus) is fantasy.

#35 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: October 11, 2007, 04:22 PM:

Poet & novelist Harry Martinson also has a place on the genre-friendly list

#36 ::: Sandra ::: (view all by) ::: October 11, 2007, 04:54 PM:

*delurks*

Another possible source for the belief Lessing is Canadian, at least among people of my musical taste: She's mentioned in a verse of the Moxy Fruvous song "My Baby Loves a Bunch of Authors" along with Margaret Atwood, W.P. Kinsella, and Robertson Davies, Canadians all.
Somehow, nobody makes this mistake about Mario Puzo.

#37 ::: Doug K ::: (view all by) ::: October 11, 2007, 05:26 PM:

Wow. I enjoyed her African stories, particularly 'This was the old chief's country', and her memoir 'African Laughter: Four Visits to Zimbabwe' was very good if sad. There may be a political element to the prize, but it was earned.
By birth, Iranian. Hm.

#38 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: October 11, 2007, 05:36 PM:

Paul Krugman, at his new blog at the NYT:

My cat wins!

One of our cats — the small gray one, who’s sitting next to my keyboard as I write this — is named Doris Lessing. And she just won a Nobel.

#39 ::: tye ::: (view all by) ::: October 11, 2007, 06:19 PM:

I wonder if Lessing is maybe being confused with Margaret Laurence, who also wrote stories set in Africa. I am hopeful that if the Nobel ever does go to a Canadian, it will be to Alice Munro.

#40 ::: miriam beetle ::: (view all by) ::: October 11, 2007, 06:23 PM:

sandra,

She's mentioned in a verse of the Moxy Fruvous song "My Baby Loves a Bunch of Authors" along with Margaret Atwood, W.P. Kinsella, and Robertson Davies, Canadians all.

believe it or not, you're not the only one to leap to that association. i wasn't gonna say nothing, but, yeah, there is officially at least one fruhead on making light.

#41 ::: lucyp ::: (view all by) ::: October 11, 2007, 07:18 PM:

"Spilt some dressing on Doris Lessing; these writer types are a scream."

This was welcome news. I've never read any of her SF books, but I'm a big fan of her contemporary novels. I like knowing, when there is an author I love, that there's whole unexplored body of work out there, just waiting for me.

#42 ::: Mez ::: (view all by) ::: October 11, 2007, 07:37 PM:

The Nobel Prize site has been improving over time, but one thing it's always been good for is straight lists and that kind of information, such as all 103 Nobel Laureates in Literature.

I'm usually more interested in the various science prizes, but there's been a couple of nice lits recently, frex you can read or watch Harold Pinter's speech from 2005 onsite too.

#43 ::: Michael Weholt ::: (view all by) ::: October 11, 2007, 07:42 PM:

#32 C. Wingate: What with Harold Bloom and the other snarky comments recorded in the Wikipedia article, Ansible ought to have a Special Nobel Edition of "How Others See Us".

Except that we know how others see us. We've known for ages. It's one of the great topics of fandom, it seems to me.

Me, personally, I only want to hear about exceptions to the general case. I love it when a Regular Writer writes an interesting piece of SF. I love it when a Regular Writer speaks up in favor of it. Not because I need their validation for the genre, but because I want to see them step up to the plate and take their cuts.

There are a lot of genuinely wonderful writers who do almost all their work in the genre. Among those I would list here would be Wolfe and Delany, but I think there are a lot of really crappy writers who populate the genre and anytime anybody who is Really Good, whether they are seen as a Regular Writer or not, steps up and takes a swing, I am very, very happy, even if the work doesn't entirely meet Our Standards.

I'm kind of sick of the topic "How Others See Us". I frankly don't give a crap.

#44 ::: Stephen Frug ::: (view all by) ::: October 11, 2007, 07:42 PM:

Neither Borges nor Calvino won a Nobel.

It's actually embarrassingly easy to create a list of potential Literature Nobel winners who are collectively more impressive than the actual list of winners -- certainly restricting yourself just to people who were eligible (i.e. alive during the existence of the prize, I'm not cheating and listing Shakespeare here), and I think that in most if not all of the cases people who were actively considered. Such lists (I've seen many versions - example here) usually begin with Tolstoy, Ibsen and Mark Twain, move on through Joyce, Woolf and Proust (and Kafka, although I doubt he was considered), and then include all sorts of amazing writers like Nabokov and Borges and so on. And add your favorite SF writers to the list. (Who do you think should win the list among living SF writers?)

I've never read Doris Lessing, so this isn't any sort of reflection on her getting it; it's just an interestingly inconsistent prize.

#45 ::: Gag Halfrunt ::: (view all by) ::: October 11, 2007, 07:44 PM:

I saw an interview with Doris Lessing on Channel 4 News here in the UK. She complained about critics who refused to take her science fiction novels seriously, and also said that she considered them to be some of her best work. (You can watch the video online, but I don't know if it works outside the UK).

#46 ::: Mez ::: (view all by) ::: October 11, 2007, 07:55 PM:

Er. And I meant to say that it's happy news. I've enjoyed her books, and Particularly Cats has a firm – if painful – place in my heart. A quick check shows The Golden Notebook has moved up into the best-sellers on Powell's.

#47 ::: ebear ::: (view all by) ::: October 11, 2007, 08:54 PM:

EXCELLENT.

It's about time. I wasn't much fond of her last book, but everybody has a bad novel in them.

#48 ::: Sajia Kabir ::: (view all by) ::: October 11, 2007, 09:01 PM:

Living SF writers: Gaiman seems an obvious choice, but seeing that the Nobel has become a kind of Literary Lifetime Achievement Award he's probably too young, and, let's face it, too popular. Delany would be considered literary enough, but I wonder if he would be considered too sexually outrageous. Pratchett (admit it, some of you were thinking of him) to me just isn't consistent enough, taking each novel individually; he's shaped my moral outlook greatly, but my affection is for his body of work as a whole, not any particular book. I have a fondness for Rushdie (going into literary fantasists), but there's that little matter of the Satanic Verses.

#49 ::: ethan ::: (view all by) ::: October 11, 2007, 10:58 PM:

SF writers: LeGuin pretty clearly deserves a Nobel. I'd give one to Kim Stanley Robinson. I stupidly haven't read much Delany, but I bet he could use one. Douglas Adams should get a posthumous one. First four I thought of.

#50 ::: Kathryn from Sunnyvale ::: (view all by) ::: October 11, 2007, 11:09 PM:

I like this Newsday interview with Lessing, done last winter. It's very refreshing*.

Q.You've written many novels. Are there any you wish people would read more?

A. My science fiction books.

-------------
* cue rants on writers who won't admit they're writing SF, re: thread a few months back, etc.

#51 ::: Sylvia Li ::: (view all by) ::: October 12, 2007, 12:55 AM:

The first book of hers I read wasn't SF, it was The Good Terrorist (1985). I'd recommend it... it's one of those tales that tend to move into the back of your mind and take up permanent residence.

#52 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: October 12, 2007, 01:47 AM:

It's nice to find out that Doris Lessing isn't wracked with the existential pain of Genre Denial Syndrome.

#53 ::: Kathryn from Sunnyvale ::: (view all by) ::: October 12, 2007, 02:02 AM:

Earl @52,

She isn't, no. But compare her interview (@50) to what the NYTimes wrote about her Nobel win:

"She has dabbled in science fiction, and some of her later works bear the imprint of her interest in Sufi mysticism..."

Dabbled? They dabbled in research for that article.

#54 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: October 12, 2007, 03:08 AM:

I remember I was very fond of The Marriage Between Zones Three, Four, and Five. Not exactly SF, not exactly fantasy, something closer to a parable but coming from someplace deep and dreamlike and very human.

Also, I strongly agree with the recommendation for The Good Terrorist. Deceptively placid on the surface for quite a while, and very dark underneath, with much to think about.

The Golden Notebook is a work of genius IMO, but like Ulysses, Gravity's Rainbow, or for that matter Dhalgren, it's not for everybody at all times. The last time I started rereading it I drifted away from it after a while, but I should have another go at it; I remember getting a lot out of it the first time through.

#55 ::: Doonbogglefrog ::: (view all by) ::: October 12, 2007, 06:28 AM:

I'll post this in the open thread too, but Al Gore has won the Nobel Peace Prize (he is sharing it with the IPCC).

#56 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: October 12, 2007, 07:23 AM:

Joel Polowin #33: Surely a 'Candian author' would be from Crete?

#57 ::: Neil in Chicago ::: (view all by) ::: October 12, 2007, 08:30 AM:

“first time it’s been won by a one-time Guest of Honor of the World Science Fiction Convention” . . . not to mention Sufi-inspired!
Getting the news about Lessing and Gore (I’ve been wondering if he’s running for a draft since his Saturday Night Live opener a year and a half ago) really makes my morning!

#58 ::: ethan ::: (view all by) ::: October 12, 2007, 09:24 AM:

Has anyone been able to clear up the Canadian Controversy of Y2K7? I see it's uncorrected at BoingBoing...does Cory Doctorow know something we don't? Besides the usual, I mean.

#59 ::: Richard Koontz ::: (view all by) ::: October 12, 2007, 10:01 AM:

Poor Harold. He’s had such anxiety since his theory of anxiety of influence hit the toilet.

#60 ::: Adam Lipkin ::: (view all by) ::: October 12, 2007, 10:45 AM:

Doris's wonderful response to the news:

"Oh Christ, I couldn't care less."

#61 ::: Chuk ::: (view all by) ::: October 12, 2007, 01:21 PM:

I was thinking of the Moxy Früvous thing -- I even thought that no one thinks Mario Puzo is Canadian.

#62 ::: Jesse the K ::: (view all by) ::: October 12, 2007, 11:39 PM:

I've read it all. She tells the same story again and again, but her insights are such I don't mind.

The five novels in the Children of Violence series provide a refreshingly brutal perspective on the ill-informed enthusiasm motivating young revolutionaries. She travels into her future in the last volume, The Four-Gated City, but the series is generally mundane.

Her truth is even more fascinating than her fiction: I'd start with her autobiographies. She encircles the globe, explores divers religions and cultures, and fiercely defends the boundaries of a cranky smart woman:

Under My Skin: Volume One of My Autobiography, to 1949
and
Walking in the Shade: Volume Two of My Autobiography--1949-1962

#63 ::: LMB MacAlister ::: (view all by) ::: October 13, 2007, 01:24 AM:

I was surprised and impressed to hear of Lessing's award. Although The Golden Notebook is probably her best-known work, and was my introduction to her, I think nearly all of her works are excellent. The fact that many people have trouble grasping her points-of-view might diminish her popularity, but she writes for self-expression, not sales. I could give less of a damn what Bloom or any of her other critics have to say about her; my enjoyment and admiration of her work was never inspired by the acclaim of any critic. I've appreciated Bloom's respect for Voyage to Arcturus, but I could care less about what he thinks about that, or anything else.

What I particularly admire about Lessing is her ongoing willingness to admit her struggle with mental illness, and to share the insights it has brought her. She has had a remarkable ability to express her feelings, and the courage to print her thoughts, during during her descent into illness, her years of sometimes-florid psychosis, and her resumption of "normative" perception. Her science fiction work was informed by those experiences, as well as her view of social and societal interactions, and I've always found it very perceptive.

I'm thrilled about her award, and glad to know I'm not the only one who appreciates and enjoys her work.

#64 ::: Spiegel ::: (view all by) ::: October 14, 2007, 08:34 PM:

Alex @3: José Saramago too. _Baltasar and Blimunda_ is about n gevb bs crbcyr jub ohvyq n sylvat znpuvar cbjrerq ol uhzna fbhyf.

#65 ::: Jim Henry ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2007, 07:23 PM:

Looking over the list of winners, I see there are only 14 winners I've read anything by; in most cases I've read only one work by the winner. Churchill, Kipling and Shaw are the only ones I've read multiple works by.

Living sf writers who deserve a Nobel: definitely Gene Wolfe and John Crowley, probably Connie Willis, Tim Powers, Jack Vance and Michael Swanwick.

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