10 Great Quotes from Doris Lessing

Doris Lessing’s The Golden Notebook was published on this day, 16 April, in 1962. To mark this anniversary, here are ten of the best quotes from this landmark novel, and from the wise and wonderful Lessing in general.

Sometimes I pick up a book and I say: Well, so you’ve written it first, have you? Good for you. O.K., then I won’t have to write it. – The Golden Notebook

There is only one way to read, which is to browse in libraries and bookshops, picking up books that attract you, reading only those, dropping them when they bore you, skipping the parts that drag — and never, never reading anything because you feel you ought, or because it is part of a trend or a movement. Remember that the book which bores you when you are twenty or thirty will open doors for you when you are forty or fifty — and vice versa. Don’t read a book out of its right time for you. – The Golden Notebook

There’s only one real sin, and that is to persuade oneself that the second-best is anything but the second-best. – The Golden Notebook

The novel has become a function of the fragmented society, the fragmented consciousness. – The Golden Notebook

The Golden Notebook for some reason surprised people but it was no more than you would hear women say in their kitchens every day in any country. […] I was really astounded that some people were shocked. – quoted by BBC World Service

Parents should leave books lying around marked ‘forbidden’ if they want their children to read. – The Times interview, 2003

You can only learn to be a better writer by actually writing. I don’t know much about creative writing programs. But they’re not telling the truth if they don’t teach, one, that writing is hard work and, two, that you have to give up a great deal of life, your personal life, to be a writer. – New York Times interview, 1984

 It’s heart-breaking how often I have to say when I’m giving talks, ‘This book is out of print. This book is out of print.’ It’s a roll call of dead books. – Salon interview, 1997

That is what learning is. You suddenly understand something you’ve understood all your life, but in a new way. – The Four-Gated City, 1969

Think wrongly, if you please, but in all cases think for yourself. – The Times interview, 2003

33 thoughts on “10 Great Quotes from Doris Lessing”

  1. Fine selection. Her quote about knowing something but understanding for the first time calls to mind T.S.Eliot’s lines about” the end of our exploration is to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.” She is a wonderful writer. Thank you for featuring her today.

    • That’s a great link. I love those lines from ‘Little Gidding’ of Eliot’s. Terry Pratchett’s ‘Coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving’ is another variant on that fine theme :)

  2. Ah, I love this post, honouring an extraordinary writer and human being. I can still remember my first reading of The Golden Notebook, how revolutionary, apt and comprehensive it was – and I read it quite some time after she first wrote it, and she still seemed the freshest eye out there! She virtually described the twentieth century, and beyond, for this reader

    • I know, it’s easy to forget how many people she influenced with that book. But thankfully her Nobel Prize award a few years ago, and the impressive coverage and tributes her death received, suggest that she won’t be forgotten. I know a number of uni courses that teach her work, too :)

  3. I have fond memories of reading The Golden Notebook when I was in my early 20s. I’ve always enjoyed Lessing’s work. Thank you for this post and these wonderful quotes.

  4. Brilliant! Thank you for putting these all together! I still can’t believe I’ve never read anything by Lessing (apart from a couple of short stories about cats!) This has got to be the year that I change all that!

  5. The books I like are the ones that seem to jump off the shelf. Lessing would understand that. Even a book written by a fool can have a gem hiddin in it. Every line she ever wrote is carved in her wisdom scarred face. Thank you grandmother Lessing.


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