So in case you’ve been under a rock the past week (OR maybe blissed out on some tropical island without wi-fi, that sounds better), there’s big nerdy literary news: Alice Munro won the Nobel Prize in Literature. Let’s all say it together: CONGRATS, ALICE! In my head, she and fellow Canadian writer Margaret Atwood celebrated with some wine and poutine.
Munro’s win made me curious about the other women writers who’ve won a Nobel… and, well, the list is depressingly short. 13, out of the 110 prizes awarded since 1901. And please don’t anyone say, “Well, that’s because women didn’t used to write back in the day” because that’s just not true. What is true is that many people didn’t think women wrote “serious” literature — a charming little misogynistic misconception that still exists to this day.
Now, I admit, I am part of the problem; I haven’t read most of the women Nobel laureates. But I’d like to remedy that (Toni Morrison has been added to my reading list) — and I’d also like to recommend books from the women laureates I have read.
Alice Munro – Runaway
The new kid on the block! And yeah, she’s earned it in my book, based 100% on the power of one short story. “Silence” (one of the shorts in Runaway) tells the story of a mother whose young-adult daughter suddenly cuts contact with her. And never explains why. If that sounds simple… well, I guess it is, in a way. But it’s also incredibly powerful. The pain and confusion and conflicting emotions in this story are so, so real. It’s haunted me for years — and any writer who can create a story with that much impact is a-ok by me.
Doris Lessing – The Fifth Child
I will warn you, if you ever plan on having children, don’t read this book. This is an absolutely horrifying tale of a woman whose fifth child is… well, no one’s really sure. Is he demonic? Is he some weird missing link? Is he truly human? One thing’s for sure: Ben’s parents can’t truly love him — but since he’s their child, they can’t truly abandon him either. The book asks some really tough questions and doesn’t leave you with any comfortable answers.
Um, PS? If you need another reason to read Lessing’s work? This, right here:
Nadine Gordimer– My Son’s Story
Gordimer is a white South African, and in My Son’s Story she pulls off a pretty tough feat: writing from the perspective of a black South African boy during apartheid. Near the start of the book, the boy discovers his father is having an affair with a white activist — cue conflict. Interestingly though, the father never came across as the bad guy — at least to me. There’s more than one secret life being led in this book. At its core, it’s about deception, and all the different ways it can manifest. I thought Gordimer did a fantastic job handling such a delicate subject (and would be interested to hear what others think, if y’all have read this one).
Ok guys, time to pay it forward — if you’ve read some of the other lady laureates, let me know where to start!