I’m trying not to fret about my progress through my book pile – I have finished the large hardback I was working my way through, have made decent inroads into my Maya Angelou poems and with this one am reviewing my fourth NetGalley read and am over half-way through the Charlotte Mendelson. Plus work has calmed down a bit so I have some reading time back. All good! One small issue with this one was that the version I sent to Kindle was full of formatting errors and unreadable, so I had to resort to the NetGalley Shelf app on my tablet, which doesn’t allow one (me, at any rate) to mark passages to quote later, just bookmark pages. So I hope I can remember what I was marking when I did so!

Margaret Atwood – “Burning Questions”

(13 March 2022)

I write books about possibly unpleasant futures in the hope that we will not allow these futures into reality. Under the circumstances, we’re doing moderately well […] Under what circumstances do we wish to live? Perhaps this is the real question we should be asking ourselves. It’s dark inside the wolf, yes; but it’s light outside the wolf. So, how do we get there?

I think I have Atwood’s first book of essays and pieces somewhere, and didn’t read her second: this is her third collection and gives us pieces, speeches, reviews and introductions from the last twenty years or so. Of course not every piece in a fifty-item book is going to be equally appealing to everyone; the horror theme she enjoys left me passing over articles on zombies, in particular, but also there’s something for everyone, and I learned about some new writers to me.

Somewhat naturally, the pieces that appealed most to me were those about her writing and the adaptations of it and about her life; the nature pieces were also good. There was little repetition apart from a general appreciation for her free and unconstrained childhood and the urgent need to address issues of climate change. I particularly liked “Polonia” which looked at her growing need to help people, unasked, as she ages, very funny and wry; her piece on Marilla as the character who experiences true growth in “Anne of Green Gables”; her obituary of Doris Lessing and her piece on how scared she was of Simone de Beauvoir; and “Buttons and Bows” about clothes in her life and in writing. As mentioned above she covers nature and its protection, birds, climate change and the wrongs done to Canadian First Nations writers [as she styles them]. It comes bang up to date with the pandemic and the devastating loss of her partner, Graeme Gibson.

I think my favourite piece was “A Writing Life”, in which she details a week of trying to write (this reminded me a bit of Dorothy Whipple’s “Random Commentary“) with a twist in the tale about one item that was easy to write. Funny and realistic, clear and practical: Atwood at her non-fiction best. I liked her mention of not wanting to look at the writer’s life when reading Kafka et al. as that linked with my reception theory interest, however much it might be rooted in not wanting to read a lot as a student …

An excellent collection I felt privileged to read, and especially good if you’re a fan of “The Handmaid’s Tale” and “The Testaments”, although she treats others of her modern books, too.

Thank you to Vintage Books for selecting me to read this book in return for an honest review. “Burning Questions” was published on 1 March 2022.