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April 30, 2004

Comments

Ed

I don't get this view of Atwood as "difficult" or "needlessly angry." If you had to regularly answer stupid questions from journalists all the time that have nothing to do with the books, then I'm sure you'd probably get upset every now and then. I know I would. Here's the interesting question: Is Atwood's anger more pronounced in print because she's (a) a woman and (b) outspoken about feminist themes? To my mind, Martin Amis has been just as rude, if not ruder, to the press he talks to, and he's declared the "bad boy" of lit. The real question is, given how every gesture and sentence is examined under the lens, whether there might be an unspoken stigma against smart women.

TEV

I don't especially get it either; my reference to "recent outings" was tongue in cheek but subtlety doesn't always survive the blogosphere; I don't think she's necessarily any more or less cranky than any of a hundred other authors I've read. So, yes, I think you're point about a stigma is well-taken - I think Jeanette Winterson suffered from a lot of the same sort of thing (although she was definitely more outrageous and provocative than Atwood).

Jimmy Beck

I heard her read a couple of weeks ago and she was unfailingly polite, answering every "Pen or computer?" and "How do I start a novel?" question with patience and good humor. She made one crack at someone's expense but I remember thinking that I'd've said something worse. She is aware of her own ego, certainly--she talked about how her daughter used to get in her face and say, "Oh dear, Mom, are we feeling famous today?"

Tod

Having once been a sniveling fan of Atwood's whilst at University (or, well, Cal State Northridge) I can tell you that her Medusa remark is well remembered on me. She came to town to sign, I believe, Alias Grace at Duttons and I, having just written my senior thesis comparing The Handmade's Tale to Marge Piercy's Woman On The Edge Of Time (I earned that A!) rushed down to see her, handfuls of books in hand, and, stupidly, my thesis. When my turn finally came to see her, I handed her the books and asked "Would you mind signing my thesis?" She asked, "What were your conclusions?" And I told her. She stared at me for a moment, took the thesis from my hands roughly, signed her name with a flourish and said, "That's ludicrous. You are totally off base." And that, sadly, was that.

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TEV DEFINED


  • The Elegant Variation is "Fowler’s (1926, 1965) term for the inept writer’s overstrained efforts at freshness or vividness of expression. Prose guilty of elegant variation calls attention to itself and doesn’t permit its ideas to seem naturally clear. It typically seeks fancy new words for familiar things, and it scrambles for synonyms in order to avoid at all costs repeating a word, even though repetition might be the natural, normal thing to do: The audience had a certain bovine placidity, instead of The audience was as placid as cows. Elegant variation is often the rock, and a stereotype, a cliché, or a tired metaphor the hard place between which inexperienced or foolish writers come to grief. The familiar middle ground in treating these homely topics is almost always the safest. In untrained or unrestrained hands, a thesaurus can be dangerous."

SECOND LOOK

  • The Bookshop by Penelope Fitzgerald

    Bs

    Penelope Fitzgerald's second novel is the tale of Florence Green, a widow who seeks, in the late 1950s, to bring a bookstore to an isolated British town, encountering all manner of obstacles, including incompetent builders, vindictive gentry, small minded bankers, an irritable poltergeist, but, above all, a town that might not, in fact, want a bookshop. Fitzgerald's prose is spare but evocative – there's no wasted effort and her work reminds one of Hemingway's dictum that every word should fight for its right to be on the page. Florence is an engaging creation, stubbornly committed to her plan even as uncertainty regarding the wisdom of the enterprise gnaws at her. But The Bookshop concerns itself, finally, with the astonishing vindictiveness of which provincials are capable, and, as so much English fiction must, it grapples with the inevitabilities of class. It's a dense marvel at 123 pages, a book you won't want to – or be able to – rush through.
  • The Rider by Tim Krabbe

    Rider_4

    Tim Krabbé's superb 1978 memoir-cum-novel is the single best book we've read about cycling, a book that will come closer to bringing you inside a grueling road race than anything else out there. A kilometer-by-kilometer look at just what is required to endure some of the most grueling terrain in the world, Krabbé explains the tactics, the choices and – above all – the grinding, endless, excruciating pain that every cyclist faces and makes it heart-pounding rather than expository or tedious. No writer has better captured both the agony and the determination to ride through the agony. He's an elegant stylist (ably served by Sam Garrett's fine translation) and The Rider manages to be that rarest hybrid – an authentic, accurate book about cycling that's a pleasure to read. "Non-racers," he writes. "The emptiness of those lives shocks me."