Friday, March 05, 2010

Margaret Atwood

Margaret Atwood was on campus on Wednesday as part of the University's Distinguished Speakers Series.

I went to hear her speak and I have to say that it really wasn't what I expected. Atwood herself was funnier than I imagined. Her talk was on the short side and its topic was "questions people have asked me and their answers" so the whole program ended up being like one huge question-and-answer session.

What she chose to include in her talk was interesting, particularly her discussion of how the questions she's usually asked have changed over the years. She touched on her hair, feminism, speculative fiction, and hope. Her answer to the question of which of her characters is most like her is Zenia from The Robber Bride because she's a pathological liar who's able to spin tales appropriate to her audience.

The audience questions covered a variety of topics. Atwood was asked about her arctic vacations and whether she had any advice for graduate students. Individuals requested that she comment about one character or another and share her feelings about the film adaptation of The Handmaid's Tale (she wishes they'd release an original cut because the voice-over bits were cut out and, while she understood that they had to change the ending, she didn't think what they decided to do was logical).

When Atwood was asked which genre she prefers to write she answered that if she really and truly enjoyed one more than the others that'd be the only genre in which she'd write. She continued that the bit of writing that she finds most difficult is the book review. As a result she reviews infrequently and only books that she likes. She mentioned reviewing E.O. Wilson's first novel Anthill.

She was also asked which authors she always snaps up: Alice Munro and Hilary Mantel. She also threw in a plug for Yann Martel's new book, Beatrice and Virgil (forthcoming in April).

When asked about the impending death of the book (in the wake of e-readers), Atwood mentioned that she'd written a post on her blog detailing three reasons to keep paper books: solar storms, energy shortages, and internet overload.

Books that were mentioned in the program (ordered, more or less, from most-mentioned to least) were The Handmaid's Tale, The Year of the Flood (which we'd expected her to talk more about than she did), Oryx and Crake, The Robber Bride, and Alias Grace. Atwood mentioned her poetry, but generally.

Of course I can't mention everything here, but that was a taste of it.

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