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Seeing Margaret Atwood
Jun 23rd, 2010 by Dr Karma

Okay–it’s been awhile since I’ve written. First, I had to get the blog to stay up–let us all thank my faithful friend and reader, Ken, who donated his time and money to enable me to do so. Then, it was finals, and then I headed off to Canada for ten days.

Today I wanted to share my impressions on seeing Margaret Atwood at the 11th Short Fiction Conference in Toronto. I’ll talk about meeting Margaret Atwood the next time I log in.

Last Friday, Margaret Atwood had a talk with a former colleague and fellow writer at the short fiction conference. He, unfortunately, did not prepare questions–I think he was counting on knowing her for 40 years and on the audience’s interest in knowing that both of them started writing at the same time. I’m sure that I, as well as any of the other Atwoodians in the room, could have led a better discussion. At one point, even Atwood cut him off to say that she thought they should be talking about short fiction–he got a bit defensive and said he was trying to cover her entire body of work, although three of his questions were designed to get her to talk about her depiction of Toronto in her novels.

There were some highlights, though. Apparently, she and I pronounce Penelopiad the same way (there are three ways). She mentioned Colin Firth’s shirtless scene in Pride and Prejudice (we watch the same movies!). She also said that a friend had observed of The Handmaid’s Tale that it was surprising that no one had noticed that it was a veiled depiction of Harvard’s English Department from when Atwood was in graduate school there. Also, apparently, there was supposed to be a voice-over in the film version of The Handmaid’s Tale–she said that Richardson was playing against the voice over (so we could see what she was repressing), which added a lot to the role, but that the director cut it.

One woman asked a common question about Atwood not calling her work science-fiction. She managed to make the question sound hostile. Atwood’s answer was perfect. First, she explained that in terms of lineage and her own definitions, there was no debate. She sees Wells’s work as science-fiction–aliens and technology we don’t have, etc. She sees Verne’s work as speculative fiction–technology and ideas that are in development currently. She clearly falls into the latter category. She also noted that she doesn’t see one as better than the other, but that she was only good at the latter. Then she mentioned fantasy and how she simply can’t write dragons, though she loves to read about them (and said Le Guin’s Earthsea dragons were the best). She then talked about her overall enjoyment with the whole sci-fi/fantasy/spec-fic spectrum and said that she was the person who knows which orc wears a watch in Lord of the Rings and wonders too long about how Gandolf gets his staff back.

Later than night, Atwood did a short reading at the Toronto Public Library–she opened with “Our Cat Goes to Heaven” from The Tent. She then read the first part of “The Headless Horseman” from Moral Disorder. Those aren’t necessarily the works I would have picked, but the audience found them endearing and very funny. Atwood kept laughing herself at “The Headless Horseman”–I think it was the laughter of remembering the moment, as she’s mentioned that that particular story is completely autobiographical.

More to come–but do check out my new column on Katharine Hepburn at www.matchflick.com

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Margaret Atwood News
Feb 18th, 2009 by Dr Karma

Atwood has pulled out of an appearance at the International Festival in Dubai after a British author was banned from the conference due to homosexual content in her work. Dubai is supposed to be the Vegas of the Arab world, but as many countries’ leaders have told us (I’m looking at you, Iran), there are apparently no gay people in the Arab world. This is especially funny since the Arab world seems fond enough of Michael Jackson (maybe they have it mixed up and think he likes little girls?)

In other news, the school board in Canada who heard a complaint about The Handmaid’s Tale has decided that the book is still recommended and has value to students. The newspaper story I read about it quoted the father who complained about the book as saying he wasn’t sure what his son was supposed to be learning from the text. Maybe he’d like to come to book group and we could help him out with that?

First lesson–the book teaches you that the freedom to read is more important than the freedom from having books out there you don’t like.

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Banning The Handmaid’s Tale
Jan 19th, 2009 by Dr Karma

handmaidA parent in Canada has asked a school board to take The Handmaid’s Tale off the reading list for seventeen year olds.  He doesn’t like the bad language, the brutality (esp against women), and its anti-Christian-ness.

Never mind that the book won The Governor’s General Award (Canada’s Pulitzer) or the fact that it remains one of the most taught books in the world.  Let’s think through the three objections.

Bad language:  if we took books with “bad” language out of the curriculum, we’d have to lose most of the curriculum.  Even Shakespeare makes “cunt” jokes.  (P.S.–you’d have to take the Bible out of Sunday School curriculum, too–it also contains “bad” words.)  And if this guy thinks his kid hasn’t heard or said the word “fuck” before, he’s a moron.

Brutality:  This guy can try to pass himself off as a sympathizer to women all he wants, but there is brutality against women in the world.  This book talks about some of that.  I’ve had students get upset at Oryx and Crake for similar reasons.  One student said that because Atwood had a character who’d been victimized by being forced into prostitution as a child, Atwood was a pornographer.  There is a difference between kiddie porn and a work that criticizes those who perpetuate it.  (Unless reading about that poor girl gets you hard–and in that case, you shouldn’t be mad at the book, you should be thinking about yourself.)  When I read The Handmaid’s Tale in high school (an event I consider one of the most important in my life), I remember a girl coming in and saying she didn’t like the book because it was disturbing.  The teacher said it was supposed to be.  There are bad things out there.  How are we going to stop them and prevent them if we don’t know about them?

Anti-Christian:  I am so sick of this argument.  First, the rulers of Gilead are not Christian.  Though they quote (and intentionally misquote) the Bible, there is no Jesus here.   Salvation in this society comes not through Christ, but through accepting the new status quo of the theocracy.  The “brutality” against women here all comes from the Old Testament (and is, by the way, sanctioned through a literal reading of that text–Old Testament “family values” leave much to be desired).    Even if you view the rulers as Christian, none of the rulers actually follow the rules–this is a critique of hypocrisy as much as anything else.  Finally, it should not escape notice that all of the “good guys” in the book who are fighting this regime are Christian–they are Catholics and Quakers and Baptists–they are Christians.

Oh, and book banning is wrong, even if this guy’s claims were true.

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