Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Reading with Intent

On my Easter Bunny outing on Sunday I bought a copy of The Island of Dr. Moreau in part because I had just finished reading an essay about it by Margaret Atwood. The essay is the introduction to a new Penguin edition of the book but has been collected, along with other introductions, afterwords, reviews and personal essays, in Writing with Intent, Essays, Reviews, Personal Prose: 1983-2005. Thanks to Margaret Atwood, I have added some books to my wishlist:

  • A Jest of God by Margaret Laurence
  • Women Writers at Work: The Paris Review Interviews edited by George Plimpton
  • The Warrior Queens Antonia Fraser
  • An Experiment in Love by Hilary Mantel
  • Trickster Makes This World: Mischief, Myth, and Art and The Gift: Imagination and the Erotic Life of Property by Lewis Hyde
  • According to Queeny by Beryl Bainbridge
  • Doctor Glas by Hjalmar Soderberg
  • Child of My Heart by Alice McDermott
  • Enough: Staying Human in an Engineered Age by Bill McKibbon
  • A Story as Sharp as a Knife: The Classical Haida Mythtellers and Their World by Robert Bringhurst
  • The Gutenberg Galaxy by Marshall McLuhan
  • The Mays of Ventadorn by W.S. Merwin
Because of her I also want to re-read To the Lighthouse and Animal Farm (I'd want to re-read 1984 too but I did that about two years ago so don't feel the need right now). I don't know if I should love Atwood or hate her for what she has done to my reading list. Okay, so I don't hate her. I am continually amazed, however, how such a huge mind fits into her little body. Her knowledge of literature leaves me awestruck. She is the kind of reviewer that doesn't just go on about the book under review, but places it into the author's oeuvre and will even compare it to other books of a similar nature. Between reviewing, writing novels, poetry and short stories, giving lectures and readings and traveling I don't know when she has time to read so much. Maybe she has found the secret to reading by osmosis--place the book under your pillow when you go to bed at night and in the morning you'll know all of its contents as if you had spent hours reading it by daylight. Or perhaps she doesn't need to sleep and while the rest of us are snoring away, she's reading book after book. Sometimes collections like Writing with Intent can get boring after the first few essays because the author starts to sound repetitive, the essays never meant to be read in one place. But Writing with Intent does not fall prey to that. Sure there are a few phrases and references that get repeated from time to time, but overall each piece tends to be fresh and original Atwood. One of the most striking things about this book is how funny she is. Her novels aren't generally thought of as comedic, but her nonfiction reveals Atwood has a great sense of humor:
There is death by starvation, death by animal, death by forest fire; there is even death from something called "exposure," which used to confuse me when I heard about men who exposed themselves: why would they intentionally do anything fatal? (from "True North")
The book also has an essay ("Nine Beginnings") that answers the perennial question, "why write?" There are also essays on the writing of her novels, "In Search of Alias Grace: On Writing Canadian Historical Fiction" and "Writing Oryx and Crake." And an entertaining essay on her first "real" job waitressing ("First Job, Waitressing"). Writing with Intent is a great collection and a must for avid readers of Margaret Atwood.