#MARM: Margaret Atwood Reading Month 2022

This year my daughter is doing a better job taking part in MARM than I am – her grade 12 English class is reading The Handmaid’s Tale. I thought this might be a good chance for me to ask her a few questions.

First I asked what she likes about The Handmaid’s Tale, and she said that she likes the descriptive writing and that the story keeps you wanting to know more. She thinks it’s an important book that shows what our society could be… that the precursors to the story (pollution, violence against women, etc.) have only gotten worse since the book was written, which makes it feel like it could still happen.

Then my daughter loosened up a bit and told me what she really thinks: “I enjoy The Handmaid’s Tale because it makes me mad. I hate the main character… she’s going along with everything the aunts are feeding her… She’s not brave enough to stand up.” When I asked her if Offred really had much of a choice, she said, “I would rather die than live like that. Also, there’s a major absence of love in the book.”

I asked if she would read more Margaret Atwood. She said it depends on what her other novels are about… that she would want to if they’re also about “major social issues.”

What would you suggest my daughter read next?

As usual, I have taken Waltzing Again out from the library for November. I may single-handedly be keeping that book on the shelf! (All the pencil marks in it are probably mine.) It’s one of the places I have, in the past, gotten information for my list of fun facts about MA.

This year’s Fun Facts are brought to you by interviews with Joyce Carol Oates and Karla Hammond in 1978.

1.MA used to be a good cake decorator and was often asked to “reproduce various objects in pastry and icing.” She goes on to say that she used to walk by pastry stores and wonder why people liked to make replicas of things and then eat them. It seemed a “mysterious thing to do.” Then, of course, she went on to write The Edible Woman.

2. MA started writing poetry in High School at the age of sixteen. At that time, she didn’t know of any Canadian writers, so her influencers were Poe and Shelley.

3. Atwood could never really “acquire a taste” for Harvard. While there, she felt a little like “a wart or wen on the great male academic skin.” They still weren’t letting women into the Lamont Library, which is where they kept all the modern poetry and records. She did, however, write two “Harvard” stories, which are in Dancing Girls. (Have you come across them, Marcie?)

4. MA considered herself a procrastinator. “I used to spend the morning procrastinating and worrying, then plunge into the manuscript in a frenzy of anxiety around 3:00 when it looked as though I might not get anything done… The fact is that blank pages inspire me with terror. What will I put on them? Will it be good enough?” Who knew? I wonder if she still feels this way?

5. Again, who knew that MA considered herself (in the 70s) “lazy, sluggish, and of low energy”? I have always thought of her as completely the opposite!

Bonus Fact: Margaret Atwood’s MaddAddam Trilogy has been made into a Ballet!

(You can read last year’s list here.)

As I was reading the interviews in search of my fun facts, I came across some passages that felt timeless and like they needed to be shared.

In our arrogance, we take ourselves to be the norm, and measure everyone else against it.

No longer do we have those closets with skeletons in them which we had in the Victorian period. Everyone is quite fond of their skeletons. They take them out and parade them around so that everyone can commiserate with them.

Language changes within our lifetime. As a writer you’re part of that process–using an old language, but making new patterns with it.

In Canada, some of the most interesting and prominent writers are women, and this has always been true. It’s impossible to teach Canadian Literature and ignore women.

This post was written as part of Marcie’s Margaret Atwood Reading Month event at Buried in Print.

Have you read/watched anything MARM-y lately?

23 thoughts on “#MARM: Margaret Atwood Reading Month 2022

  1. Marianne Ward says:

    Great post, Naomi! I especially love the quotes from Atwood at the end. So true, all of them!

    I wonder whether your daughter might enjoy Alias Grace. Definitely deals with social issues…

  2. madamebibilophile says:

    Lovely post Naomi! I also read Atwood for the first time in Year 12 when we studied THT. I loved it so much I read everything she’d written up to point, from the beginning, so not sure I’m best placed to advise your daughter 😀 I hope whatever she chooses next she enjoys!

    • Naomi says:

      Thanks, Madame B! I love hearing that you read Atwood in school, because, funnily enough, I didn’t! So I came to her a bit later. I’ve always wondered why my teachers chose not to teach her book.

    • Naomi says:

      I saw it but didn’t read it. I’m wondering if, as a ballet, it has to reveal a lot of the plot in case the audience can’t interpret it from the dancing. I’d be very curious to see it!

  3. Marcie McCauley says:

    I’m so glad you are single-handedly borrowing Waltzing Again to keep it in the catalogue. Heheh It really is a terrific collection, much more enjoyable than a lot of interview collections turn out to be (which must say a great deal about MA…another collection of interviews that I recall being very good was with Joyce Carol Oates…I think they might be friends?!). Yes, I think “Polarities” must have been one of the “Harvard stories” you refer to. And of course the buildings including the dormitory in Handmaid’s Tale are based on Harvard too. (Just logistically, I believe, not the dress code heheh.) The characters in “The Man from Mars” are students, but I’m not sure if it would have counted as a school story. I think there’s some talk about this, about real life settings that appear in fiction, in Rosemary Sullivan’s The Red Shoes, but I no longer have my copy. I love that, while you were compiling your post, and trying to stick to a certain outline, that you couldn’t resist other quotations that spoke to you. And I can’t imagine how hard it must have been to carve a space for oneself as a Canadian poet via Poe and Shelley, to not have had a single woman poet, if only in your mind, as a companion.

    • Naomi says:

      How strange it must have been. It’s so interesting to hear her talk about the beginning of Canadian literature and how we have our own unique voice. She must have felt pretty passionate to write a whole book about it. I wonder how she feels about it now, when she sees how far Canada has come – especially, finally, with all the Indigenous literature coming out.

      One of these Novembers, I will bring out The Red Shoes!

  4. Karissa says:

    That surprises me that she considered herself lazy! I have the opposite impression and anyone I’ve ever met who met or knew her has always seemed to describe her as buzzing with energy and incredibly ambitious. I definitely agree that Canadian lit doesn’t exist without the role of women!

    • Naomi says:

      That surprised me, too. But maybe the reason she seems to be buzzing with energy is because she’s trying to combat the inner “lazy” idea she has of herself. But, hopefully, she grew out of that idea of herself a long time ago!

  5. annelogan17 says:

    I’m with Karissa – I’m shocked that Atwood feels herself lazy, she seems completely the opposite, especially considering her age and her energy! I’ve been following Marcie’s posts too, and she’s reviewing Dancing Girls a little bit with each post, it’s been very fun.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s