What’s Next On Margaret Atwood’s Reading List?
Nearly 50 years have passed since the publication of her first novel, but Margaret Atwood has never felt more relevant. With the immense success of 2017’s television adaptation of The Handmaid’s Tale, the CanLit icon’s speculative fiction is proving as captivating—and as topical—as ever.
We recently caught up with the acclaimed novelist and poet on an Adventure Canada cruise through the Canadian Arctic—a voyage that Atwood and her family have been making regularly for the last 20 years. In fact, it was on board an Adventure Canada ship that Atwood began writing the title story in her collection of short fiction, Stone Mattress, concerning a plot to commit the perfect murder on a (you guessed it) cruise ship.
As we sailed alongside the low tundra and icebergs in southern Nunavut, Atwood confessed—unsurprisingly, perhaps—to being an avid reader herself. But which types of books earn that coveted spot on her nightstand?
“All kinds,” said Atwood. “[The choice of book] depends on mood of the moment, and also the first page.”
Here are five titles she said she was particularly looking forward to cracking open when she returned home from the voyage.
The Power by Naomi Alderman (2017)
Although The Power won’t make its print debut in Canada until mid-October, this winner of the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction already bears Atwood’s seal of approval. Set in the future, Naomi Alderman’s dystopian science fiction novel concerns women who develop the power to kill men with a single touch. “What would happen if women had a physical power that would negate that of men?” Atwood ponders. “Would they be angels? Responsible rulers? Or…”
Check out the 10 Inspiring Books Every Teacher Should Read!
Arctic Dreams by Barry Lopez (2001)
Atwood is known not only for her writing but also for her environmental work and advocacy. Atwood has travelled regularly with her partner Graeme Gibson and family through the Canadian Arctic exploring the vast tundra and the communities that call this region home. A favourite of both Atwood and Gibson, Barry Lopez’s Arctic Dreams is an in-depth examination of Canada’s northern territories, exploring how those landscapes can shape our imagination and dreams.
In the mood for a scandalous celebrity bio? Check out our countdown of the Top 10 Best Beach Reads!
Future Home of the Living God by Louise Erdrich (2017)
When writing speculative fiction, Atwood work is often a reflection of human nature in the present and her own theories of what could transpire in the future. Louise Erdrich’s novel, Future Home of the Living God, examines the search of an adopted Ojibwe woman for her birth mother living on a reservation. Set in a time in which the society around her is disintegrating, this novel draws parallels to Atwood’s The Handmaids Tale with its dystopian themes of biology, natural rights and female agency.
Company Town by Madeline Ashby (2016)
Atwood spoke highly of the science fiction writing of fellow Canadian author Madeline Ashby, whose work in Company Town earned her recognition as a finalist in Canada Reads (2017). This novel is set in the Canadian Maritimes where the protagonist, Hwa, is one of the last in her community to forgo bio-engineered enhancements. However, after a series of murders, Hwa finds herself in danger and is forced to find a way to protect herself. The novel leads the reader to question both human nature and the future in a post-human world—themes that have continually intrigued Atwood through the years.
Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst by Robert M. Sapolsky (2017)
Neurobiology might not sound like recreational reading, but it’s a subject that Atwood’s always found fascinating—something she attributes to having grown up surrounded by biologists. Robert M. Sapolsky’s Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst is a survey on human nature that examines how our choices and behaviour are influenced by neurobiology and genetic makeup. It’s also—according to Atwood—”a lot of fun.” Indeed, it’s intriguing to draw the parallels between the research findings presented in this book and Atwood’s speculative fiction, which often asks fundamental questions about human behaviour and philosophical dilemmas.
Check out our in-depth interview with Margaret Atwood here!