This year’s theme for the 13th annual battle of the books that is Canada Readshosted by Jian Ghomeshi, is: What is the one novel to change our nation? Which is the one novel all of Canada should read that can instill social change? Which book will inspire Canadians the most to take action?
There will be four days of debate and at the end of each show each panelist will vote to eliminate one title.
The five contenders in this annual book contest and round-table debates are:
Cockroach by Rawi Hage defended by Samantha Bee, Correspondent on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.
Half-Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan defended by Donovan Bailey, world record holder for the indoor 50-metre dash.
The Orenda by Joseph Boyden defended by Wab Kinew, Journalist and Aboriginal Activist. Annabelby Kathleen Winter defended by Sarah Gadon, Actress.
The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood defended by Stephen Lewis, Chair of the Stephen Lewis Foundation, which provides support to women and children in Africa living with HIV/AIDS.
After three days of debate, the first day introduced the panelists and their subsequent books in competition with a rapid 60-second plea by panelists on behalf of the books they champion.
While Wab Kinew made an aggressive and dramatic introduction to TheOrenda by Joseph Boyden, Sarah Gadon made a compelling argument about compassion on behalf of Annabel by Kathleen Winter. And though Donovan Bailey’s introduction was as speedy as his world record in the 50-metre dash, his points rooted for Half-Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan. Samantha Bee was a passionate contender on behalf of the subject of immigration in Cockroach by Rawi Hage and Stephen Lewis was as articulate in his free-form intro of The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood as expected by his impressive, intellectual, diplomatic, and activist background (the man has 37 honorary degrees!).
Perhaps the other panelists feared the power of Stephen Lewis’ future arguments and preferred not to debate him, nor keep him at the round table, but preferred to get rid of their competition early, which may explain the first elimination:
The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood
On Day Two, the panelists were raring to go, ready to defend their titles to one another. Though The Orenda by Joseph Boyden was highly attacked for being a book of “missed opportunity,” critiqued for its acute violence, which Wab Kinew passionately defended, the book was not eliminated.
Instead, when the vote took place, Half-Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan was taken off the table, argued against for its geographical and contextual distance from the Canadian experience.
Day Three has been by far the most active debate on behalf of all panelists especially covering the issue of intersex people in the novel, Annabel, by Kathleen Winter.
After a passionate debate all around, much to Sarah Gadon’s disappointment, Annabel was voted off by the majority of the panelists.
Be sure to return on Friday for the winning result of Canada Reads!
Which book do you think will win Canada Reads? Cockroach by Rawi Hage or The Orenda by Joseph Boyden?
Do you think the context of the books were seriously considered in the voting process or do you think the eliminations were primarily strategic based on the panelists?
If you’ve read the first two books in the Oryx and Crake trilogy, you were most likely at one of the largest literary events at Indigo, Bay and Bloor, this past Sunday. I was. And so were a number of other Margaret Atwood devotees and fans of her latest novel, MaddAddam, which hit the bookshelves three weeks ago and made its way to the Indigo Bestseller list even before its publication based on pre-order numbers alone.
What’s all this buzz about, you ask? Well, aside from the messages we could potentially send or receive from bees in speaking with them, should we have that particular gift as the Eves do in the books, The Year of the Flood, and MaddAddam, the bees have spoken loud and clear—we, as readers would not be rejected, nor stung, but instead receive a bona fide appearance of our very own, Canadian, and much beloved, prolific writer, Ms. Margaret Atwood at the Manulife Centre in Toronto.
Okay, and yes, the book itself is quite good, too.
Which is why, for a simple purchase of a copy at any Indigo, Chapters, or Coles location, you could get the privilege of not only listening in on an interview with Margaret Atwood by Mark Medley of the National Post (who, by the way, if you’re following him on Twitter, you’ll know that he just had a haircut in perfect time to interview Margaret. Coincidence? Perhaps not.), but also get multiple copies of MaddAddam signed, as well as one to two back copies of Atwood’s books, with one title personally inscribed to you or whomever you choose.
That’s the thing. Out of a full, personal library of her work at home, how can you choose? Which is why my husband and I made the trek early to Toronto to secure a relatively good spot in line. I was expecting or (perhaps hoping for) long lineups, mania, large Atwood billboards, an activist sit-in in support of the fictional, environmental theology of the God’s Gardeners, covert spies of our modern-day CorpSeCorps equivalent, or blue-skinned Craker-inspired costumes minus the large, wagging penises (okay,…I’ll admit I wouldn’t mind seeing a replica of blue wagging penises—it would certainly be a sight).
But, because we were wise and patient enough to come early in the day, we were lodged in a group of the lucky few. We were close enough to the beginning of the line to actually see its event poster, and when it came down to being seated in the first-come-first-serve sitting area where the interview was to be held, my husband and I were quaintly seated in the third row from the front. Waiting time? A devoted two hours. We earned it.
And since I’m not necessarily shy, plus I was jittery with excitement in attending my first Indigo book signing event in Toronto to also meet the-one-and-only-Margaret-Atwood-who-I’ve-bought-and-read-almost-every-book-that-she’s-ever-written-and-published—well, yes, I thought it important to make a few bookish friends to pass the time.
Christa, a fellow book blogger was there and was productive enough to work on a book review while waiting; Jessica, a publishing intern was keen to share upcoming author events around town; two women who I’ve irresponsibly forgotten to ask their names while chatting, buzzed about their plans to attend the book festival, Word on the Street, in Toronto, next week. Yes, I was definitely amongst my favourite kind of people, the faithful (and fanatic) fans of the written word. I thought, “Finally. People who understand me.”
We were kind enough to play line tag, taking turns saving spots for one another while one went to take a pee break, grab a Starbucks coffee, peruse the Hot and New Fiction tables, or pound a few keys on the piano on the second floor. Otherwise, we shared our common love for books and not-so-secret-fandom of the author we were so anxiously waiting to see. We even posed for photographs. Time went faster this way and thankfully so.
Much like crazed fans of famous musicians in concert, we book nerds have our own form of mania—as quiet and introverted as it is, it does exist, and passionately so. Okay, yes, we didn’t push and shove fellow patrons in the lineup. We were respectful enough to follow Indigo’s black rope guideline and signing policy. We whispered in giddy gossip of the literary stars we’ve met in the past. We sipped our coffees like we would our red wine at wine & cheese parties that host elusive poetry readings.
We even refrained from screaming at the sight of Ms. Atwood when she glided into the room behind Mark Hedley onto the Indigo stage. And yes, we even refrained from bombarding her with embarrassing tears of adoration. And, no, I absolutely promised myself, I would above all things, not faint. If any book nerd will confess, it is of a passionate, yet restrained decorum in showing authors we love, some well-deserved respect and grace.
Besides, Margaret Atwood is the type of individual, I think, who would have none of that silliness. Who can really know Atwood as Atwood herself, other than “Atwood-the-Writer,” of whom we wish her to portray, and of whom she’s admitted to impersonating—no, let me correct that—perhaps, showcasing. There is and always will be the private self and the persona. And the one readers are privileged to see in the context of promoting her work is the persona of “Atwood-the-Writer.”
Don’t get me wrong, that doesn’t mean she was less genuine nor less interesting. I simply mean, that in seeing her in person, hearing her interviews, reading her books, and even writing this blog post article, by in no way means that I know her anymore than anyone else can know her in a true and intimate way—that privilege is reserved for her close friends and family. (Lucky bunch, those guys.)
But, it does mean, I, along with others present at the Indigo event, were able to “bask in the limelight” of her literary stardom. If not bask, at least actively participate in its peripheral—there—and within the black rope seating area reserved for those devoted enough to come early.
In addition to our privileged seating, those who lined up early enough to snag a spot within the roped-off area were also privileged to choose a MaddAddam button, courtesy of Margaret Atwood (and I suspect, the wonderful marketing group at Random House of Canada). My husband and I chose a button each though I was extremely tempted to grab the entire bucket and make a run for it—thanks Ainsley, I only took one button for myself—(I am a hoarder of anything remotely bookish including swag and particularly of books written by Margaret Atwood, which are definitely high on my nabbing list!).
My partner, in his repulsion and refusal to eat pork, as well as his great sense of irony or perhaps subtle activism, chose the bright, pigoon button. Smart man, my husband, and potentially a donor to the future pigoon-gene-spliced-phenomena. I dug for the simple and sacred God’s Gardeners button as I secretly aspire to become an Eve, should our potential dystopian future demand it.
And while Ms. Atwood said so herself, “…everyone loves a good secret,” my husband and I, both refrained from choosing the Secret Burgers button in a clear stand against unknown dietary substances, which Atwood emphasized are indeed unknown as compared to lab meats, which are not unknown, and written about in her novel.
And as ancestors of the potential Craker blue-breeds, we also didn’t want to presume to be as innocent, nor gifted as those originally hatched in the “Egg,” of Crake’s original vision and creation, so we passed over the MaddAddam egg button.
And in my excitement and the availability of free Wi-Fi on site, I was able to tweet my real-time whereabouts and feelings within 140 characters, including, but not restricted to a clever hashtag and/or (in)direct contact with Margaret Atwood online! (For those of you yet to follow her, she can be found in the Twitterverse as @MargaretAtwood. Go ahead. Follow her now. All 427,079 of us who already do, will wait for you. And I’m sure by the time you finish reading this blog post, that number will have already risen. Betcha five bucks.)
I was ecstatic to discover that my tweet had somehow warranted a connection, however minute, with the humorous Atwood herself (which, by the way, I will enlarge, print, and frame for wistful dinner party conversation—the tweet, not Atwood):
I’m here @ Indigo Bay & Bloor in line waiting to meet, greet, and get my books signed by @MargaretAtwood! Got here early! Holy pigoon!
And that promise was dutifully kept. The Margaret Atwood we were all waiting to see, did arrive in a black ensemble with a red, butterfly printed scarf. (If it was indeed her secret clone or body double, it was surely difficult to tell. It certainly looked like her and sounded like her.) Her red eyeglasses were missing (I’ve seen her wear those before, but they’re most likely reserved for her lectures and readings)—but not her intelligent, articulate, and sometimes cryptic answers that lashed out a sharp wit by an even sharper tongue.
You have to remember, Ms. Atwood is good at this. She’s been around long enough in the public eye providing a number of interviews in support of the work she’s created (all 59 books of them, as quoted by Mark Medley in the interview, though she made it clear that she didn’t count books that she’s published on her own without the help of a publishing house as part of that tally), as well as in support of the thoughts and opinions she has on society, and the clarifications and rebuttals she’s had to make in an act to ensure that she’s not misunderstood. It’s a big bill.
When asked if she thinks the future is a “hopeful” one in light of MaddAddam’s story being hopeful since characters and nature are able to survive the epidemic of the “waterless flood,”—bear in mind, I’m paraphrasing here; it’s not as if I actually took notes since I was too busy being starry-eyed while snapping photographs—Margaret Atwood agreed that like the percentage survival of the Black Death epidemic in the 1930’s, survival of the human race can be hopeful, as shown in the natural environment’s response in thriving as it must, and as it had in her novel, MaddAddam, should the human race cease to exist or not.
When asked what she thought made readers resonate with Zeb’s character in the book (a topic that spun off the tidbit that the German title of the book was changed to “The Story of Zeb,” since its original title didn’t translate well in the German language), Atwood’s reasoning was depicted in an honest example of why children like and are fascinated by large, toy dinosaurs. (My nine-year-old son would have applauded her right then and there!)
While Atwood also chided that she’s busy “working on her own immortality” as we all are or would like to do, Mark Medley denied his own need to do so, and she blatantly refuted him, teasing him about being a “kid.” That kid is 32.
But, I have to agree with her. We, young pups, in the protection and sometimes naivety of our youth, often feel the bravado of facing the idea of our own deaths, since, in our minds, it’s still so deceptively far away.
I’m 38-years-old, but in a recent response to a serious Supraventricular Tachycardia (SVT) episode where my heart rate sped away at 200 beats per minute and I was forced to face the thin precipice between life and death with the possibility of no return—I wasn’t brave at all. I pleaded with the doctor as well as with God as who I understand God to be, to prolong whatever time I could get away with. Immortality? Yes, please.
When asked if she thought the character, Crake, was right (and for those of you who have not read the trilogy, well, now, you’ll have to, to guess), Ms. Atwood didn’t feel she could be presumptuous enough to know the psychology of her readers and would leave it up to us to decide. (In my opinion, Crake was right and wrong. And there’s no fence in sight. I may write an essay on it, should I feel so inspired.)
And when positioned with the same power of Crake and asked what she would do in his place, well, she teased again, refusing to share that with Mark Medley by answering back, “Well, I’m not telling you,” while smiling mischieviously back at him and the audience—because remember, she has choices. It’s her interview and she has no qualms about making them. If anyone is familiar with Ms. Atwood’s public personality, they’ll know that she’ll sometimes dodge any question that doesn’t interest her and will only speak to those that do. Good for her. (I’ll have to ask her to teach me how to do that the next time I meet her.)
There was also talk of the Intestinal Parasites app, a game created to mimic the game that Zeb, the character in MaddAddam plays in the novel, available for purchase through iTunes. And for you enthusiastic MaddAddamites, you’ll be excited to discover that the app is designed for both iPad and iPhone, and for a limited time, has a special launch price of only $0.99! For less than a buck, you’ll be charged with a mission as a MaddAddamite operative that could result in the agonizing death of millions of people. And no, I don’t believe you have to be a bio-geek to play. (Apparently, Margaret Atwood has reached Level 4—I recall reading this on her Twitter feed—but seems adamant in mastering the game. And like I said, I aspire to be an Eve, not a Zeb, so I don’t think I’d get very far.)
She also discussed the “battle” she had in fighting for a less “flowery” cover design of her book to not only better represent the story and context in which it was written, but to also appease the male readers who have also enjoyed the Oryx and Crake trilogy, of whom may be disgruntled by a more feminine, flowery cover design. How does she know this aside from being crowned our “literary prophet?” Well, she told us that she receives mail. A lot of it. From disgruntled readers and that she would most likely receive mail complaints from men who potentially wouldn’t like flowers on the MaddAddam book cover. When Mark Medley stated that she made a good “choice,” she refuted that, insisting that, no, she didn’t have a choice, but that it was a “battle.” We certainly have to pick and choose the ones we fight. And in this case, it’s clear Margaret Atwood, won.
After the interview, the floor was opened to audience questions:
When asked what advice she could give to aspiring writers, Ms. Atwood ‘s recommendation was to, rather than wait and think about writing, one should write and write often since the work of the writer is to do just that, “write letters on the page.” The person who asked the question was interested in writing commercial fiction and so, Margaret Atwood directed him to the website, Terrible Minds, a blog by Chuck Wendig, and warned him of the profanity used on the site.
Students of Victoria College, where Ms. Atwood is prestigious alumni, asked her when she would return to attend plenary, an existing weekly session where guest professors, visiting artists, writers, and ambassadors come to discuss points of interest with students and then offer their time afterwards in allowing students to speak with them informally and personally over coffee. Now, I see why these students were trying to hook Ms. Atwood into it. I’d like to have coffee with her, too! Instead, Ms. Atwood joked about “not being invited,” but also mentioned that should the students ask her publicist, she would most likely say no in consideration of her already busy schedule. Sorry, guys. *Feel free to insert, sad face here. *
When asked which book of hers and/or which character(s) in those books, does she favour the most, Margaret Atwood’s humor and ingenuity shined through her unwillingness to answer the question in order to protect the feelings of those in her books by saying she wouldn’t be able to tell us since her “books would overhear [her],” but that she could only say as most people do, “that [she] loves them each differently.” Ah, the personification of her books meant, too, that as their Creator, she was also unwilling to play favourites. No wonder she’s been so successful. Her books are healthy, and happy, and don’t bicker about who’s the best like most siblings do. (I would have chosen Zenia, from The Robber’s Bride because I found her to be equally sensual as she is frightening.)
But, don’t make any presumptions or judgements about Ms. Atwood when reading her books like one person did in stating that she was “negative about bio-geeks” and presumably about bio-engineering in light of the topic found in her book, MaddAddam. Ms. Atwood was keen to answer back quite sharply, “I’m not negative,” almost as if scolding a child who unfortunately misbehaved.
In posing his question, Ms. Atwood clearly spoke against her readers’ potential misjudgment and presumptions about her in the writing of her work and clarified by giving examples of bio-genetic work that she would welcome. One example she gave was some form of internal “insect repellant.” I forget the other example, but wholeheartedly agree with her on supporting the success of that particular project, should it exist or come into existence. How to mask our carbon dioxide output or imprint, which is how mosquitoes identify its prey through smell, would be a spectacular feat indeed. I know, since I went camping at the end of July this summer.
Thankfully, I braved a question myself by raising my hand and was privileged enough to be chosen from the audience to speak. I asked Margaret if she were a God’s Gardener and an Eve, what would be her particular speciality aside from speaking to bees? I had forgotten to expand on that by asking her what kind of message would she like to send or receive when speaking to bees, should she share that gift with her characters, Pilar and Toby?Or should she fail at completing her task of attaining her own immortality, what kind of tree would she like planted in her honour? See what happens when you get nervous? O, Mo-Hair, Liobam, and Firkin-Pigoon! I wasn’t as “swift” as Swift Fox in bedding her blue Craker-friends in sheer form of heightened libido and heightened curiosity. Bloody Painballer!
But, even more thankfully, when Margaret Atwood did attempt to answer my question, she not only gave it thoughtful consideration, I wasn’t bludgeoned for asking what I thought might come across as a silly question. (Phew.) And yes, I made eye contact with one of my favourite authors and spoke to her directly in a public event that gave me the privilege to do so! She told me that in that particular context, she would most likely be an Eve who specializes “in survival,” and joked about already having experienced enough with “mushrooms.” If you’ve read The Year of the Flood or MaddAddam, you’ll understand these references. If you haven’t, well, by all means, go out there and buy the books already!
We could be nearing a dystopia any day now. If I were to survive, I might just have to ask Margaret Atwood the secret to writing 59 books in a lifetime with a career that doesn’t look like it’s near any end any time soon. That, and how the heck can I make a great tasting coffee from dandelion root? Or befriend a blue Craker without becoming a mother or prophetess to the birth of an entirely new species? Also, how to kill a Painballer, as well as find out the best recipes for mushrooms that don’t necessarily mean I die or hallucinate into a dream-like Fallow State for more than 48 hours? Or—I could just ask her to sign my book… *Zara smiles sheepishly.*
After the interview and question period with the audience was over, we were treated to a personal book signing. It was enough to want to bodycheck your peers as hockey players do in order to gain advantage on the ice. Security detail was watchful and available, but I was surprised Ms. Atwood didn’t have a personal entourage to accompany her.
While Indigo staff volunteers took photographs, her publicist intelligently played quality crowd control by wedging herself between you and the author for signing. She took your books from you and passed them onto Margaret as a way of quickening the pace, as well as protecting our beloved writer from unexpected and possibly embarrassing forms of adoration and invasion of space.
Simply said, if her publicist wasn’t there, we would have mowed her down with stifling hugs and unwanted gushing, idiotic small talk, and a slew of paparazzi photographs. Okay, correction. There was a slew of paparazzi photographs. It’s not easy being a literary star. (I’d say, “Canadian literary icon,” but I hear Ms. Atwood doesn’t like that.)
Margaret Atwood’s poise and patience is all part of her experience as a writer who has gained worldwide recognition. And we were so pleased to be able to meet her in person, as well as take home our tokens: personally signed books by the Canadian author we love.
To read my book review of MaddAddam, you can visit here.
Also a special thanks to the event coordinators at Indigo, Random House of Canada, and the kind and patient patrons in line who made my wait an entertaining one, and to Margaret Atwood for giving us the privilege of meeting her in person.
Months after the Waterless Flood pandemic has wiped out most of humanity, Toby and Ren have rescued their friend Amanda from the vicious Painballers. They return to the MaddAddamite cob house, which is being fortified against man and giant Pigoon alike. Accompanying them are the Crakers, the gentle, quasi-human species engineered by the brilliant but deceased Crake. While their reluctant prophet, Jimmy — Crake’s one-time friend — recovers from a debilitating fever, it’s left to Toby to narrate the Craker theology, with Crake as Creator. She must also deal with cultural misunderstandings, terrible coffee, and her jealousy over her lover, Zeb.
Meanwhile, Zeb searches for Adam One, founder of the God’s Gardeners, the pacifist green religion from which Zeb broke years ago to lead the MaddAddamites in active resistance against the destructive CorpSeCorps. Now, under threat of an imminent Painballer attack, the MaddAddamites must fight back with the aid of their newfound allies, some of whom have four trotters.
At the centre, is the extraordinary story of Zeb’s past, which involves a lost brother, a hidden murder, a bear, and a bizarre act of revenge.
Combining adventure, humour, romance, superb storytelling, and an imagination that is at once dazzlingly inventive and grounded in a recognizable world, MaddAddam is vintage Margaret Atwood, and a moving and dramatic conclusion to her internationally celebrated dystopian trilogy.
Book Review by Zara from The Bibliotaphe Closet
The much-anticipated third book in the dystopian trilogy, Oryx and Crake, by Margaret Atwood, made its exciting debut at the end of August.
For those of you who are familiar with Atwood’s work and have had the privilege of reading the previous titles in the trilogy—Oryx and Crake and The Year of the Flood—you’ll be pleased to discover both narrative plots come together in the last novel, MaddAddam.
The narrative is as gritty as its dystopian setting, filled with the last remnants and artifacts of an old world, one which reflects our present day.
But in MaddAddam, paved streets are rubble. Foliage is overgrown. The “waterless flood” has massacred mankind through a rare epidemic.
And two very real ideologies—one, the advocacy to preserve, restore, care for, and improve the environment by controlling pollution and protecting plant and animal diversity in the form of the book’s God’s Gardeners; along with two, the advocacy to purchase excessive amounts of goods and services through consumerism found in the form of the CorpSeCorps—both explode into two dangerous and polar extremities that make up, not only the book’s setting, but the dichotomous tension and conflict of its warring plot.
While I greatly miss the lyrical prose of the God’s Gardeners’ tone of voice that was heavily rooted in The Year of the Flood with its spiritual and prayerful homilies of nature, the seasons, and its patron saints; its lessons in DIY derelict fashion, alternative culinary arts of survival more than taste, creative, ingenious architecture; and knowledge of horticulture, its healing properties, as well as its more potent powers to kill in the form of DIY weaponry and tactics for the sake of survival—the narrative in MaddAddam is primarily raw and abrasive through the diversified talents of Zeb’s unrefined, yet chameleon character, whose stealth is as coy and intelligent as his ability to wormhole through firewalls and infiltrate computer systems and software.
Toby, too, is her own artifact of the God’s Gardener culture as the former Eve Six, who still carries within her the knowledge of its feast days, rituals, prayers, and environmental theology. But, her tone, too, has been repressed by a much more necessitated virtue during the post waterless flood—a cold and tough instinct for an exterior that ensures her female leadership and resilience towards survival.
But, it’s not only the human characters that have adapted to the new world. Through the ambition of those driven by beauty, longevity, consumerism, and ultimately power with moral boundaries stretched so thin, the ethical boundaries themselves disappear to create a number of new, hybrid, animal species.
The excitement of reading MaddAddam is the discovery of Atwood’s imagination visualized in book form through the species she’s concocted. They are creatively imaginative as they are also quite frighteningly plausible, which makes Atwood, not only a creative writer of the dystopian novel, but potentially society’s literary prophet, should we refuse to be mindful of the direction we take and how far we should take it in meeting the demands of our own ambitions and whether or not they remain ethical.
The hybrid animal species in the book, I found most entertaining.
From the Mo-Hairs, a bred animal that grows human hair in blonde, brunette, red, and black, for human hair inplants. To Pigoons, giant pigs with human brain function and cortices.
And of course, the highly anticipated story behind the growing culture of the blue-perfectly-bodied creatures created by Crake, and therefore aptly named Crakers, whose eyes are luminescent green and whose skin turns blue in maturity; whose territorial marking includes a morning ritual of communal urination by the males in the group; to mating rituals that include the sense of when a woman is “blue” and therefore ready to be mated with by first, the offering of flowers, and huge, wagging, blue penises; to their strictly vegetarian diet; and an angelic, yet purposeful, gifted, and exquisite, alien singing voice of which humans cannot imitate nor reproduce.
The creation of these highly imaginative species is what makes MaddAddam and the Oryx and Crake trilogy so compelling and creative.
Stripped of these, the plot would be at its best, predictable, if not mundane. But, plot in dystopia is usually diluted anyway by its more significant comment on society and its much-needed warnings, reprimands, or lessons.
While I was disappointed by the ending of the book, its outcome as well as its change in narrative voice from Zeb and Toby to the gentle, yet precocious Craker, Blackbeard, which felt as if Atwood simply tired from writing and therefore changed the voice to “wrap up” the story in third person summary; I did, however, appreciate that even though MaddAddam is the conclusion of the Oryx and Crake trilogy, the story itself is left open for possibility—and perhaps the possibility of another book? (Loyal Atwood fans would certainly love this!)
Regardless, it’s always a pleasure to read an Atwood novel and in particular, finish a trilogy that has showcased the darker side, as well as the potential of ourselves.
From Zeb, Toby, Crozier, Rebecca, and Swift Fox’s attempts at sipping down dandelion root coffee or ash-tasting alternatives, to their bed sheet fashion, and “God’s Gardening” labour; to the peace-loving ignorance of the Craker’s lack of knowledge of the past prior to the flood, and even prior to the truth of their own beginnings, which “hatched” from “the Egg;” it’s the Crakers’ superb innocence, intelligence, and impressionism that moves them toward a new form of Craker-Oryx-Jimmy-the-Snowman-Toby spirituality—which like the dystopian tattle-taling of this story reveals—that logic and intelligence, no matter how superior, without the restraint of morality and ethics, as well as a strong foundation of history and truth, can never truly equate the result and necessity of wisdom—oh, and yes, that life and spirituality will always find a way of surviving, thriving—and evolving.
“Oh, liobam,” I say as I throw my hands up in frustration. “Holy pigoon!” I say as I turn the last pages. I wish the book, or the trilogy, doesn’t have to end.
(And, in the best Craker singing I can fashion, I seriously consider stocking up on strong Starbucks coffee, a slew of floral, printed bed sheets, a rifle, pencils, archival paper—and also be willing and open to make new friends.)
And in honour of completing the Oryx and Crake trilogy, I plan on planting a good tree and naming today, The Feast of MaddAddam, in which no animals with “Scales or Tails,” shall be eaten.
Pacing: 4 stars
Cover Design: 3.5 stars
Plot: 4.5 stars
A special thanks to Random House of Canadaon behalf of McClelland & Stewartfor providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an unpaid, honest review.
About the Author:
Margaret Atwood, whose work has been published in over thirty-five countries, is the author of more than forty books of fiction, poetry, and critical essays. In addition to The Handmaid’s Tale, her novels include Cat’s Eye, shortlisted for the 1989 Book Prize; Alias Grace, which was a finalist for the 1996 Booker Prize and won the Giller Prize in Canada and the Premio Mondello in Italy; The Blind Assassin, winner of the 2000 Booker Prize; Oryx and Crake, shortlisted for the 2003 Booker Prize; and her most recent, The Year of the Flood. Among her many other rewards, she has also received the Los Angeles Times Innovator’s Award. She lies in Toronto with writer Graeme Gibson.
Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:
• Grab your current read • Open to a random page • Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
• BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
• Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!
Here’s my random teaser for Tuesday:
Yes, there was a bone in the soup. Yes, it was a smelly bone.
I know you do not eat a smelly bone. But many of the _____________ __ ___________ like to eat such bones. Bobkittens eat them, and rakunks, and pigoons, and liobams. They all eat smelly bones. And bears eat them.
I will tell you what a bear is later.
We don’t need to talk any more about smelly bones right now.
Can you guess from what title it’s from? (I’ll give you a hint…it hits bookshelves TODAY!)
It’s MaddAddam by Margaret Atwood, published by McClelland & Stewart, August 27, 2013!
Have you read the other two books in this trilogy: Oryx & Crake and The Year of the Flood?
What do you think of the “waterless flood”? Self-fulfilling prophecy or apocalyptic fantasy?
and he kept on singing, in his deep voice, off-key,
a purple-green monotone, dense and heathery.
He wasn’t singing for you, or about you.
He had some other source of joy,
nothing to do with you at all –
he was an unknown man, singing in his own room, alone.
Why did you feel so hurt then, and so curious,
and also happy,
and also set free?
From The Door: Poems by Margaret Atwood, published by McClelland & Stewart, 2007, p. 113.
For me, poetry is a deep image that resonates an equally deep truth. It’s a lyrical or beautiful expression in any stylistic form that attempts to capture what is withheld or unknown—and then becomes known in a startling moment. It’s a dialogue of absence and otherness, a sort of secret map that is intrinsically powerful in its ability to connect us through language, image, and understanding. For me, poetry is a subtle epiphany that resonates in a real and true way to its reader.
The particular poem, “You Heard the Man You Love” by Margaret Atwood, simply and accurately captured the mysterious essence of simultaneous knowing and unknowing, separation and connectedness. It perfectly depicted my own longing, understanding, and acceptance of knowing and not knowing what is withheld from me in the man who I love, my husband of 11 years. And how the beauty of that mystery and discovery as well as the acceptance of it, can be inclusive of hurt, curiosity, joy, and emancipation.
The poem is simple in its language and imagery, and yet profound at the same time. Much like the uniqueness, beauty, and gift found in the unknown and separation and connectedness in relationships, especially of those whom we love.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author, Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez, for the purpose of review and criticism of literary works with all rights reserved. The use of any part of this publication reproduced, transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, or stored in a retrieval system, without the prior written consent of the author is an infringement of copyright law.
The poem “You Heard the Man You Love” is reprinted on The Bibliotaphe’s Closet and because of its criticism and review purposes, is considered fair dealing in Canada under the Copyright Act.
You read one book by one author that you’ve never had the privilege of reading before and you fall in love with his or her ability to write beautifully and still tell a compelling story. And then you dabble into another title work by the same author just to see if they can pull it off again—and much to your delighted surprise, they not only meet your expectations, but go beyond them—and that’s it, you’re hooked. You go, read, and purchase almost every title by the same author because he or she has gained your trust.
After your personal library is built on a steady foundation of authors you readily enjoy reading, you commit yourself as a starstruck admirer, a loyal reader and fan of that particular author’s works because in your mind, you’ve already been touched by the talent of this literary guru that speaks to you both in a personal and universal way.
Does this sound familiar to you? Do you have authors that you know won’t disappoint your literary taste buds? Authors that you’re willing to spend 85% of your book budget for? Authors you’re willing to stand in line for to meet, and greet, and possibly get an autograph or photo?
I have a few authors that I return to often in full trust of their literary giftedness and depth as storytellers. Others that I love for their fantastic imagination or wonderful art of honesty that reflects a true image of who we are, both in dialogue and compulsion. Others I love because their wit and take on the world simply makes me laugh from my gut.
Here are my top 10 authors on my auto-buy (and auto-love) list:
1. Margaret Atwood / Elizabeth Hay
2. Joseph Boyden
3. Jhumpa Lahiri
4. Khaled Hosseini
5. Damon Galgut
6. Mark Strand
7. Don Delillo
8. Johanna Skibsrud
9. G. Willow Wilson
10. Barbara Gowdy
For those of you who may not be familiar with these authors, I highly recommend them. Pick up any one of their books and I can almost guarantee you won’t be disappointed. Their writing is clean, clear, and exquisitely told. These are wonderful storytellers and poets capable of creating characters that will move you, stories that will compel you, expose controversies that will call you to action and rethink your presumptions, and ultimately showcase truths that reflect the deepest and sometimes simplest parts of the human condition.
Today’s Top 10 Tuesday is Rewind, which means I get to go back in topic time and pick my own Top 10 list. This is my first time participating in this meme and lucky me, I landed on the day of ultimate blogger freedom (as memes go, anyway).
So, I’m going to go a little easy, dab my toe into the pond of Top 10-ish things and choose…
Topic #16: Favourite Authors
Yeah, yeah. Stop rolling your eyes, sighing, and mumbling to yourself, Borrr-rrring…
As readers, I believe it’s important to honour our writers. They are the ones who birth the words into print and give us our stories. Where would all the books we love come from if it wasn’t for our beloved scribes?
I weeded my list down to those I find are exceptional in the Canadian and American literary fiction and poetry genre—writers with a natural gift for the language and a true depth in storytelling.
I guarantee you that if you pick up a book written by one of the authors listed below, it is 98% most likely that the work is at the very least well written, if not brilliant.
And I don’t give my praise that easily. I’m not only a fickle reader; I have a background in writing (and editing), too! Uh-huh, I do. I’m no Billy Shakespeare, but I pride myself in knowing a little about literature.
Yes, tastes vary. But, there’s a great divide between good taste and bad taste. And well— like to eat.
Her debut short story collection, Interpreter of Maladies (1999), won the 2000 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, and her first novel, The Namesake (2003), was adapted into film of the same name. My favourite of her work is The Namesake,both in literature and the adapted film. (Aside from her obvious successful literary career, isn’t she just gorgeous, too?) You can read my review of Interpreter of Maladieshere.
My favourite collection of his poetry is Blizzard of One, winner of the Pulitzer Prize in 1999. The style of his work is…stark. He is not a poet at heart—but a true poet, a scribe who is able to decipher the world of subtlety with the stroke of his pen—which is further solidified by his Pulitzer Prize.
Her body of work has won acclaim and the great respect of Canadian literature enthusiasts in her award-winning book, Late Nights on Air, which won the Giller Prize in 2007. I also recently enjoyed her latest novel, Alone in the Classroom. You’re more than welcome to read my review here.
The iconic Ms. Atwood has enough press. If you don’t know “Peggy,” you’re just not well-read. Sorry. but ’tis true. My favourite poetry collection by Margaret Atwood is her collection in The Door. And of course, I absolutely love her dystopian series: The Year of the Floodand Oryx and Crake.With an exhaustive body of work, it’s difficult to choose her most prominent and most beloved work.
I was privileged enough in university to be introduced to Barbara Gowdy personally by my poetry professor, Christopher Dewdney (who also happens to be her partner!) at a reading at Calumet College of her novel, The White Bone.She is as beautiful as she is gifted—and a woman of a quiet confidence and grace.
My favourite works by Ms. Gowdy are: The Romantic, We So Seldom Look on Love (a collection of short stories), and Mr. Sandman.
Yes, the film, The Kite Runner was wonderful—but it couldn’t be so without its originating novel by Khaled Hosseini. And though sequels tend to take the “back-burner” to their originals, A Thousand Splendid Suns was just as “splendid.” Khaled Hosseini is a writer at the height of his craft.
I’ve been a devout fan of Michael Ondaatje’s work since I was a teenager, which was partially due to his sensual and thoughtful poetry—and I must confess—his eyes! Please don’t hold it against me. I’ve enjoyed many of his works and most recently, Divisaderoand The Cat’s Table,which was shortlisted for the Giller Prize in 2011. You can read my review on The Cat’s Tablehere.
I won an early review title of the book, The Glass Boys through the book database and social media site, Goodreads—and I’m so glad I did. The Glass Boys introduced me to a writer of taut creativity, sensitivity, and talent. Nicole Lundrigan may not have the accolades that some of her peers do, which only makes her a hidden gem of an author. My review of The Glass Boys can be read here.
I was unaware of Alice Hoffman before my experience with The Dovekeepers,which now happens to be one of my favourite novels of all time. Yes, that’s a heavy attestation, but I stand firm in my faith in her work. The Dovekeepers had just the right poetic prose, drama, and historical fiction for the literary world to notice and for me to love. The Dovekeepers remains to me, a beautiful narrative of the empowered woman and the Jewish culture.
Okay, let’s talk Atwood. Yes, her. The Canadian literary icon. The one most call Margaret. The one those closest to her call Peggy.
She’s a writer. She’s written and published over 50 books including fiction, non-fiction, poetry, and books for children.
She’s highly acclaimed, which means she’s won a lot of awards. She’s pre-booked for interviews and readings. She’s stalked by advocacy groups wanting her reaffirmation for their cause. She has book clubs, academia clubs, and foundations named after her. She tweets on Twitter and has more than 270K followers. She even has her own doll.
I’ve had opportunities to meet her, greet her, and nab an autograph. Once when she published, “Moral Disorder” and attended the book publishers’ annual Book Expo in Toronto. And second, when I won tickets to attend her co-luncheon with Janice Gross Stein in promotion of their books and the new imprint of McClelland & Stewart, Signal Books. Both times, I missed attending. Both times, I lost my chance at fulfilling this frivolous goal.
But wanting to meet Margaret Atwood is much like waiting to meet Santa Claus at the mall:
You dress yourself up. You make yourself look presentable. You buy a ticket or a book and wait in line. You crane your neck to see if she appears any different than she did the last time you saw her on television. You prepare and mentally practice what you plan on saying to her once you get to the front of the line. You fidget. You make small talk with those in line with you to pass the time and to appear nonchalant and casual—not at all the prepubescent schoolgirl you actually feel like. You eavesdrop on the others and scheme to think of saying something better, if not at all entirely different or unique. You’re a tad jealous that she might have her favourites. That they might get a photo, a sincere and more significant inscription, a little more chit-chat, more time, attention—some small respect. You consider foregoing the lineup altogether and sneaking out in shame to salvage whatever little dignity you have left as an intelligent, formidable, and logical adult.
But, no. Instead, you wait in line anticipating the moment you will meet Margaret Atwood. You get to the front of the line. She asks you your name and you mumble something that comes out sounding somewhat between a half grunt and an apology. You’ve forgotten what you so proudly prepared saying in advance. She waits. You remain dumbfounded. She smirks and pities you, perhaps thinking she really should be at her cottage working on a poem, drinking a cup of tea, feeding her cat.
And then you are ushered away by her marketing “people” because she is famous enough now to have some. Marketing and people. You laugh at your silliness. You smile. And then curse yourself for not asking for a photo opportunity. Already it is too late. She is on to the next person, the next autograph.
You wished you said thank you properly, hoping it conveyed just the right amount of gratitude. You’re inept to say anything at all.
So, you cross the street to a local Starbucks, order an over-complicated sounding cappuccino to regain your sense of confidence and order. The book is under your arm. You sit at a table and want to tell someone that you just met Margaret Atwood, but fear someone will think you over-excited, over-indulgent, or just plain hallucinatory, so you keep quiet.
You open the front cover and read the inscription inside:
For Zara Alexis,
A friend in the craft…
may the poem you need to write, find you.
And it feels a little like Christmas, after all.
Except none of that has happened.
I have yet to meet Margaret Atwood and get her autograph—which is why I write this post and drop it frivolously into my bucket list.
At the very least, Margaret Atwood responded to me in a tweet after reading one of my reviews of her book!
@ZaraAlexis: Aw… thank you. But for all who are jealous: trade you 10 years, make it 20, and you can have some “it.”
To decide to enter the fictional world created by Atwood is to willingly submerge yourself into the psyche of her protagonist – because that’s the power of her work. Regardless, of how unwilling you think you may be in becoming drawn into her story and/or stories—I pluralize this because she usually has more layers than one—you will have no choice, but become hypnotized or embodied by the world she creates in her fiction because the voice of her narrative is always so strong.
When I say strong, I’m not referring to the tone of voice or the strength of the characters themselves—though this may very well be true of them—I’m referring to the power of her narrative because the voice she writes in—this inner dialogue—is able to excavate marvellous truths with such clarity, originality, and precision.
Atwood is able to write with not only keen insight and provocative subject matter, she isn’t afraid to offend you with jarring, raw imagery, language, or context. It’s intentional in so far as she deliberately resists being conformed by stereotypical ideas or dogmas. What you expect to happen in novels in how characters are meant to evolve does not happen in the same way in Atwood’s work. The rest comes from a well of either brutal honesty and truth on the part of the writer or the complete professional wizardry performed in the “magic” that Atwood creates with the written word – or both, except there are no tricks with Atwood.
Magic denotes supernatural forces that flow out from nowhere, giving neither its master control nor credit. Atwood’s artistry is magical in that she cannot be duplicated. But her manipulation of the language, her word power and passion for it, and story writing and “showing” – not “telling” is accurately and expertly devised. It is without a doubt, a natural, gifted, and crafted talent. And a dedication to doing the work.
And I think that’s part of the reason why she’s just as resented superficially on a global scale as she is worshipped – the fact that she has been reigned as an iconic, Canadian, female writer and artist. The irony here, is that her ambition, drive, and self-confidence is what probably brought her to the iconic stratosphere, and no doubt, her natural talent as well—but this exact kind of attention and glorification is what Atwood, I think, abhors—and yet at the same time, on some atomic level, demands.
But this inner requirement is not her focal point – it’s not the driving force in her writing or why I think she writes. It’s the compulsion. Writing, for any good writer—for any writer worthy of being acclaimed as having one ounce or more of talent—is driven by it.
The words must come out. The story must be written down. There are no extravagant plans or blueprints. There is no trickery or shortcuts. There is only always: the writer, the compulsion, and the white page – and then the writing itself.
A writer need not have “good” muses or even “many” muses. A good writer need only a supersonic ear to listen to the inner rhythm of language – but most importantly, a “seeing” eye that understands something others know, but cannot articulate. A good writer cannot be taught or bred, but be born of an instinctive talent – and then in ruthless dedication, work in solitude for many hours at a time and finally in years to sharpen his or her: 1) craft, 2) pencils, and 3) ego.
You cannot teach talent. You cannot imitate authenticity. You cannot counterfeit gold and expect to get your dollars’ worth. A bad writer cannot impersonate good writing. You cannot be a fraud. You either have it or you don’t. And if you do, then it’s not a matter of luck or literary providence – it’s a matter of tenacity, 10-inch-thick skin, a great agent, and a receptive audience. Anything else is fluff and trimmings.
Atwood is one of the privileged few who seem have “it” all. But, give her credit, too. She’s worked hard to climb the iconic ladder with an albatross of work – 51 titles in total (I know, I counted) that as a list spans a full two pages over a number of years. Many writers are born with this elusive “it,” but don’t have the confidence or the stamina needed to create the work required to be recognized by both the literary community and by those outside of it. Atwood just turned 72.
And she’s resisted the stereotype that writers – that artists, especially female writers, require self-deprecation, dramatic mental or physical illnesses, a man, or a manic disposition that inevitably leads to suicide or mysterious death. Atwood is no Plath.
So kudos to you, Atwood. Have another glass of red wine. You’ve heard it all before. Yes, so your stories and your characters are dark, sombre, and cynical. I’ve even heard from other people, that your work is “downright depressing.” Damn right, it is! But it is also intelligent, poetic, stark, and dead-on.
Maybe you are, too: dark, sombre, cynical, downright depressed. But, maybe you continually re-invent yourself and shape shift into who you need to be depending on the weather, your mood, or who is interviewing or critiquing your work. Maybe you re-invent yourself not only in your stories, but in order to cover your scent from public reviewers and critics, like myself, who hunt you down with pigeon holes. I get it – I think.
Writing is the most vulnerable art available. There is a miniscule divide between the writer and the work. Good fiction is at its heart a microcosmic truth. Somewhere hidden behind commas, periods, and exhilarated exclamation points, it’ll hammer you on the head. That is, if you can read. (Sorry, my internal literary snob just gave me a drop-kick.)
You either love Atwood’s work or hate it. For some of you, you won’t even tolerate trying to understand it. But there is no in-between, no grey area, no fence to sit on. Atwood makes you choose.
And she does so, in her novel, “Cat’s Eye.”
(I’d go into slight detail “about” the story, but that’s what I believe inside flaps are for. Okay, okay…I’ll give you a hint: Elaine Risley.)
Go out, borrow or buy the book. Borrow or buy all her books.
Be star struck.
Books and nooks. Writing and reading between the pages.