Even though I did have to plan ahead when it came to books that I didn’t own, I’m enjoying a more whimsical approach to the online interviews and what content’s available in podcast or streamed.

No updates to the first line (still reading Cat’s Eye) and on the next I can’t properly check off the Graeme Gibson square yet, either, but I am reading onwards. (It was also fun to see Graeme Gibson holding one of his bedside books in the film below!) Unsurprisingly, there is a Margaret Atwood poem in The Bedside Book of Beasts: A Wildlife Miscellany (2009), “It’s Autumn”: “They aren’t hunters, these men. /They have none of the patience of hunters, /none of the remorse. /They’re certain they own everything. /A hunter knows he borrows.”

Also on the second row, I’ve checked the square for listening to an interview; I chose one archived from 1977, Don Herron with MA on “Morningside” about Dancing Girls, the collection I’m also reading with this year’s MARM in mind, not with an eye to finishing all the stories, but to focus on the first few. She talks about balancing poetry and short stories and novel-writing. Her daughter was just 16 months old at the time (“amazing”, “tall”, “pleasant to be with”) and she’d published The Edible Woman, Surfacing and Lady Oracle. It’s interesting to hear that her way of speaking remains the same, and it’s also interesting to compare how interviewers approached her work and accomplishments then and now (the first question she’s asked, for instance, is about Jess and mothering)!

In the third row, I’m on a roll, having watched a film: In the Wake of the Flood (2010) directed by Ron Mann. Chronicling part of her seventieth year, when she took A Year of the Flood on tour, we first see the Edinburgh Book Festival and conclude in Sudbury, Ontario; in between, we see her assembling a bouquet in the garden of her home in Toronto, browsing in the National Museum of History in NYC with Graeme Gibson, drinking Birds and Beans coffee (organic and shade-grown because she cares about birds and, indeed, the whole tour has a bird-saving slant), and starting her next novel. It’s fun to see her clapping so animatedly and gratefully, for the various amateur performances of excerpts of Flood, on the various tour-stops. And I especially enjoyed the reminders of the “saints” in that trilogy, with Terry Fox, Rachel Carson, and Euell Gibbons particularly called out in this film. But if I could recommend A Word after a Word after a Word, the 2019 documentary, which appears to be available to stream on CBC Gem, via this link (for purchase, as well): it’s fab.

Also on this line, One Story: Years ago, binging on fairy-tale retellings, I read “Bluebeard’s Egg”, along with some Angela Carter, Marina Warner and Barbara Walker short stories; ever since, I’ve wanted to reread it. Turns out, the only thing I remembered was the “forest with all its witches and traps and pitfalls”, what Ed hacked his way through to get to the princess, Sally.

Sally who has to hack her own way through those brambles, while Ed lounges nearby being a handsome (and oblivious) heart surgeon. Even though she’s wearing only a “transparent raincoat between them and her skin”. This is dangerous territory. Ed’s “protestations of ignorance” and his “refusal to discuss the finer points” about his earlier marriages? Very frustrating for Sally. In this version, Sally is still the curious one, and she has time to think about it, because the “comfortable enough jobs that engage only half of her cogs and wheels, and that end up leading nowhere” don’t serve as adequate challenges.

She stirs her cauldron (her sauce supreme) and when she finally gains access to the hidden room, it’s “clearly a dangerous place” where Ed will reveal to women “the defects of their beating hearts”. Sally warns them about his patients-to-be: “They’ll gobble you up. They’ll chew you into tiny pieces. There won’t be anything left of you at all, only a stethoscope and a couple of shoelaces.” Poor Ed, once the devourer and now the soon-to-be-devoured. There he is now, “staring into space, like a robot which has been parked and switched off”. Aw, poor Ed.

One new square on the fourth line: One Essay, “Carol Shields, Who Died Last Week, Wrote Books That Were Full of Delights” in Moving Targets: Writing with Intent 1982-2004. Because I’ve been rereading Shields’ fiction this year (currently, Bookish Beck and I are reading Happenstance, next up is The Stone Diaries), this immediately caught my attention. MA quotes Alice Munro as saying “She was just a luminous person, and that would be important and persist even if she hadn’t written anything.” One aspect of her career that I enjoyed being reminded of, was that her literary breakthrough was actually in England not North America, with 1992’s The Republic of Love. I also appreciate this simple statement: “Her books are delightful, in the original sense of the world: they are full of delights.” And the way that MA describes her last visit with Carol Shields is also simple—powerfully so.
2Listicle (Author)

And, on the last line, the Graphic Novel, concluding the Catbird series: The Catbird Roars (2017) picks up where To Castle Catula leaves off and carries on the tradition of educating while entertaining.

This is more of an homage to Golden Age comics rather than Silver Age, which were more moralistic and less s*xy, as explained in this volume’s foreword, written by Kelly Sue DeConnick. She particularly references Atwood’s love of the Pogo strip, when she was a child, the adventures of an “everyman opossum” both “erudite and mischievous”, that “uses allegory to comment on human nature” like the Greek myths. Ancient mythology would have missed the opportunity to quote Franz Katka, sing “Santa Declaws is Coming to Town”, and speeches delivered to “Dear Comrats”. Also, the underground activist network Anonymouse plays a crucial role. (Just take a minute to giggle.) The statistics from Nature Canada are also ongoing; catlovers might think they know everything they need to know about cats and the outdoor world they inhabit, but there’s something for everyone to learn via this furry and feathered marginalia.

And, finally, for this week, an Interview to Watch.

From August 2020 with David Remnick of The New Yorker.

Asked about how she’s been spending her time at time during Covid, she talks about baking and writing and weeding. They compare how many people are wearing masks, looking anxious, whether in Toronto or NYC. When she was growing up, quarantine signs were not unusual (smallpox, diphtheria, polio, etc.)  but when Remnick asks if this feels familiar, she says that it’s a little like wartime, but without the rationing and blackouts. She discusses her neighbourhood and her surroundings, with interesting details, like she keeps her books about the Black Death alongside her collection of books about witches. (Now if only we could zoom in to see the bookcases behind her.)

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 Sunday November 1st to Monday November 30th, we’ll be reading Margaret Atwood, and we invite you to join in! (And, don’t forget, this week, on the 18th, is Margaret Atwood’s 81st birthday. We’ll be celebrating with books, quotes, and cake!) Check out Naomi’s Update for Week Three here!