When I first read The Handmaid’s Tale, I was a teenager. In a few years, I would start to keep records about my reading: a log and handwritten (or typed( passages that I favoured along the way. The log in a notebook (usually practical rather than pretty) and the notes beginning with a light pencil line in the margin and a list of page numbers so I could relocate the passages and copy them (finally, erasing the pencil marks after notetaking).
These handwritten pages are either from my 1993 or 2004 reread (what you can glimpse in the photograph). I’ve always reread the same copy, a 1986 oversized paperback, Houghton Mifflin U.S. (maybe the American paperback was released before the Canadian paperback, sometimes that happened). And I have an e-file with passages too. So the page numbers correspond across the years.
It’s been interesting to see which passages resonated with which reading. At some point, the disruption in Offred’s relationship with her husband and her memories about their married life (pre-Gilead) were of particular interest. At some point, I found the intrigue (would either her present-day romance or the Commander’s illicit behaviour be discovered) most appealing. At some point, I was fascinated with the glimpses of the resistance efforts. At some point, I was obsessed about the small snippets about how Gilead worked: no single siege of world-building, but in small snippets, we learn about everything from currency and grocery shopping, to education and rituals.
Over the years, the writing of the book – the shaping of it, the crafting of it – became the most interesting element for me. I still wanted to read the story, but (maybe partly because I remembered what happened, increasingly clearly) I wanted to study the storytelling.