One of my favourite of November’s many reading events is Margaret Atwood Reading Month, which is run by the lovely blogger Buried in Print. I always try to take part in this – my love of Atwood and her writing knows no bounds! – and I was determined to read something of her work this year. Interestingly, having read most of her fiction, I often nowadays find myself drawn to her non-fiction or poetry, and having had a scour of the shelves, one volume I owned appealed very much, and another had to be sent off for! So here’s some thoughts on the Atwood books into which I’ve been dipping this November! 😀

Writing with Intent – Essays, Reviews, Personal Prose 1983-2005

I have several non-fiction works by Atwood, but not a collection like this, and when I was scouting around for reading ideas I stumbled across it online. I believe it’s an American edition, published by Basic Books in 2006, and it gathers all manner of interesting pieces… The book is split into sections, and I’ve so far read the first, which covers writings from 1983-89. There’s an interesting mixture; for example, book reviews of “The Witches of Eastwick” by John Updike, Italo Calvino’s “Difficult Loves”, “Beloved” by Toni Morrison, and “The Warrior Queens” by Antonia Fraser. These made fascinating reading and I was particularly interested to hear what Atwood had to say about Calvino!

The collection also gathers introductions, forewords and afterwords. These relate to “A Jest of the Gods” by Margaret Laurence, “Reading Blind: The Best of American Short Stories 1989” and “Women Writers at Work: The Paris Review Interviews”. Atwood is always full of insights when it comes to her views on her fellow authors!

The other pieces in this section were more general prose writings which were all absolutely fascinating. “Laughter vs. Death” takes a long, hard and scary look at the growing effects of extreme porn (and I imagine things are even worse now…); “That Certain Thing Called the Girlfriend” explores the changing role of female friendships in fiction; “True North” is a fascinating autobiographical piece about Canada and changes it had been going through since Atwood was young; “Great Aunts” looked at the importance of female relations in the author’s young life when she was starting out as a writer; and in “Writing Utopia” she reveals her views on utopias/dystopias and her thoughts behind “The Handmaid’s Tale”.

Each of these pieces is a gem in its own right; even if you’ve never read the books she’s writing about, or the collections she’s introducing, I’ve never known Atwood produce a dull piece. And the autobiographical works are a particular treat; I’ve read some of her writings on her life before and loved them, so was delighted there were more here.

However, the piece which really knocked me out, and unexpectedly so, was her introduction to the American Short Stories. She read these blind, with no knowledge of the name or sex of the author, and that in itself was fascinating. But what really hit me were the paragraphs where she articulated what I feel about the whole modern trend to ‘teach’ people how to write. I am deeply suspicious of this approach (call me old fashioned if you will), and so it appears is Atwood. I make no excuse for quoting two longer sections which really resonated with me:

Whenever I’m asked to talk about what constitutes a ‘good’ story, or what makes one well-written story ‘better’ than another, I begin to feel very uncomfortable. Once you start making lists or devising rules for stories, or for any other kind of writing, some writer will be sure to happen along and casually break every abstract rule you or anyone else have ever thought up, and take your breath away in the process. The word should is a dangerous one to use when speaking of writing. It’s a kind of challenge to the deviousness and inventiveness and audacity and perversity of the creative spirit. Sooner or later, anyone who has been too free with it will be liable to end up wearing it like a dunce’s cap. We don’t judge good stories by the application to them of some set of external measurements, as we judge giant pumpkins at the Fall Fair. We judge them by the way they strike us. And that will depend on a great many subjective imponderables, which we lump together under the general heading of taste.


I’ve recently heard it argued that writers should tell stories only from a point of view that is their own, or that of a group to which they themselves belong. Writing from the point of view of someone “other” is a form of poaching, the appropriation of material you haven’t earned and to which you have no right. Men, for instance, should not write as women, although it’s less frequently said that women should not write as men. This view is understandable but, in the end, self-defeating. Not only does it condemn as thieves and imposters such writers as George Eliot, James Joyce, Emily Bronte and William Falkner … it is also inhibiting to the imagination in a fundamental way. It’s only a short step from saying we can’t write from the point of view of an “other” to saying we can’t read that way either…

My goodness, I’m so glad I picked up a copy of this book. I absolutely adore what I’ve read so far, and shall continue to make my way through it, pacing myself to savour its treats. I’m so glad that Buried in Print continues this annual event; always happy to be prompted to read Atwood! (In addition, I’ll claim this one for Non-Fiction November!!)


The other Atwood book I’m dipping into at the moment is her most recent book of poetry, “Dearly”. I was fortunate enough to pick up a signed copy when it came out, and have been hoarding it ever since – and now seemed the best time to pick it up and take a look!

“Dearly” is Atwood’s first collection of poetry for over a decade and as she reveals in her introdiuction, it brings togethere work from 2008 and 2019, a period in which, as she says “things got darker in the world”. By necessity, much of the writing is elegiac and often introspective, dealing with the losses she’s had over recent years. However, there are some beautiful reflections on nature, thoughts on ageing and indeed it does seem as if death is very much on her mind.

As with my previous read of her 1968 collection, “The Animals in That Country”, I found Atwood’s verse immediate and emotionally affecting. I’m continuing to make my way through it, alongside my other current read, and I can tell it will be a welcome addition to my Atwood shelf!


So those are my reads for Margaret Atwood Reading Month, and both have been wonderful books to spend time with – she’s an author who never lets me down. Have you been joining in with #MARM, and if so which books have you read??