Doris Lessing

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Breaking the Mould

Why follow the crowd? I don’t understand authors who insist on writing to formulae. Yes, there is a place for formulaic writing – for those who don’t want to concentrate. I remember as a teenager spending many a Saturday morning in the bath with a Barbara Cartland or Mills and Boon. I knew within an 90mins I’d be finished the book and would have some peace and quiet before the onslaught of family life again. As a younger adult, television programmes such as Poirot and Murder She Wrote, allowed me to get on with other things whilst keeping an eye on what was happening – I knew I was not going to miss a vital clue. But when it comes to reading, I want to break from the mould. I want each page to be a discovery and to challenge my thinking. I like writers who break the mould.

Authors break the mould in different ways. I never know what Doris Lessing’s next book is going to be about and in what style, although it does appear that aspects of feminism are a common theme (no guarantee though). (I don’t read the blurb before buying or starting a book – which makes opening a book to read even more adventurous). Similarly, John Samson has not (yet) written two books in the same genre or style. And then there is Sue Hampton‘s collections of short stories. Robbie Cheadle (and here) is another author who experiments with different styles and genres.

Others break the mould through their experiences or have a message to pass on:
Problems faced by African writers – Binyavanga Wainaina
Heaven’s Rage – Leslie Tate

More recently I heard about John Boyne who has written diverse works such as The History of Loneliness and The house of special purpose as well as children’s books. He’s now on my list (thank goodness he was highly recommended to me – I don’t think the covers would have convinced me).

first published 10 August 2017, updated 2024

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Feminisms

Feminism is a word that gets me cringing – it’s a label and one I don’t want to be boxed into. Don’t get me wrong, I’m really grateful for what the Suffragettes did – one of the reasons I believe all people should vote even if you don’t think putting a cross in a box will make a difference (my other ‘must vote’ reason is seeing what being able to vote meant to so many in South Africa in 1994. People died to have a say, I can’t ignore that.) Over my short life, I’ve come to realise there are many feminisms and the one I most closely associate with is what I equate to Female Consciousness (taking Steve Biko’s Black Consciousness as a starting point). I don’t have to change my behaviour to be valued or to have my femininity recognised. I am valued because I am true to myself and my beliefs.

An author I value for a seemingly similar view is Doris Lessing. But it is Margaret Atwood who inspired this post. Well, not Margaret herself but rather an article on women becoming feminists because of her. A Handmaid’s tale is one of the most powerful films I’ve ever seen to the extent that I’m too afraid to read the book. It resonates today, not because of the position of women, but rather because the human race doesn’t seem to learn from the past. We glibly accept what is fed to us through the media, accepting policies in the work place because we’re too scared not to (what happened to common sense?) and giving in to the general hysteria around us.

I know many powerful and strong women who just get on with the job, confident in their belief of what they’re doing: Ruth First and a young Winnie Mandela who fought against colour discrimination; Olive Schreiner, Gertrude Page, Doris Lessing, Margaret Atwood and other writers who use(d) the pen to comment on social inequalities and unjust actions irrespective of gender; Emily Hobhouse campaigning against the Boer War concentration camps, Florence Nightingale nursing in the Crimea, business women who have broken the perceived glass ceiling because of being good at their job – taxation, economics, education. And crossing into a new culture, watching the documentary of Hooligan Sparrow at The Rights Practice. Ye Haiyan (aka Hooligan Sparrow) is a remarkable person protesting against the inequalities in Chinese society – in this case the use of school girls who are sexually exploited. Although the focus was on Ye Haiyan as the driving force, she could not have achieved what she did (and continues to do) without the support of others.

I can’t help but think that if we stop getting side-tracked by the label of feminism, and just get on and do, society as a whole will be in a much better place. And, I’m reminded of two books different in style and detail but similar in setting and having strong women as the main characters; one written by a woman (Maya Alexandri), the other by a male (Wilbur Smith); the latter makes no mention in the blurb of the women involved – I assume because of the readership Wilbur is appealing to(!).

first published 31 May 2017, updated 2024

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James Tiptree: 10,000 Light Years from Home #Review #ScienceFiction #Dystopian

James Tiptree: 10,000 Light Years from Home

I’ve umm’d and ah’d about whether to persevere with or give up reading James Tiptree Jnr’s “10,000 Light-Years from Home” (1977, Pan-Science Fiction). Even as I write, I’m still not 100% sure whether I will finish it or not… so why am I reading it?
I came across mention of it on Mastodon, Tiptree being rated as a science fiction writer and this the book to read. Not being a science fiction reader, preferring the past to the future, it seemed an opportunity to expand my horizons. Having struggled through the first three chapters, it seems as though there are multiple strands that will eventually merge. By page 72 this seems to be the case. However, the book has still not drawn me in sufficiently to want to finish it. This despite my fascination with when the book was published and its future-gazing. It seems so much more than I pick up today where the future vision seems to have stagnated.

Does this mean the book is not good? I don’t think so. It’s rated as one of the best, the publisher wrote an introduction to the book: “Here was a story by a professional, a man who knew how to interest me…he writes the kind of fiction that is worth reading and is a pleasure to read at the same time.”

Britannica gives some background to Tiptree – not a “he” but a “she” – while Vox puts her work into perspective.

It’s simply not my kind of book. But it might be yours. It did get me reflecting though: why is there such a need to focus on sex in entertainment? I hadn’t expected the graphic scenes (rather mild by today’s standards) in the opening chapter. Not having read the blurb or anything about the author before embarking on the read, I had no idea Tiptree was fascinated with gender issues.
The start of the Vox article notes:

Feminist dystopian fiction owes just as much to this woman — who wrote as a man — as Margaret Atwood.

While I found Margaret Atwood’s film of “A Handmaid’s Tale” incredibly moving, rating it as one of the best I’ve seen, it’s not a book I’m going to read. The mental images are likely to be too much for me. Similar to Tiptree. I much prefer the more gentle but still hard-hitting approach of Doris Lessing.

Knowing something of the author’s interest in a topic is another way I approach books taking me out of my comfort zone. This got me through editing Gideon Master’s trilogy: “Lucifer’s Child”, “Gestation” and “Ovum” which TSL published. This is a struggle between good and evil, this world and others. Knowing more about Tiptree and her motivation, I can’t say the same – her focus on gender issues rather put a damper on things.

And with that, I’ve decided not to finish the book. But it might be one for you. As might the trilogy by Gideon Masters.
Another dystopian novel published by TSL and a little more gentle than those already mentioned are by Jo Wilkinson “When Falls the Night” and “Into the Darkness”.

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Green Eyes or Brown? #books #readingforpleasure

Some time ago, I saw mention that only 2% of the world’s population have green eyes. The majority have brown and 10% have blue.

Seeing this, I wondered how important it was for authors to specify their characters’ eye colour, so took a look through TSL’s books to see what authors have done. The result is below. Do you think it’s important to specify eye colour or should that be left to the reader’s imagination? Marthe Kylie-Worthington in Family are the Friends you Choose also questions authors focus on eyes.

The cat, Ginger, in Anna Ryland’s A Second Chance
Marla in Josie Arden’s Broken Ties of Time
Raphaela in The last rose of summer in This and That 2 by Josie Arden
Isabel in The Visit in Tea at the Opalaco by Jane Lockyer Willis
Fairytales and Oddities by Ezra Williams
Grey-green eyes feature in A Perfumed Holiday in Stuffed! by Johannes Kerkhoven
In a break from green eyes, brown eyes are mentioned in The Stillbirth Marriage in The Roots that gave Birth to Magical Blossoms by Amna Agib (Bit Nafisa)

Other books:
Doris Lessing’s lead character in The Summer before the Dark has brown eyes.

Thanks Pablo for the image