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“Writing itself is a little peculiar” #MARM

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Although I am often rubbish with challenges, I have managed reasonably so far with November’s, fitting in some non-fiction, a novella and a German book (even though the last two were one and the same…!) So I was determined I would also read something by Margaret Atwood; I love her writing very much, and it’s always a joy to revisit her, but the hardest thing was choosing what to actually pick up. I’ve not been so much in the mood for fiction lately, and had earmarked poetry or essays; in the end, it was the latter I went with, in the form of her collection “On Writers and Writing” (originally published as “Negotiating with the Dead”).

As I mentioned in my post on November challenges, it turns out that I purchased on “On Writers…” not realising it was the same as “Negotiating…”, which I already own. After reading it, I’m still unsure as to whether I’ve read it before! Some of the material seemed familiar, particularly the parts dealing with her early life; but as this has turned up in other non-fiction writings by her which I’ve read, it could simply be that I’m remembering that. Anyway, reading Atwood is always a joy, so in the end it didn’t really matter if this was a new read or a re-read.

“On Writers…” has its roots in a series of essays Atwood presented to the University of Cambridge for their Empson Lectures series, and was first published by Cambridge University Press in 2002. In the essays, Atwood explores the whole ethos of writers and writing: why a writer writes; their role in the world; the way they regard themselves and the reader; and much, much more. Spanning autobiography, thoughts on great writers and their works, the conflict between art and money, and whether it’s essential to sell your soul to the Devil, Atwood ranges far and wide over these and other topics in a way that is always entertaining and thought-provoking.

What to do? Where to turn? How to proceed? Is there a self-identity for the writer that combines responsibility with artistic integrity? If there is, what might it be? Ask the age we live in, and it might reply – the witness. And, if possible, the eyewitness. (On the relationship between the artist and the real world)

Atwood is an excellent and erudite commentator; and she’s also a humorous one, with her dry wit cutting through the chaff to get to her point. Her discussion of the relationship between reader and writer, with the necessary distance they should keep between them, is particularly fascinating; and her understanding of our need to make a mark on the world during our transient existence, to leave some kind of sign saying “I was here!”, is telling. We write for ourselves but we also write for others; and that can be a complex tightrope to walk.

In what ways, if any, does talent set you apart? Does it exempt you from the duties and responsibilities expected of others? Or does it load you up with even more duties and responsibilities, but of a different kind? Are you to be a detached observer, pursuing your art for its own sake, and having arcane kinds of fun – or rather, experiences that will enrich your understanding of Life and the Human Condition…

Although I know a reasonable amount about Atwood’s life from documentaries and her essays, I found the sections which dealt with her life and experiences really interesting. Spending many of her young years in the backwoods of Quebec, becauses of her father’s work, she had a non-traditional upbringing; it was fascinating to read about this, and the effects it had on her attitudes to her life and work. Her drily self-deprecating take on her journey to becoming a poet and then an author of fiction is wonderful, and as I read I couldn’t help but hear her words as if they were being spoken in her very distinctive voice.

Needless to say, I loved reading this book; I’m rarely disappointed with an Atwood, and I’ve come to appreciate her non-fiction work much more in recent years. She’s clear-eyed about her profession, willing to discuss all shades of opinion about writers and writing and reading, witty and erudite. The more I read (and I have read a lot…) the more I admire writers who communicate their ideas well, and do it in prose that’s engrossing and transformative. Atwood is an author who changes the way you look at things, and these essays will certainly make you think more about why writers write, why readers read and what you’re doing with that book you’re holding in your hand! Highly recommended!

*****

So there you have it. Full house! I have managed to read books that fit into each of the categories for November challenges (and it’s entirely possible I shall read more non-fiction this month, the way things are going!) Onward and upward! 😀

 

November challenges – where to start….

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October was a really good bookish month for me, despite my feeling a little sluggish about reading at the beginning of the month. I suddenly got over that feeling during the 1956 Club and really hit my stride – these are the books I finished during the month, and they were all amazing reads in one way or another. I’m still playing catch up with reviews, and some of these will feature either on Shiny New Books or as part of November challenges – and that’s what I want to think about here!

October’s reading! Quite a good pile – I hadn’t finished the Morley when I took the image, but I will have by tomorrow! 😀

November is a month absolutely bursting with challenges – I can think of five off the top of my head and there are four I would definitely like to try to take part in. Unfortunately, I think Australian Literature Month will not make it into my schedule this year, which is a shame. But you can’t do them all. However, first up is Margaret Atwood Reading Month, hosted by Buried in Print and Consumed by Ink.

Now, I love Atwood and I never need an excuse to read her – she’s definitely one of my favourite authors and I’m always delighted to pick up one of her books. I had a rummage round my shelves, and found that there were a couple of works calling to me; oddly enough, not her fictions, but her poetry collection (which I’ve dipped into before) and also a recent arrival in the form of an essay collection.

Well, it looks like I have three choices there, doesn’t it? Ahem. Spot the deliberate mistake…. I gaily sent off for “On Writers and Writing”, and when it arrived realised I already owned it under the title of “Negotiating with the Dead”. D’oh…. Thing is, I’m not entirely sure if I’ve read it or not (it would definitely be pre-blog if I have, when I wasn’t keeping good records)! Even if I have, I would probably be happy to revisit this one – I’ll see how things go!

Next up is Novella November; this is a challenge which has a bit of a chequered history, but this year is being hosted by Bookish Beck and 746 Books! I love a good novella, although there are only a couple of potential titles knocking about which are these two:

Both are slim volumes I’ve had hanging around for a while and which would be ideal to pick up during this month. And interestingly, one of these feeds into the next appealing book challenge for November: German Literature Month 10, hosted by Beauty is a Sleeping Cat and Lizzy’s Literary Life.

This is a reading event I enjoy very much, and a dig about in the TBR revealed these titles which appeal at the moment:

Yes, there’s the Roth novella again, together with two intriguing works I’ve again had hanging around on the TBR for quite a while (and if my memory serves me correctly, “Dreamers” actually came my way via Lizzy!) Any of these would be wonderful reading. However, there’s one last challenge for the month which has fairly mind-numbing implications because of the choice of works I would have – and that is:

Nonfiction November is an event which is tailor-made for me, because I’m increasingly coming to read more non-fiction; I’ve always loved that kind of writing, and the term embraces such a wide range of books that the choices are endless. At least, they are when it comes to my TBR…. For a start, both Atwoods and two of the German choices count as non-fiction. Then, a casual rummage through Mount TBR revealed to me just how many non-fictions works of all kinds I have unread. I mean, there’s this pile to start with:

Some gorgeous Fitzcarraldos, which take in all kinds of non-fiction writing; a very strange book on Paris; Chateaubriand’s memoirs; and “Night Walking” from Verso (don’t even get me started on the piles of Verso books lurking unread). Happy to pick up any of these right now.

This is what you might loosely call my nature reading pile – mostly fairly chunky, all very appealing and I could easily spend a month or so just on these.

Then there’s the loosely grouped Scottish books, mainly focusing on Edinburgh (yes, I know there’s a Colette in there, but Massie is a Scottish author). I *really* want to pick up the Silent Traveller right now. There are a lot more Scottish books lurking round the house, but that’s a project on which I’m a little scared to embark in case it completely consumes me.

Thing is, this is only scratching the surface. The TBR is *awash* with non-fiction books – I hadn’t quite realised how many till I had a good rummage – and so I’m vaguely overwhelmed and not quite sure where to begin. Knowing me, I shall just fling myself at the piles with wild abandon and grab the first book which comes to hand – wish me luck! There is also a potential distraction looming in the form of a *very* interesting looking documentary coming up on BBC4 soon – look out for more about this on the Ramblings!  And do let me know if you’re taking on any of these November challenges yourself! ;D

Sharing the love for Margaret Atwood Reading Month #MARM

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I have to confess that I do love an excuse to rummage amongst my bookshelves; so the fact that I managed to get involved in Margaret Atwood Reading Month, and also that so many people have been sharing pictures of their Atwood collections kind of spurred me on to take down all of my copies of her books with a view to providing some gratuitous book images. What I hadn’t quite taken on board was the number of Atwoods I actually own… Here they are, firstly, in a little row:

So – quite a few…

And here are the lovely Green cover Virago editions:

I prefer to get the Green Virago versions when I can, though they’re becoming harder to track down. I read these decades ago, so memories of them are fairly fuzzy. There are a couple of what I would class as Green Viragos, although they only have a green coloured spine, and these are they:

As you can tell, “Conversations” was picked up from the Loros charity shop on a visit to the Offspring and if I recall correctly was spotted by Eldest Child.

And here are the non-Green Viragos:

Some are much older than others, and I *do* quite like the modern style ones. As not everything she wrote is available in Green, there’s not much I can do about it, is there??? 🙂 These two, however, are big chunky book club editions:

The image on “The Blind Assassin” is striking, but I don’t find the format particularly nice.

Then there are the hardbacks:

I don’t think I bought all of these new, although I’m pretty sure I picked up “Alias Grace” as soon as it came out – it’s one of my favourite Atwood books. They’re bulky and heavy to read, but I do like a chunky hardback.

Last but not least are the oddities!

“The Tent” is a small format hardback; “Lady Oracle” is an American edition with a striking cover which I don’t need as I have a Green Virago but I don’t like to get rid of it; and “The Labrador Fiasco” is the Bloomsbury Quid I reviewed a couple of days ago.

So there you are. My Margaret Atwood collection. She’s a very prolific author and I don’t have anywhere near all of her books. Except – I have a collection of her poetry (and I know this because I’ve reviewed some on here) and it’s not with the rest of the books and that’s most annoying….  😦

Sharply poignant and evocative #MARM

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The Labrador Fiasco by Margaret Atwood

Despite my extreme rubbishness at taking part in challenges and readalongs and the like, I couldn’t help but be tempted by the concept of November being Margaret Atwood Reading Month (hosted by Buried in Print and Consumed by Ink). I love Atwood’s books, and so it was a no brainer that I’d try to get to something of hers this month. However, as usual, time ran away with me and the end of November has been getting closer and closer. So I cast my eye over my Atwood shelves, and suddenly spotted a tiny volume peeking out – “The Labrador Fiasco”, a small Bloomsbury Quid edition which has been there since, oooh, 1997…

Now the problem I have, as I’ve talked about before, is often not being sure whether I’ve read a book or not (except when it’s something so massive and monumental and memorable and life-changing that it’s etched in my brain). I read a *lot* of Atwood in the 1980s while I was commuting – 25 minutes each way on the train is great for getting through books – and many of them came from the local library. However, “Labrador” came from a time when I was surrounded by children of various ages (the youngest being quite small) and I struggled to read much at the time. So I may or may not have read this – but it was slim enough to digest in a very short session and still bring with it the enormous satisfaction that always comes from reading Margaret Atwood.

The Bloomsbury Quids were a series of small books that cost just that (a quid is one pound sterling, for those from other climes…) The list of titles in the back makes interesting reading as several of the books and authors might well have slipped out of sight nowadays. But what of the Atwood? Well, it’s 41 pages long and mingles the story of a disastrous expedition with the failing health of the narrator’s father. Atwood is, of course, known for her writings about the Canadian wilds, and so the expedition story is familiar territory. However, the blending of the narrative with the effects of ageing and illness on father in the story adds a level of poignancy and gives the little book an emotional heft you might not expect from its length.

Their hopes are high, adventure calls. The sky is deep blue, the air is crisp, the sun is bright, the treetops seem to beckon them on. They do not know enough to beware of beckoning treetops.

This is very much about losing your bearings, whether out in the world or in your everyday life. I found that “The Labrador Fiasco” had a particular resonance for me because of my own father’s gradually failing health before he passed away in 2015. Watching a loved one coming adrift is always difficult and the narrator’s responses to her father’s issues chimed in with many of my feelings. So I guess I may not be responding to this book unemotionally…

A further level of strangeness came about when I started to use the book receipt which was still sitting inside the front cover as a bookmark. As you can see from this image, that was how I could date the purchase of this book:

My parents were still living in Hampshire at the time (I grew up there after we moved down from Scotland) and when the Offspring were younger we would go down to spend a week with them. That always included a visit to the nearest bookshop (of which I have very happy memories….) and I can see from the receipt that I also bought an “Owl Babies” board book for Youngest Child. I think this is why I have problems parting with books – they’re so often linked with specific bits of my life (and I suspect Owl Babies is still somewhere in the house…).

But back to Atwood. This is, of course, 41 pages of brilliance from one of my favourite authors. In that ideal world, where I had nothing whatever to do but read, I would spend much of the time reading and re-reading her work. As it is, I’m very glad that #MARM has spurred me on to drag something of hers off the shelf, even if it has stirred up a few emotions in the process!

 

#1977Club – a final post!

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Phew! So we reached the end of the #1977club in one piece and having read, discussed and discovered some very interesting titles! In the end, as always, I ran out of time and didn’t read all I wanted to – but these are the ones I *did* read:

Four books in total, only one of which was a fail (the Carter). Rediscovering favourite authors like Brautigan and Plath was a joy, and exploring Margaret Atwood’s early stories just served to reinforce what an excellent writer she really is. Despite my issues with the Carter, I *will* try other titles by her – if for no other reason than to prove I haven’t turned into a soppy old wuss!!

Alas, I didn’t get to the Barthes; but that will remain on the TBR and hopefully be read at some time in the future. If you’re still reading from 1977, please do leave links on the 1977 page – it’s been wonderful seeing what everyone else has been reading and watching the discussions. Here’s to the next club, whichever year that may be…. 😉

#1977Club – early and brilliant short stories from @MargaretAtwood @ViragoBooks

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So, after a fairly rotten experience with Angela Carter, I decided that my last read of the week should be the ever-inspiring Margaret Atwood. I hoped I would be on slightly safer territory here and thank goodness, I was!

”Dancing Girls”is a 1977 collection of short stories by Atwood and my edition was published by Virago in 1984. Interestingly, Ali’s post notes that there are differences in the stories selected for the different editions, which made me curious about the stories excluded. Perhaps we’ll have a collected stories of Atwood one day….  Anyway, this book is early Atwood, published a point where she was known for poetry and three novels; and as I haven’t finished reading it yet, I thought I would share thoughts on some of the stories I’ve read so far.

The collection opens with The Man from Mars, which tells of a kind of stalking episode (as we would now call it). And Christine, the girl being stalked, almost finds a kind of validation in the attention she receives, despite the man concerned being alien to her in many ways. It’s a strong and memorable story which stays with you.

I want to tell him now what no one’s ever taught him, how two people who love each other behave, how they avoid damaging each other, but I’m not sure I know.

Under Glass features an alienated narrator, struggling with a serially unfaithful lover; it’s cleverly written, suggesting much instead of spelling things out, and also lingers in the mind. As for The Grave of the Famous Poet, this was particularly striking. Although the story is allusive rather than direct, I presume the poet is Dylan Thomas and the setting is Laugharne – that would tie in with mention of Welsh cakes, the sea, the need to get a bus to somewhere big enough to have a railway station, and the like. Again, a couple struggle with their relationship which plays out against the foreign landscape and comes to a crashing conclusion.

This is an interval, a truce; it can’t last, we both know it, there have been too many differences, of opinion we called it, but it was more than that, the things that mean safety for him mean danger for me. We’ve talked too much or not enough; for what we have to say to each other there’s no language, we’ve tried them all.

All these stories attempt to navigate that complex and slippery terrain where men and women attempt to deal with their personal relationships; it was difficult in the 1970s, and is probably no easier now. “Dancing Girls” is an early work, with perhaps an unevenness in some of the stories, but it’s proved memorable so far. Although we’re coming to the end of the #1977club, I shall continue to read this one; because I have to say that I’ve never found an Atwood book I don’t love in some way – and “Dancing Girls” is no exception!

 

 

 

 

#1977club – here we go! :)

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Yes, time for another week of reading, discovering and discussing books from a particular year – and this one is 1977. We reach a more modern decade than we’ve been covering up until now, and one which certainly takes us away from Simon’s comfort zone of the 1920s! :)) However, I was initially unsure of what I would read from the year until I began to dig, and I actually came up with a bit of a pile of books that I already own:

Yes, I really *do* own three copies of “Johnny Panic and the Bible of Dreams”. No, I don’t know why…

I also own two other books from 1977 that piqued my interest, but alas I cannot at the moment lay hands on them – “The Women’s Room” by Marilyn French is a feminist classic and I have a battered old Virago copy, but it’s currently lurking on a shelf in Middle Child’s flat as I have loaned it out – so I won’t be reading that one… I also own Patrick Leigh Fermor’s “A Time of Gifts” but several trawls through the shelves have failed to find it (although I *did* find some other books I was looking for). So I may well choose from the above – some are re-reads, some unread, and I’d like to go for a mix if I can.

And then there’s this, lurking electronically:

I really want to read Barthes but frankly, I’m a Bit Scared. I’m *not* an academic and I fear I will fail miserably to understand this and then feel stupid. Oh well. Nothing ventured, nothing gained….

So do join Simon at Stuck in a Book and myself in the #1977club – it’s great fun, great reading and always fascinating to see what books people come up with! Here goes…!

2017 – or, Distracted by Documentaries…

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That might seem an odd title for a post rounding up my thoughts on my best reads of the year, but I fear that my reading rate has actually slowed down quite a lot over recent months and I suspect that might have something to do with my constantly being distracted by the BBC…..

Margaret Atwood image c. Jean Malek

This all kind of began over the summer months with the series of programmes on BBC4  focussing on Utopias of all sorts, and in particular Prof. Richard Clay’s three-part series on the subject (I also blame him for sending me off down a bit of an iconoclasm rabbit hole…) Since then, I seem to have been awash with documentaries of all sorts, from classical music through Margaret Atwood to Mexican art, all of which are a bit distracting and take the mind away from books (or send the mind off in strange directions after other books aside from the ones I was meant to be reading…) So my rate of reading has slowed down a bit I think generally because of this, and spending time in chunksters like “War and Peace” and “Crime and Punishment” has compounded the problem.

However, I have read some absolutely marvellous books this year; I never do anything as formal as a top ten, but here are a few of my highlights. And note that two of them have been read in December, so yes! doing one of these lists before January is premature! So – here goes…

Russians

This blog would not be about my reading without having a lot of Russians in there, and 2017 was by necessity dominated by them. It has been, of course, a year of marking the centenary of the Russian Revolution and two of the outstanding books of the year for me were ones dealing with this. China Mieville’s October and the collection 1917, put together by Boris Dralyuk, were fine books which really brought the events of a century ago alive and both will stay with me.

On the Russian fiction front, I spent a great deal of time with some classic chunksters. Finally reading “War and Peace” was a milestone for me, and revisiting “Crime and Punishment” by my beloved Dostoevsky was also a special experience.

There were new treats too, in the form of “The Return of Munchausen” by Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky, and “Memoirs of a Revolutionary” by Victor Serge. Both authors are recent discoveries and both I would now count as amongst my favourites.  And the wonderful collection of Russian Emigre Short Stories, collected by Bryan Karetnyk and which I covered for Shiny New Books, was a real eye-opener and treat.

Still with Russia, but with non-Russian authors, I actually loved to bits two novels set in that country – “A Gentleman from Moscow” by Amor Towles; and “The Noise of Time”, Julian Barnes’ masterly portrayal of Shostakovich. Really, as a lover of Russian culture and history, I *have* rather been spoiled this year!

Classic Crime

Unsurprisingly, given my taste for it, I’ve delved into a lot of classic crime this year. Much of it has come in the form of lovely books from the British Library Crime Classics editions; and I find it hard to pick favourites from them, although “The Poisoned Chocolates Case” was a real treat.

I also discovered John Dickson Carr with a vengeance. It’s not for nothing he’s known as the king of the locked-room mystery, and I’ve spent many a happy hour with Dr. Gideon Fell this year.

Margaret Atwood

A living legend. A genius. ‘Nuff said. I rediscovered her work this year too, and definitely want to keep that trend going during 2018. Certainly, her non fiction books have been a real revelation and I can’t praise her highly enough.

Translated literature

There has been a *lot* of translated literature flowing through the Ramblings this year – and if I was more organised I daresay I could get the spreadsheet I keep my list of books read in to work out some statistics. I suspect there could well be more translated that native language books in there – maybe I’ll calculate one day…

Anyway, spending time with Georges Perec is always a joy and I read more of his works this year. I still have a book or two left unread, thank goodness – I dread getting to the last of his works available to me in English.

And one of the highlights of my reading year, during December was the book “Malacqua” – an author and book new to me which I stumbled upon because of the recommendation on the front from Italo Calvino. An unusual, hypnotic and memorable work.

Sci-Fi (or slipstream or speculative fiction or whatever  you want to call it…)

I’ve always dipped into this kind of genre over the years, but during 2017 I really reconnected, after dipping into Soviet sci-fi during 2016. The late, great Brian Aldiss is turning out to be something of a treasure, but my main incursions into the genre came via M. John Harrison. I read some of his shorter works for the 1968 Club and then had the joy (also in the last month of the year!) of reading his newest collection of shorter works, “You Should Come With Me Now”. It’s a powerful and unforgettable work and another book of the year arriving at the last minute.

Reading Clubs

On the subject of the reading clubs I co-host with Simon at Stuck in a Book, we spent time in 1951 and 1968 last year, and we have 1977 lined up for this one – do join in if you can, these events are such fun!

2018 – plans or not?

I started 2017 giving myself few challenges and reading plans or restrictions – which seems to have worked best for me, and I plan to continue on that road for 2018. I don’t function well as a reader if I feel that I *must* read a book; instead I intend another year of No Plans At All and simply following the reading muse!

One reading challenge I *will* try to drop in on occasionally is HeavenAli’s centenary read-along for Muriel Spark. I’ve read a fair bit of Spark over recent years, but there are plenty of titles I haven’t read so if the timing is right, I’ll be there…

I must too say thank you to all who drop in here, leave comments, discuss and recommend books – I always love engaging with people about reading, and look forward to interacting with you all in 2018. And thanks also to the lovely publishers who’ve provided review copies this year (and contributed to the lack of space in my house…)

Apart from that – lead on, Reading Muse, I’m right behind you…. 🙂

The Lure of the Frozen North #viragoauthorofthemonth @margaretatwood

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Strange Things by Margaret Atwood

In what subtle way does the universe convey the knowledge that it has ceased to be friendly? (W.H. Blake)

It should come as no surprise to anyone reading this post that I am a massive admirer of the great Canadian author Margaret Atwood. I’ve been reading her work for decades, and she’s a writer I regularly return to over the years, always discovering something new and wonderful in her books. The LibraryThing Virago group have been picking an author of the month to read this year, a challenge I’ve been dipping in and out of, and November’s choice was Atwood. I almost ran out of time with this one, despite being desperate to read more of her work, but I *did* manage to squeeze in one title. And oddly enough it turned out to be another non-fiction book, which would fit in with the Non-Fiction November challenge that’s going around, although that’s purely coincidental…

You might have noticed that I flagged up the fact that Atwood is Canadian, a fact well-known and one that I wouldn’t normally have mentioned. However, it becomes relevant here because ‘Strange Things’ is specifically about Canadian literature and how it’s been informed and influenced by particular themes or events in the country’s past. I do have a little connection with the country, as my late father was actually born there while his parents were working abroad, and so he held dual passports; and I’ve always felt an attraction to the place which hasn’t diminished in recent years as Canada does come across in the media as a rather tolerant and nice country to live in. In fact, during the Brexit shenanigans, several family members joked half-seriously that it might be worth us all decamping there…

If you ask a writer to give a lecture, you’ll get a writer’s lecture; and as we all know, the inside of writers’ heads resemble squirrel’s nests more than they do neatly arranged filing-cabinets.

But I digress. Onto the book, which is a collection of four pieces delivered as the Clarendon Lectures at Oxford University, and these focus on the influence of the wilderness of the Canadian North on writers and indeed Canadian culture. I should ‘fess up that I’m actually pathetically unwell-read when it comes to CanLit, so much of what was discussed was new to me – which is good, but embarrassing…

Vintage photo by Caroline Moodie

The four starting points for the lectures are the doomed Franklin expedition of the nineteenth century; the ‘Grey Owl Syndrome’ of white writers going native; the mysteriously monstrous (and cannibalistic!) Wendigo; and how women writers have developed their own take on exploration. Within these topics Atwood ranges far and wide, exploring all kinds of sub-concepts, from the fact that the North is usually portrayed as female and how women writers deal with that aspect; our love of a tale of doomed exploration; the various aspects of being a monster, whether a completely external kind or one which is part of ourselves in a kind of Jekyll and Hyde way; through to the strange need of non-native peoples to adopt a native image or heritage. All of this is delivered in Atwood’s trademark crisp prose and dry wit – until re-reading her recently I had forgotten just how funny she can be, but once again I was laughing out loud in places.

These two renditions of Native people, as either better than whites or worse – with whites being the norm, the standard for comparison – ought to sound very familiar to women, polarized as they have been until so recently into angel-wives or demon-whores.

However, there *are* serious points to be made here, not the least of which is the fact that women have regularly been marginalised in Canadian mythology, never the ones who go out and explore but rather the ones that stay inside and make the homes; or worse still, allowed to personify the wilderness that has to be explored and penetrated. Atwood also expresses concerns about our behaviour towards the natural world, commenting:

… if white Canadians would adopt a more traditionally Native attitude towards the natural world, a less exploitative and more respectful attitude, they might be able to reverse the galloping environmental carnage of the late twentieth century and salvage for themselves some of that wilderness they keep saying they identify with and need.

It’s funny how there can be little synchronicities in life, and unexpected connections that pop up when you’re reading. For example, in the section of the book on Canadian women’s writing, which Atwood entitled ‘Linoleum Caves’, she covers “Bear” by Marian Engel; and I got much more from this particular section having read Books,Yo’s recent illuminating post on this book. Although Atwood comments on the bear’s particularly talented tongue (ahem….), like Books, Yo she’s aware that this is not the real point of the work, though perhaps both commentators here draw different conclusions as they’re coming from very different angles.

Atwood also touches briefly on the work of Robertson Davies, an author I have lurking close at hand, and certainly “Strange Things” has made me very keen to explore Canadian literature in more depth. She closes the book with another stark warning about the effect that our inability to address climate change is having on the world, and this resonated particularly strongly with me too; I haven’t recovered from the section of Simon Reeve’s recent “Russia” documentary when he explained how much of the permafrost had melted – it’s quite terrifying…

So, yet another masterly work by Margaret Atwood; I don’t think I’ve ever been disappointed by her work and I’m finding her non-fiction works particularly engrossing lately. Eldest Child has indicated a wish for some Atwood books for Christmas, so I now have the lovely task of trying to decide what to treat him with – and the quality of her work is so high, that I think the choice will be particularly difficult….!

Time for some 1970s clubbing…

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… by which I’m not suggesting that we all get dressed up in flares and platforms heels and go out discoing to glam rock…

Instead, I thought I would mention that the results are in! Simon has been feverishly counting the votes for the next reading Club year, and the winner is:

So there you have it! Our next reading week will be the #1977club. Time to start digging in the stacks and online lists to see what titles we can come up with. I know that there is at least a Richard Brautigan I have from that year (somewhere…), and as I failed to squeeze him into 1968 I shall do my very best to make sure I read at least this one!

Simon has come up with another eye-catching logo (he’s so good at these!) and as you’ll see from the dates, you have five months or so to get preparing, researching and reading – and we’re looking forward to seeing what you come up with! 🙂 I had a preliminary dig in the stacks and found that I have at least three other books from 1977 without even looking very hard:

Some commenters have wondered why we aren’t going on into the 1980s or back before the 1920s with the clubs, and to be honest that’s because of our personal tastes! Simon is particularly happy in the 1920s I know, and I don’t think either of us always feel drawn to modern writing. Personally, I’m inordinately fond of 20th century literature in the decades we feature, and as Simon pointed out to me, the dawn of cheaper printing from the 1920s onwards gives us more books choose from.

OK – maybe some things about 1977 weren’t so good…..

So – here’s to the #1977club, and we hope as many of you as possible will join in with this next year –  happy reading! 🙂

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