Four months after Lessing’s death in November 2013, I was asked to come to her house in West Hampstead, London, because the executors of her estate had a problem. Her house contained more than 4,000 books that had to be inventoried in order for the estate to be settled. I agreed to help – I wanted to know what sort of reader Lessing had been, whether she folded page corners, highlighted passages, wrote in the margins or on blank pages. I thought that learning what she read, and how, would shed light on her work.
Several months after I’d finished cataloguing, the fate of Lessing’s library was announced. While some books would go to a special collection at the University of East Anglia, the majority were sent to the public library in Harare. Judging by her Nobel speech, Lessing would have approved. She’d have hoped they might do what the classics had done for a young girl called Doris, who just wanted to read.
Lessing’s Nobel lecture is required reading.