Doris Lessing, 1919-2013


“I keep four notebooks, a black notebook, which is to do with Anna Wulf the writer; a red notebook, concerned with politics; a yellow notebook, in which I make stories out of my experience; and a blue notebook which tries to be a diary.”  —The Golden Notebook

The Black Notebook — Her guidance counselor, Ms. Fransson, took her aside one day. You’re bored in your language arts class, aren’t you? Ms. Fransson had an open face that looked and looked at her. How about we read some books together, Ms. Fransson said. She gave the girl a list. One of the books was The Summer Before the Dark. What did the girl have in common with a middle-aged woman who takes an escalator to madness (after a sexy summer in Spain)? Unfortunately, nothing.

The Red Notebook — The girl graduated early and spent the nine months before college earning minimum wage as a receptionist. On dead Sundays, she read the Children of Violence series: Martha Quest, A Proper Marriage, A Ripple from the Storm, Landlocked, The Four-Gated City. Each book was longer than the last, the sentences unspooling more and more deliriously. When the minimum wage rose from $3.10 to $3.35, the girl clipped a news article and left it on her boss’s desk. He grumbled but raised her pay.

The Yellow Notebook — She wanted to write. She wanted a wild, feverish affair with writing. She wanted wild, feverish true loves. She would take that escalator to madness if she could just feel and write and feel and write.

The Blue Notebook — The girl, now a young woman, wrote a paper on The Golden Notebook for a graduate theory class. She highlighted passages that still astonished and passages that now made her cringe: “There is only one real female orgasm and that is when a man, from the whole of his need and desire, takes a woman and wants all her response.” Oh no. No, no. Still. She remembered being the girl of sixteen, thirsting in her basement bedroom for an adventurous life. Lessing had showed her one.

The Golden Notebook — Maybe no books are as powerful as the ones read in youth at midnight. The ones that show us an adult world as terrifying as it is exciting. The ones that show us what we might feel, what we might create. What kind of wild, feverish life we might have.

About allisongreenwriter

Author of The Ghosts Who Travel with Me, a memoir, and Half-Moon Scar, a novel.
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