Thursday, October 11, 2007

sleeper in the envelope

Boy oh boy, Haruki Murakami just cannot catch this one break. I thought for sure he'd get the Nobel Prize this year.

But that's not really why I'm writing. I'm writing because the committee has just recognized Doris Lessing. I've never read her through. Does that make me a bad feminist? Perhaps. I remember reading a confession Jonathan Franzen published somewhere that he'd tried, but failed multiple times, to read The Golden Notebook. And while the old chestnut may be that misery loves company, this commonality made me feel even worse. It's not an underdog thing, no book-not-championed crusades here. Lessing clearly has a following that endures to date (yes, a Nobel Prize makes that much obvious).

I think it has something to do with an independent catalog of important books that I try to keep outside the bounds of the Hundred Best Books lists that predictably feature so many men doing their age-old, mainstream displays of peacock plumage and four-star words. It's an old guilt, my inevitable tension, the desire and distaste for privilege and power in narratives that lull me with their uncanny reflection of what is. Who knows. The harder I look at issues of politics and art, the more I find myself resembling Janus, shifting from one view to the next, a revolving door of perception, forwards, backwards, dizzy, dizzy, dizzy.

I know fundamentally I resist the notion of what I should read as much as I defer to it. Ever contrary, I regularly name Saul Bellow as one of my favorite authors. A reader could not really find literary work with more androcentric misogyny unless she hit up Roth or Mailer for a love story. And I stand behind my choice there. I'm always at the ready to discuss the tricky business of drawing the lines among authors, their views, and their stories.

But, yes, life is complicated and residual obligations from undergrad coursework in feminist methodology and pedagogy prove stubborn. I suppose I have long felt politically responsible to know the book, particularly if the ranks take amnesty in Franzen's example and relax away from it. But here's the news: the prize has adjusted this reality. Post-Nobel, obligation is a much weaker bond between Ms. Lessing and me. She is glowing now in the radiant, hot, magnetic sheen of an internationally touted prize. I'd say that that eases the pressure off me. Masses will take it back up, read her on beaches and in book clubs. I foresee a movie adaptation. So yes, you all go and read it, good respondents to the recognitions, readers in the prize wake. Tell me what you think. Do report back.

And now I am at liberty to state guilt-free that The Golden Notebook has not compelled me to stay after I've slipped between its covers. I will go read what I want. Come to think of it, I've yet to read Murakami's latest.