Just browsing through the table of contents of this essay collection might lead you to believe that it was penned by a feminist.

Depending how you define feminist, of course.

Certainly Atwood is as willing to consider works by Toni Morrison, Carol Shields, Angela Carter and Hilary Mantel as she is to consider those by George Orwell, Elmore Leonard, Matt Cohen and Morley Callaghan.

(I appreciate that. I always find it disappointing to open a book about books and find that eleven of the books considered therein are penned by men and the remaining is penned by Virginia Woolf.)

And with a consideration of To the Lighthouse, Woolf does make an appearance in Moving Targets: Writing with Intent 1982-2004, but there are lots of unpredictable subjects as well.

Amongst many literary offerings, for instance, nest “The Grunge Look” (Fashion-wise, 1964 was really not my year…), “Why I Love The Night of the Hunter” (A script like this probably wouldn’t get to first base in Hollywood today: it would be considered too wordy…), and Napoleon’s “Two Biggest Mistakes “(Present leaders take note: Never underestimate the power of religious fervour. Also: your version of what’s good for them might not match theirs…).

With this collection, it doesn’t really matter what the subject is; even when I think it’s something I won’t find interesting, the author’s tone wins my interest in the end.

This is doubly true when Margaret Atwood takes a hold of a writer that I only have an inkling about (e.g. Dashiel Hammett, Studs Terkel), but also when she considers a writer whose work I’ve read and enjoyed, which I find triggers an immediate desire to revisit (e.g. Gwendolyn MacEwan, Marina Warner).

Several of the essays specifically recommend themselves to a Women Unbound reading audience (e.g. “Spotty-Handed Villainesses: Problems of Female Bad Behaviour in the Creation of Literature”, “The Public Woman as Honorary Man: The Warrior Queens by Antonia Fraser”, and “Wondering What It’s Like to Be a Woman: The Witches of Eastwick by John Updike”).

They all, however, are infused with the author’s respect for even-handedness. And there is her characteristic sardonic wit: that’s what provokes, in me, an odd kind of chuckle, which regularly occurs when I’m reading her work; it’s the kind of chuckle that erupts into something between a giggle and a snort.

This article raises some of the questions that arise when we try to define a word like the “F word” but certainly Margaret Atwood seeks to have injustices addressed. She is clearly aware of social roles and power plays and this awareness underscores every essay in the collection.

In considering two of Thomas King’s short stories, she observes: “Humour can be aggressive and oppressive, as in keep-’em-in-their-place sexist and racist jokes. But it can also be a subversive weapon, as it has often been for people who find themselves in a fairly tight spot without other, more physical, weapons.”

To my mind these essays are subversive weapons, the sort that Women Unbound would take satisfaction in employing.