In this November 2020, the third Margaret Atwood Reading Month unfolded with participants from many places, some reading her for the first time, many returning to her work to try new and backlisted works, others exploring other #MARM content online (interviews, films, TV, etc.).

In the National Geographic atlas, in which the world map folds out into three sections, you could find #MARM participants on each segment of the map this year, from North America to South Asia, from Europe to Australia.

We are reading from the earlier days of MA’s career, with her first novel The Edible Woman, to the most recent publication, her collection of poems, Dearly. (Danielle at A Work in Progress started at the beginning and Karen at Kaggsy’s Bookish Ramblings read one of Dearly’s poems while Stefanie waited impatiently for her library copy to arrive.)

Ali at HeavenAli read Surfacing. (And, then, later, Maddaddam.)

Wad at the Australian Legend, Reese at Typings, and I re/read Cat’s Eye.

Short stories were well represented, with Mel at The Reading Life dipping into Dancing Girls with “The Man from Mars”, Rebecca at BookishBeck reading Wilderness Tips and Ali reading a later collection, Moral Disorder.

Laila and Naomi baked and savored treats on the 18th for the author’s 81st birthday. (I ate a cookie and considered fetching a single candle out of the cabinet for a photo, but, then, ate the cookie candle-less, gesturing the half-eaten cookie in the direction of the Annex before gulping the remainder.)

Ali featured Margaret Atwood (and her personal collection) on her birthday too. And Rebecca attended part of the CWWA Mini-Symposium online.

Karen (after some consideration) read MA’s tricksy non-fiction volume about writing, originally published as Negotiating with the Dead, but reissued with other titles since, to lure dedicated readers into purchasing multiple copies. This seems to be the sole non-fiction selection for this year (unless some of you are still reading).

The most popular choice for 2020 is clearly The Penelopiad, read by Brona, Cathy, and Mel. And I know several of you expressed other #MARM intentions, or have started to read (or have wedged the book into your busy stack) late, so just let Naomi or me know if we’ve missed a link or if you’ve posted after November 30.

Even though I didn’t complete any additional squares on my BINGO grid, I enjoyed two related #MARM activities in the last few days. First, chapter twelve in Conversations with RBG (by Jeffrey Rosen) following a lecture by MA at Glimmerglass inspired by The Handmaid’s Tale.

Both women recognize three stages in feminism since the turning of the previous century: the earliest culminating in women’s right to vote (at various dates), the second in the movement of the 1960s and 1970s (reacting to the oppression in the 1950s, which in turn provoked the Reagan-era conservative backlash), and the third with the #MeToo movement.

It’s interesting to read their thoughts about the likelihood of a backlash to #MeToo and, if so, what its nature might be. MA says: “I think there will be, and we’re already seeing it with Hillary Clinton. I wanted to say in the talk that this is the first time we’ve seen this seventeenth-century talk of the female witch character.” And it’s interesting to consider that both women recognize #MeToo as emerging from a broken legal system, while maintaining that fairness is necessary for all parties in that system (i.e. both the accuser and the accused) and remaining fully committed to equality.

Ultimately, however, the interview begins with a summary of the conversation between MA and RBG; the actual interview is actually between RBG and Jeffrey Rosen about the topics introduced in Handmaid’s (e.g. how strong is the precedent for Roe Vs. Wade, movement toward equality in secondary school education, changes in the Supreme Court).

Funny, because I’d been ridiculously excited about that interview and ho-hum about this next book, which I absolutely gobbled. I picked it up really late one night, thinking I would just peek inside before bed, and read half of it in a single sitting: The Art and Making of the Handmaid’s Tale (Text by Andrea Robinson).

This struck the same chord as my 1980s discovery of a Culture Club biography. Suddenly I wanted to know things that I didn’t even know I wanted to know. They can make hand-sized rocks out of Styrofoam so that an actress’s wrist isn’t strained by gripping? Lifelike dolls to carry while someone is running with a child? The patterning on a man’s suit (the presence of/width of plaid) can represent a change in his emotional state? Someone had to conceive of how food would be labelled and packaged in Gilead for the market scenes?

There are so many little goodies like this; I’m sharing only some that you could guess, because it was such a delight to peer behind the curtain of this production. For instance, a single text-box with a photograph explains the process behind designing and creating a single character’s Bible (not a character who appears in the novel) and how the original bound book was chosen and how every page had to be altered to represent the young owner’s view of its contents and the world around her (because an actor would flip through it and could land on any page). A half-page out of170someodd. There are some unforgettable scenes in the series, too, and the decision-making behind them is fascinating. *zips lips*

You might recall how enthusiastic I was about even the first episode’s attention-to-detail and that was true through a second viewing of the first season. But I did not watch the second again in preparation for the third, so this volume also served as a refresher for me. Maybe I’ll watch the third season over the winter holidays. There is an emotional cost to viewing; the show has made me weep (from anger, more than sorrow) on a couple of occasions but there is also one scene (actress Nina Kiri is the key figure, not a spoilery detail, but those who have seen it will know the scene) that pulled the bowstring all the way back to the opposite feeling (triumph, more than gladness).

Of course the premise of the show is grim; the first few episodes do a great job of establishing the situation (and the TV show can extrapolate to answer questions that are barely allusions in the novel, like where women are sent to when they do not conform). But the reason for returning is the resistance. I don’t think anyone who watches the show loyally is watching because it’s a fun time. I think we’re watching because we want survival tips. Because we want to believe that change is possible. (And because, if you can take a step back, the crafting of it and the narrative construction is rewarding.)

Another November. Another #MARM.                     Time to start planning for next year!

Margaret Atwood Reading Month is hosted here and by Naomi at Consumed by Ink and inspired by decades of reading Margaret Atwood’s words. From November 1st to November 30th, we invite you to join and plan. (Next year, November 18th will be Margaret Atwood’s 82nd birthday. Another month to celebrate with books, quotes, cookies and cake! Check out Naomi’s wrap-up post too!