Monday, 7 March 2011

Margaret Atwood, The Queen of Surreal Meaningfulness

Margaret Atwood was interviewed by the BBC, on Friday. She believes Digital books are one way to read. She was confident about the longevity of paper books.
Margaret Atwood's illustrations of the writer's food chain :D

She has blogged about it too:

Three Reasons to Keep Paper Books

Here come the e-readers, a boon to travelers and speed readers, and, we’re told, a saver of trees. And, in their wake, here come the prophets predicting doom to the paper book, and along with it the death of copyright and all sorts of unknown effects.
But not so fast. Don’t burn the books yet. I’m not pleading the venerable history, the beauty of design, or the tactility of the page. Here are three practical reasons not to ditch the paper:
1.Solar storms. A big one could fry transformers, as solar storms have in the past, and affect satellites and towers in such a massive way that communications could be down for months, with much disruption of all sorts. Including, possibly, the wipeout of all online libraries and downloads.  Don’t let anyone embed a chip into your head, either, no matter how much memory they promise to add!
2.Energy shortages. Remember Peak Oil? We know that green energy is galloping to the rescue, but is nowhere near meeting the need. We know that internet servers are themselves gobbling up huge amounts of energy. Will server relocation on Iceland meet future needs? Guess we’ll see… If not, down goes the Net.  Not to mention your ability to re-charge the batteries of your e-reader.
3.Overloaded internet. The thing is stuffed to capacity already, with more information piling into it every day. Unless billions are spent on infrastructure, brownouts—we’re told – are very likely. And then, how now, brown cash cow?
If you’ve saved up some paper books, you can read them by candlelight, and then toast marshmallows on them if you don’t like them. As you huddle around the embers of your carefully-guarded fire, with no television, no computer, and no phone, you’ll be glad you kept a few. Anyway, they make good insulation.

Just like in her blogpost, in The Guardian's article, Ten Rules for Writing Fiction (part one),  Margaret Atwood showed things from the human perspective before she moved on to skills and finally to humour. These ten rules are a trip through an Atwood novel : to quote the New York Times: her comic distortion veers at times into surreal meaningfulness. ;)
Margaret Atwood 
Take a pencil to write with on aeroplanes. Pens leak. But if the pencil breaks, you can't sharpen it on the plane, because you can't take knives with you. Therefore: take two pencils.
If both pencils break, you can do a rough sharpening job with a nail file of the metal or glass type.
Take something to write on. Paper is good. In a pinch, pieces of wood or your arm will do.
4 If you're using a computer, always safeguard new text with a ­memory stick.
5 Do back exercises. Pain is distracting.
Hold the reader's attention. (This is likely to work better if you can hold your own.) But you don't know who the reader is, so it's like shooting fish with a slingshot in the dark. What ­fascinates A will bore the pants off B.
You most likely need a thesaurus, a rudimentary grammar book, and a grip on reality. This latter means: there's no free lunch. Writing is work. It's also gambling. You don't get a pension plan. Other people can help you a bit, but ­essentially you're on your own. ­Nobody is making you do this: you chose it, so don't whine.
8 You can never read your own book with the innocent anticipation that comes with that first delicious page of a new book, because you wrote the thing. You've been backstage. You've seen how the rabbits were smuggled into the hat. Therefore ask a reading friend or two to look at it before you give it to anyone in the publishing business. This friend should not be someone with whom you have a ­romantic relationship, unless you want to break up.
9 Don't sit down in the middle of the woods. If you're lost in the plot or blocked, retrace your steps to where you went wrong. Then take the other road. And/or change the person. Change the tense. Change the opening page.
10 Prayer might work. Or reading ­something else. Or a constant visual­isation of the holy grail that is the finished, published version of your resplendent book.
I existed on a diet of male authors (tasty ;)) once I left school; I think I thought anything meaningful was written by men: Margaret Atwood blasted that theory out of the water.
Margaret Atwood's The Blind Assassin is one of the 25 books selected to be handed out for free for World Book Night - and one of the few books, written by her, that I haven't read. :(    Soon.

Writing advice #5 is my favourite: practical wisdom ;) -  5 Do back exercises. Pain is distracting. 


  1. I do love her. Great post. I have her on Twitter, but not in the blogworld. Thanks for the link. Now I can remedy that.

  2. She did a similar interview here in Canada. I thought it was really good. Thanks for recapping it.

    I especially liked these pieces of advice.

    Nobody is making you do this: you chose it, so don't whine.

    And don't sit down in the middle of the forest.

  3. Elaine- I have something for you on my blog

  4. I adore Margaret Atwood. I'd read her funny illustrated riff on ebooks, but not that wonderful list. I agree about the pain. In fact, I think it's time I make an appointment for a massage...
    Thanks for this!

  5. I love the very practical reasons for keeping books! I love holding a book in my hands, but I have to admit to being a new convert to ebooks. The reason being the sheer laziness of being able to extremely quickly download a bunch of books and a because of this I'm reading books I may not have otherwise picked up from a shelf. Ebooks will not replace my love of holding a book though. To add a number 4 - I would really hate to drop my ipad in the bath! You really need a paper book when reading in the bath, so I always have two books on the go.

  6. Hi M Pax
    I'm glad you can stalk with greater efficiency ;)

    Hi Patti
    The forest image is a great one. Sitting in the middle of a novel, but being unable to see the woods for the trees was very visual :)

    Hi Anne
    She is an amazing writer. Her cartoons capture the essence - in such a simple format.
    When it comes to back pain, I find it's worse during the re-edit second stage... tracking down evidence of slack writing wreaks havoc with my back. ;)

    Hi Rebecca
    Nathan Bransford once told me all you need is a clear plastic bag but I'll wait until they are half the price before I check to see if it was a joke. It will put a three year gap between the joke and my, eventual, laughter :)

  7. Thanks for sharing this. I'm also a new fan of e-books, but I truly believe paper books have their purpose. Picture books, for example. In time, digital illustrations will probably rival the real thing, but there's something about seeing it on paper. And I love to see my almost-3-year-old with a picture book spread out in her lap as she leans over to peer more closely at the pictures.

    Becca @ The Bookshelf Muse

  8. Hi Becca
    I can see technical writing switching to the e format but I can not see many people leaving their kindle on the beach while they pop into the sea for a dip. ;)
    Children benefit from concrete learning and the closest they get to that with reading is a physical book.

  9. Valid reasons for keeping the paper novels :)

    I love her excercises. What a delightful woman.


  10. Hi Donna
    Margaret Atwood makes a strong and sensible case for both kids of books being around together.Such an amazing writers.
    Nathan Bransford said of the e-book/real book issue that it can be thought of as i-tunes and CDs where both as selling well.

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