Margaret Atwood Reading Month 2018: Week One (Beginnings) #MARM

Welcome to Margaret Atwood Reading Month, to our chat about beginnings and first encounters. I’m looking forward to hearing about how other readers first discovered her and her work. As for me, I read her early work in a burst and it’s hard to remember what was the initial pull.

Perhaps the idea of a young woman’s face on the cover was a draw in the mid-80s when I was a teenager. Most of my English texts were written by male authors, so that may have been appealing. Especially with that direct gaze, and a halo of curls which my straight-haired younger-self would have envied immensely.

Perhaps it was the arrangement of dates, which looked like a diary and would have immediately appealed to me (thanks to Norma Fox Mazer and Lois Lowry and other children’s writers who had drawn me in with letters and lists and other written things).

Perhaps it was the scene in the museum, in the gallery of dinosaurs, in the museum in Toronto, which I had already visited several times as a young girl (even though the T-Rex was awfully menacing and the bat cave was dark and frightening – it still is).

Perhaps it was simply the first lines: “I don’t know how I should live. I don’t know how anyone should live. All I know is how I do live.” All that uncertainty: it likely would have appealed to me as a teenager, especially with the idea that, printed in a proper book, there might be an answer to follow, an answer I could pursue while still seeming to know exactly what I was all about in the real world.

The Edible Woman, Surfacing and Lady Oracle were all read in short order and there was something there which pulled me back for more (although I studiously avoided Dancing Girls, perhaps because short stories still seemed closer to school readers and anthologies than a proper adult novel).

The blurb on the back of my copy reads: “Margaret Atwood has the knack of getting right inside the souls of her characters and creating people who are literally unforgettable.” (Also, there’s Germaine Greer: “One of the most important writers in English today.”) But, honestly, I’ve forgotten nearly everything about Life before Man. I think it’s time for a reread.

How did you first encounter Margaret Atwood?

The Schedule for Margaret Atwood Reading Month:

Today: Naomi is also posting about Beginnings at Consumed by Ink.

November 8: Cover Images (hosted by Naomi at Consumed by Ink)

November 15: Favourites (hosted by Marcie at Buried in Print)

November 22: Quotations (hosted by Naomi at Consumed by Ink)

November 29: Endings (hosted by Marcie at Buried in Print)

November 30: A Round-Up of links collected from participants

You can find more information about this event in our announcement post here and here.

Remember: These weekly themes are in addition to any book, story, poem, essay, interview, article, etc. you want to read (or watch) over the month and discuss on your blogs or on Twitter.  #MARM

Happy Reading!



  1. Naomi November 2, 2018 at 2:29 pm - Reply

    I have always thought the title “Life Before Man” was intriguing. I haven’t read it yet, so I still wonder… what does that really mean? It’s not Life without Man, but Before. Anyway, I do want to read it sometime and get my question answered!

    • Buried In Print November 3, 2018 at 6:02 pm - Reply

      Honestly, I don’t remember if there is a dual meaning to it, but I suspect so (other than the whole prehistory theme) and I’m looking forward to remembering/rediscovering. I’ve only read the first three chapters so far. I’m sure you’ll get to it eventually!

      • Naomi November 3, 2018 at 7:17 pm - Reply

        Duh! I didn’t even think of the possibility of Life Before “Humans”!! That makes so much more sense. shakes head

        • Buried In Print November 5, 2018 at 4:24 pm - Reply

          Heheh Now that you mention it, I can see where it wouldn’t be the first thing one would think of. I’ve had the Royal Ontario Museum scenes engrained in my memory of that book for so long now, that I can’t see past that anymore!

  2. Kristie November 1, 2018 at 4:48 pm - Reply

    Hello! I’m pretty sure I was introduced to M.A. in high school via a textbook that most certainly also contained stories by Shirley Jackson and Lorrie Moore, but it was not until I was 19 or 20 when I picked up a copy of The Handmaid’s Tale that I REALLY discovered her. (Incidentally, I chose THT based solely on the cover and found it simply because I was working my way through The Clan of the Cave Bear books…..Auel and Atwood being very near each other in Encore Books.) I still wasn’t hooked. I didn’t go out of my way to read her, I think because she seemed to bounce around genre-wise?
    And then…..Oryx and Crake. Holy smokes, I’d never read anything like that before.
    Now I’m working on her short fiction. I plan to read along with you guys this month. I doubt I’ll get a story in every day, but I plan to work my way through Wilderness Tips and Angel Catbird (for good measure, I love a graphic novel).
    This will be fun!

    • Buried In Print November 5, 2018 at 4:38 pm - Reply

      Was your first story in Stone Mattress or Wilderness Tips? I think I’m going to read from Dancing Girls or reread from Bluebeard’s Egg, and whimsically rather than straight through. Her short stories are often a little disorienting, but there usually have some succinct and wickedly sharp observations in them. (I used to have Atwood’s pocketbooks stacked on my Auel pocketbooks too, but by now I’ve loaned out most of my pocketbook editions and they’ve disappeared, but I still have the first two Auel novels in that space!) You’re the first person (I think) who’s mentioned the graphic novel: I was tempted by those too! (I tried to leave a comment on your site, but it wouldn’t allow me to even “heart” it without a login – maybe I’m doing something wrong? I tweeted about your post, but couldn’t find you on Twitter to refer back to you.) Thanks for reading along and I hope you enjoy your MARM reads!

  3. Anneontheshelf November 1, 2018 at 2:43 pm - Reply

    I am sure it was The Handmaid’s Tale back in the 80s and read again since. I remember the tone and mood of it stayed with me and influenced my rereading. From the second time I remembered more of how the plot and characters developed as well as how it made me feel. She’s a challenging read and her themes are difficult but I’m very much looking forward to the next month. I am planning to read The Robber Bride. Thanks for organising this.

    • Buried In Print November 3, 2018 at 5:28 pm - Reply

      So lovely that you can read with us: I’m looking forward to hearing about your experience with The Robber Bride. That’s one I’ve reread fairly recently (last year or the year before, IIRC) and I really enjoyed it on the second run. There is a short story in a more recent collection which carries on the story of one of the main characters if you are curious enough to follow up with that! How fortunate that your first read of her was with The Handmaid’s Tale: such a memorable selection!

  4. annelogan17 November 1, 2018 at 1:52 pm - Reply

    #MARM-love that! I’m sure i was a teenager when I first found her, but I will say I haven’t loved all her stuff. Her Oryx and Crake science fiction is a little too much for me sometimes, her latest was enjoyable though, if not a bit creepy. I think it was called “The Heart Goes Last” or something like that.

    • Buried In Print November 1, 2018 at 2:30 pm - Reply

      Heheh Yeah, that one is a bit wacky: funny, clever, and disturbing! If you started with O&C and didn’t care for it, but want to like it, I would try reading A Year of the Flood instead (and then deciding whether you want to go back/forward) as it and O&C are concurrent with Maddaddamcarrying on. I found O&C very difficult on the first read through (pre- YOTF) but found myself immediately engaged with the women in YOTF (then went back and read O&C again). But maybe you’ve already tried YOTF too? I do understand why not everyone enjoys all of her work; she’s written such a variety of material. And of course there are always plenty of other books competing for reading time!

  5. Kat November 1, 2018 at 9:49 am - Reply

    I love Margaret Atwood! I started with The Edible Woman, which I remember as being very funny, went back to Surfacing, and then devoured her books as they were published. That said, I’m behind with her latest, so there is LOTS for me to read. What a good idea! I will be sure to read at least one.

    • Buried In Print November 1, 2018 at 10:24 am - Reply

      I remember it being funny too! (Hag-Seed and The Heart Goes Last have a dose of that as well.) I think Rebecca is planning on reading The Edible Woman later this month and at least one other person mentioned it as well. I know what you mean about falling behind with an author; once you miss one after you’ve been caught up, it seems easier to let them pile than to start with another more recent one, and then it becomes a real project. Looking forward to hearing about your selection(s)!

  6. hibernatorslibrary November 1, 2018 at 7:26 am - Reply

    I have posted my beginnings post. There’s not much to it, but I figure this is the place where I share it. 🙂

    • Buried In Print November 1, 2018 at 8:08 am - Reply

      That’s perfect, Hibernator’s Library: I really enjoyed reading about your first encounter with The Handmaid’s Tale. Thanks for dropping by!

  7. heavenali November 1, 2018 at 3:38 am - Reply

    I think it’s fantastic you’re doing this. I have been trying to put a date to my first encounter with Margaret Atwood and I decided it must have been the late eighties. I was somewhere around 18-20. I don’t know if you got the same editions in Canada but over here Virago produced some quite striking Atwood editions of The Handmaid’s Tale, Surfacing, Lady Oracle, The Edible Woman, Bluebearsd’s Egg, Cat’s Eye and Bodily Harm. I bought and read all those. To my shame I don’t remember much if anything about those titles now, the only one I have re-read in the years since is The Handmaid’s Tale.

    This month I will be reading one I missed Life Before Man

    • Buried In Print November 1, 2018 at 7:57 am - Reply

      Thanks for joining in, Ali! I was only reading them a couple of years before you (seems we are about the same age!), and I don’t remember anything of those early readings either, except the idea of inhaling them, the pages seeming to fly past. I’ve reread most of them, since, though, except for three, one of which is the one you are reading this month too! And, no, I had never seen the Virago covers until last month when I was gathering images for the event: they are so different, so colourful. I’ve never seen one second-hand, but it’s getting harder to find those VMCs over there anyhow, let alone of the Canadian authors (I’ve never seen Margaret Laurence’s either, and I think you have one of those as well). Looking forward to hearing about your reading when you get started!

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