Monday, December 31, 2007

Writers of the Year 2007
The biggest book event of the year was the publishing of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the seventh and final novel in the Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling. But the international hoohaw shouldn't obscure Rowling's literary achievement: it all happened because of the actual books that individual people actually read (though some did so in couples and groups, reading aloud or listening to audiobooks, sometimes while reading along in the text--all very literary experiences largely missing from our culture for a long time.) Rowling wrote a series of books that increased in complexity and meaning along with the increasing ages of the characters the books were chiefly about, with important things to say for our time. Has anyone ever done this before? This is an achievement to be celebrated.

Doris Lessing's achievements were celebrated in 2007 when she received the Nobel Prize for Literature. She is a champion of literature in our time, and she made a brilliant case for it in her Nobel address, as well as in essays published in her 2004 collection of nonfiction pieces, Time Bites. She was brought up in rural Africa, has lived in London for many years, and has traveled widely. So her point of view is striking and informed: she sees people in rich societies with easy access to books losing that profound education to consumer obsession, addictive video games and blogs, while people (especially children) in poor societies starving and begging for books and literature.

Lessing had the courage to follow where her writing took her, even to the science fiction series I admire. She had the courage to face hard personal truths and express boldly what others obscured in The Golden Notebook, and then to face down those who wanted to turn it into an ideological tract. In her interviews as well, she takes no nonsense that might limit the complexities and generous spirit she champions in literature. She also writes very well about cats (that's her in the last photo, in 1956.)

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