Negotiating with the Dead: A Writer on Writing by Margaret Atwood

So you think you’re a writer . . . you might be interested in what
Margaret Atwood has to say about writing.  She’s a poet and better
known as a novelist for, among others, The Edible Woman;  Surfacing;
The Handmaid’s Tale; and The Robber Bride.  
She won the Booker Prize
for Fiction for her newest novel, The Blind Assassin.

She was born in 1939 and says she harmonized along with Patti Page when
her double track recordings were making news.  She wore panty girdles and
maybe that resonates with some of you!  She was born in Canada and always
felt a little inferior that she wasn’t living in New York or London or Paris.


The book was divided up into sensible sections (and questions.)
“Should a writer write for money?”  She points out that writers, too,
must eat and gives ways to be able to afford to write:

  1. You can have money of your own
  2. You can marry money
  3.  You can attract a patron
  4. You can have a day job
  5. You can sell to the market

Maybe you’ve already selected the likeliest path for you.  Yes, there
could be literary grants—long queue for those!  Or teach creative
writing, but jobs are not that plentiful.

Now that you’ve got money in the bank, or the prospects thereof, she
asks about the VALUE of a book.  Making a lot of money sounds good,
but then is it just a shallow bestseller?  And if it doesn’t make a lot of
money does that make it better?    Catch-22.

Early on she tells us that there are two writers in every story, that
all writers are double.  There is the writer and the (hero) of the story.
They are the same, and different.

I love the sections where she discusses the relationship between the
writer and the reader.  “The writer communicates with the page.  The
reader also communicates with the page.  The writer and the reader
communicate only through the page.”

She asks three questions:

  1. for whom does the writer write?  (nobody, and the admiring Bog)
  2. what is the book’s function or duty? (one of her professors clarified
    that question by saying there is only one question–is the book alive
    or is it dead?)
  3. and “Where is the writer when the reader is reading?” (Right here.)

The title of the book was disarming.  There is a section near the end where
she discusses writing and being influenced by jaunts into the unknown
and writers who have searched the mysteries of the Underworld.  It got
a little dark thinking about this stuff, but her sense of humor is never too
far off and I relished the remark that
having the dead return when not expected can be hair-raising.”

Bits of literature and quotes and their authors are scattered throughout
the book and I love those references–especially when I can say I’ve
read the book!

She sounds like a woman who would be an interesting dinner partner.
The book is thought-provoking.  Think you might read it?

Three button review. ©booksandbuttons

Three button review. ©booksandbuttons




Share Button
This entry was posted in book review, books and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Negotiating with the Dead: A Writer on Writing by Margaret Atwood

  1. Buttondeb says:

    Hmm…One larger and two smaller buttons. Is this a refinement of the awards system?

    • booksandbuttons says:

      No, just a three button representation, but certainly an
      interesting solution to some of those books that aren’t really
      a “three” but better than a “two”. Will ponder this. thanks

  2. Stefanie says:

    Isn’t this a good book? I read it quite some time ago but you are making me want reread it because my memory of it has gotten pretty fuzzy!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.