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Margaret Atwood Early Novels

My Margaret Atwood books

What better time to come back to blogging than these trying times? And who better to write about than Margaret Atwood? A Canadian Facebook friend, Sherry Galey, recently posted this, and I had to share it.

Margaret Atwood asks us to step back a bit and learn from history. Somehow she always finds a way to look at reality straight in the face, without sugar-coating, and still offer comfort and hope. (Globe and Mail today.)

In her book Payback she gathers ”the six reactions people had to the Black Death while it was unfolding. They were:

  1. Protect yourself.
  2. Give up and party, which could include drunkenness and theft.
  3. Help others.
  4. Blame. (Lepers, gypsies, witches and Jews were all blamed for spreading the plague.)
  5. Bear witness.
  6. Go about your life.

She says: “It’s not one or the other. I don’t suggest No. 2. Or No. 4 – giving up and blaming are not helpful – but protecting yourself, thereby helping others, or bearing witness by keeping a journal, or going about your life as much as you can with the aid of online support systems – these are possible now in a way that they were not in the 14th century.”

Also, an old friend recently sent me an email saying that he had binge-watched “The Handmaid’s Tale,” and also read the book. He was enthralled. He had never read Margaret Atwood before and asked me what other books of hers I would recommend. She has always been one of the first names that come to my mind when I am asked about my favorite authors. And yet, when he asked me that question, I wasn’t sure how to answer. I went to my bookcases. I realized that other than the fact that I had also watched the series with Elisabeth Moss (one of my favorite actresses of the last few years), which prompted me to buy “The Testaments,” all the Margaret Atwood books I owned were from early in her career.

Autographed copy of Bodily Harm

My Autographed Copy of Bodily Harm

This led me down my own rabbit hole (as it usually does). I remembered that I had gone to see Margaret read many years ago and had a book signed by her (not one of her most memorable ones). That also reminded me that when I saw her read, I had written a poem about it. Not a good one, but hey, I was only 23 years old! I went to Atwood’s reading and then went out to a club to see one of my favorite local bands, The Peter Dayton Band. The two sides of me…

Poem about Margaret Atwood's reading

A poem about Margaret Atwood’s reading





The first book of hers that I read was “Surfacing” in a Contemporary Literature class as an undergraduate in college. I liked it enough to search out earlier works. As I became more interested in poetry, I read her poetry and was quite taken by it. Especially this one from “Power Politics,”

you fit into me

like a hook into an eye

a fish hook

an open eye


Although I did read some of her middle novels like “Cat’s Eye” and “Blind Assassin,” I don’t own the books; I was mostly using the library then. And I haven’t read any of her “science fiction” novels like the MaddAddam Trilogy. Maybe it is time? (although the library is closed during this pandemic) Or maybe I have new favorite authors? Any other Atwood fans that would want to answer my friend’s question? Or mine?

Argentinean Ants

I have a lot of daily chores in my new, smaller place. I’m very aware that keeping things cleaned up can transform an overstuffed look into an everything-in-its-place look. I had expected to do my dishes immediately, scoop the cat box twice a day, and constantly vacuum the high-traffic-area throw rugs, but what I didn’t expect was to be killing and cleaning up bugs twice a day.

To be honest, I’ve lived quite a few places in my lifetime and I’ve never seen these before. But perhaps that is because they are easy to miss…tiny, tiny ants like a period on a page. It is only their sheer numbers that makes them visible. I looked them up on the Internet: they are called “sugar ants” (though that is also said to be a misnomer). One article that I read said that they come out in the heat and dryness and are attracted to sugar and water.

So despite my initial panic, I am not intimidated. They don’t bite, and from what I researched, their presence is not a reflection on the host’s cleanliness (though you apparently have to be more diligent than you think). They are annoying and overwhelm you with their numbers. My problem did not seem to originate with my sink; it was the cat food.

My first reaction upon seeing them was to toss the overrun cat food dishes into the sink and run the hottest water I could, then desperately downpour on the ants with the only thing I had: multipurpose Lysol cleaner, which I then followed by wiping up the bodies with a paper towel. After getting rid of the ones I could see, I went to the store and bought Lysol spray instead. I didn’t want to use poison of any sort because of the cats (although I suppose too much cleaner is also poison). My mother suggested bay leaves so I purchased those as well (that was also mentioned on the Internet, as well as cloves). My landlady said we needed a mixture of Borax and Karo Syrup to poison them. I decided to forgo that and see how I made out with my Lysol and bay leaves.

So far, I am managing to keep them from overrunning my whole apartment, but they are not going away easily. As I was writing this, I suddenly remembered a favorite passage of mine from a Margaret Atwood book, “Lady Oracle.” The main character engages with the ants:

“The ants were into the spinach I’d bought the day before. They lived in the outside wall, spinach and meat were the only thing they’d actively hunt, everything else they’d ignore as long as you put out a saucer of sugar and water for them. I’d already done this and they’d found it, they were marching back and forth between the saucer and their nest…I poured myself another drink, then dipped my finger into the saucer and wrote my initials in sugar-water on the windowsill. I waited to see my name spelled out for me in ants: a living legend.”

At the time I read it, the only ants I had ever seen were carpenter ants, so my reader’s vision of big black ants spelling out a name like all-cap boldface type, was off-base. Now that I know what sugar ants look like, I can appreciate the subtlety of the image. I can imagine a “dotted” marquis look.

With that literary image in my head, I take wiping them out a little less seriously, but it is an uneasy truce. Give me a few days and I’m sure I’ll be stashing the Borax and Karo Syrup in my cupboard. There’s romance and then there’s reality…

et cetera
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