A legend of 20th-century literature, prolific author and Nobel laureate Doris Lessing is renowned for her incisive explorations of human psychology, social dynamics, and political ideologies. Born in Persia (now Iran) to British parents, she spent her formative years in Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) before relocating to London in 1949.

Lessing’s literary career spanned over six decades, during which she authored a diverse range of novels, short stories, essays, and plays. Traversing genres, from science fiction to social commentary, she consistently examined themes of gender, race, and societal upheaval. Her groundbreaking 1962 novel The Golden Notebook challenged conventional notions of female identity and is heralded as a seminal work of feminist literature. In 2007, she was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature for her “skepticism, fire, and visionary power,” making her the oldest recipient at the time.

For Antonia Fraser’s 1992 collection The Pleasure of Reading, Lessing was one of over 40 acclaimed writers who contributed a list of books that inspired their life and craft. On the importance of timing when finding resonance as a reader, she noted:

“I began reading at seven, off a cigarette packet, and almost at once progressed to the books in my parents’ bookcase, which would be found in any middle-class household then, and, for that matter, the yeasty section of the working class who saw books as a key to a better life. The books I responded to then are not those I would choose as best now. You have to read a book at the right time for you, and I am sure this cannot be insisted on too often, for it is the key to the enjoyment of literature.”

Explore Lessing’s list of 10 literary inspirations below, and dive into the recommendations of other iconic authors here.

Doris Lessing’s Reading List

The Overcoat by Nikolai Gogol

Fathers and Sons by Ivan Turgenev (also rec’d by Chimamanda Adichie)

The Devils by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

The Red and the Black by Stendhal (also rec’d by JFK & Norman Mailer)

The Iliad by Homer

To The Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf (also rec’d by Alison Bechdel, Greta GerwigOcean Vuong, Rachel Cusk & Richard E. Grant)

Tom Jones by Henry Fielding (also rec’d by Marlon James)

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain (also rec’d by Bob OdenkirkBradley CooperDick CavettHarold Bloom, Jimmy Buffett, Owen WilsonStephen King & Suzanne Vega)

Remembrance of Things Past by Marcel Proust

The Fortunes of Richard Mahoney by Henry Handel Richardson

(via The Pleasure of Reading; photo by Martin Cleaver)

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Categories: Writers