Tag Archives: Margaret Atwood

Weekend Cooking: The Edible Woman, by Margaret Atwood

The Edible Woman

Margaret Atwood, one of literature’s most beloved and prolific authors, is best known for her books such as The Handmaid’s Tale (one of my all-time favorite novels) as well as her nonfiction and poetry and so many other works in various genres.

Not many people seem to know about her first novel, The Edible Woman, published in 1969 but written several years earlier. I certainly didn’t until I spotted this at the library and was immediately intrigued.

Set in the 1960s, Marian is a 20-year-old professional woman living in Toronto.  She’s gainfully employed at Seymour Surveys, a market research/advertising firm. Early in the novel, she becomes eligible for being vested with a pension. Her ruminations upon completing the paperwork gives readers who are familiar with Atwood’s work a glimpse into the themes she is brilliantly developing in The Edible Woman.

“Somewhere in front of me a self was waiting, pre-formed, a self who had worked during innumerable years for Seymour Surveys and was now receiving her reward. A pension. I foresaw a bleak room with a plug-in electric heater. Perhaps I would have a hearing aid, like one of my great-aunts who had never married. I would talk to myself; children would throw snow balls at me. I told myself not to be silly, the world would probably blow up between now and then; I reminded myself I could walk out of there the next day and get a different job if I wanted to, but that didn’t help. I thought of my signature going into a file and the file going into a cabinet and the cabinet being shut away in a vault somewhere and locked.” (pg. 15)

There’s so much in just this one paragraph:  a self was waiting, pre-formed … perhaps I would have a hearing aid, like one of my great-aunts who had never married … the world would probably blow up between now and then … being shut away in a vault somewhere and locked. 

The Edible Woman continues along this path. Atwood’s writing is sharp and purposeful –especially when she cleverly uses food metaphors.

“–my mind was at first as empty as though someone had scooped out the inside of my skull like a cantaloupe and left me only the rind to think with.” (pg. 86)

Food becomes even more dominant when Marian becomes engaged to Peter. What should be a happy time becomes worrisome when, soon after the engagement, Marian gradually begins losing the ability to eat. No one can figure out why.  (Clearly, this was in a time before everyone graduated from the Medical School of Google.)

But it doesn’t take a physician or a prescription to know that the real issue eating away at Marian is the fear of being devoured by another person and being consumed, losing her sense of self in the process.

Suffice it to say if The Handmaid’s Tale resonated with you, chances are you will appreciate The Edible Woman for its similar messages of feminism, relationship issues, women in the workforce, male hierarchy — and, yes, for its innovative and timeless way of using food to bring these issues into our consciousness.

The Edible Woman
by Margaret Atwood 
Anchor 
1998 (first published in 1969) 
310 pages 

 

Weekend Cooking - NewWeekend Cooking is hosted by Beth Fish Reads and is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book reviews (novel, nonfiction), cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, photographs, restaurant reviews, travel information, or fun food facts. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend. You do not have to post on the weekend. Please link to your specific post, not your blog’s home page.

 

99 Days of Summer BloggingThis is post #90 of 99 in my 99 Days of Summer Blogging project.

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Book Review: The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood

The Heart Goes LastThe Heart Goes Last
by Margaret Atwood
Nan A. Talese
2015
308 pages

It’s possible to be a fan of an author without liking everything they’ve written.  That’s especially true with an author as prolific as Margaret Atwood. I’m a fan of Margaret Atwood’s. Recently she gave a fantastic lecture here in Pittsburgh; afterwards, while holding The Handmaid’s Tale in the book signing line, all I managed to say was a barely-audible “thank you for this.”

The very affordable cost of my lecture ticket included a signed copy of The Heart Goes Last. Unfortunately, Atwood’s newest novel is the sort of book that has a good premise and starts off well, but eventually jumps the shark.

It takes its inspiration from the recent (or current, depending on your circumstances) economic collapse and the uncertainty and desperation faced by people who have lost jobs, homes, and livelihoods.

Such is the plight of Stan and Charmaine who are living in their car and fending off criminals existing in their own stew of desperation. Life is grim for the once middle-class couple when Charmaine learns about Consilience (CON + RESILIENCE = CONSILIENCE, as the reader is reminded way too often)  where participants in this social experiment of sorts receive a house and gainful employment … in exchange for doing time in Positron, a prison.  They’re in prison one month, doing their prison jobs, and then the next month they get to live in what sounds like a typical suburban McMansion. While they’re doing time, another couple (the “Alternates”) is living in the house. Kind of like a time-share.

Who wouldn’t take that deal, right? It’s not like Stan and Charmaine have many alternatives, so they sign up for the Positron project.  All seems to be perfectly fine until Stan finds a note tucked under the fridge … from Jasmine, the other wife who is part of the Alternate couple sharing their their house. He becomes infatuated with this woman and meanwhile, Charmaine starts up an affair with the husband.

As you may have guessed, this doesn’t go well.

And as things became weirder and weirder  — slightly less than halfway into the book — Atwood started losing me as a reader. I admit to skimming a considerable portion of it and not caring much about the characters when I was very sympathetic to them in the beginning.

Oh, and there’s an Elvis impersonator as a sex robot.  Or something. That part I definitely skimmed over because I. CANNOT. STAND. ELVIS.

(The Husband considers this un-American and feels that I should be required to renounce my citizenship. He can’t imagine how he married someone who dislikes Elvis as intensely as I do.)

I get what The Heart Goes Last was trying to be. I think I do, anyway. It’s a testament to love — that even in the most difficult and corrupt and dire circumstances, we still have the capacity to love. And sometimes the heart takes over and gets the better of us, but that’s what makes us human instead of … well, a sex robot. Most of us, anyway.

This one didn’t work for me.  I still love Margaret Atwood, though.  I’m just hoping to love my next Atwood read a little more.

 

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Sunday Salon/Currently …

Sunday Salon bannerCurrently …
Sunday afternoon, 4 p.m. This is a three-day weekend for me, which I am grateful for. It’s snowing outside with temperatures going down to 7 degrees tonight with wind chills near -15 (ugh) and football is on TV (go Steelers!).

Listening To …
The Lazy Weekend playlist on Spotify. As I mentioned in last week’s Salon, this is my new toy. Because of the layout of our office, several of my coworkers prefer listening to music on their phones and iPods during the workday.  I tried doing the same over the past week and it actually made me more productive at times.  I was pleasantly surprised.

I’m in a phase where I’m craving some new music, so if you have any suggestions for artists or playlists you love, I’m all ears. (Literally.) I like singer-songwriter types, indie-alternative, vocalists, that sort of thing. Some people who I’ve had in heavy rotation this week:  Josh Ritter, Death Cab for Cutie, Coldplay, Jackson Browne, Melissa Etheridge, Ben Folds, Dar Williams, Mary Chapin Carpenter …

and of course, Carly Simon because of what I’m …

Reading …
Boys in the TreesI love Carly Simon, so it is no surprise that I am enjoying her memoir, Boys from the Trees. It is quite eye-opening, to say the least.  In my view, this book is more autobiographical than memoir, but I’m OK with that because hers has been one hell of life.

The Heart Goes Last

This week, I finally finished The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood, my first book of the year — which wasn’t intended to be my First Book of the Year or even my second. I wasn’t too enamored of this one, to be honest. The premise was a good one and it held my interest for most of the first half, but then it became … I don’t know. I stopped caring about the characters and the plot became more and more farcical.  I listened to it on audio to start, and switched to the print edition to see if that made a difference. It didn’t.

Blogging…
Last night, sometime around 3 a.m., I remembered that this is a Bloggiesta weekend. Because, of course … isn’t everyone thinking about their blog in the middle of the damn night?  So, needless to say, I haven’t done anything related to this. I did start my review of The Heart Goes Last on Friday night and there’s this post, so there’s that.

Fortunately, this is a three-day weekend for me, so there’s still time to do some Bloggiesta-ing. I’d like to update my Book Reviews page, but we’ll see if that happens.  I’m not feeling the whole Bloggiesta groove this weekend, mainly because I have to focus on an essay I have in progress for something.

Hope your weekend is going well and that you’re keeping warm!

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Sunday Salon/Currently: Reflecting on a Year of Reading

Books Transform in Hourglass

Books Transform in Hourglass – courtesy of Getty Images

Here we are … the first Sunday Salon/Currently post of 2016!  As I’ve mentioned before, I am all too happy to welcome a new year and a fresh start, even if not much has actually changed.

I thought I would use this post to reflect on and recap my 2015 reading year.  I would categorize this as a pretty good year, quality-wise.  In terms of quantity, though, not so much. I read a total of 52 books, compared to 75 in 2014. (This is still rather respectable, especially when you consider that this averages to be one book per week).  I try not to fall into the book blogger trap of comparing my totals to others; the reality is that I always am most critical of myself.

I attribute the decrease to two factors: 1) more time spent listening to podcasts in the car  (I listened to 22 audiobooks last year, compared to only 10 this year) and 2) being ruthless in abandoning books that weren’t working for me. At the same time, I have quite a few books in progress. Finishing books was a bit of an issue this year, probably because of reading multiple books at once.

(What can I say? I work for an organization that has five million items available free for the borrowing — and most of them are books. It is hard not to be tempted by the shiny and new. Or the old and classic.  Or, whatever.)

So, we’re not really going to focus much on the amounts. It’s all about the experience, right? And there were some great literary experiences in 2015.

Before we get to the Best Of selections, some stats for my fellow book geeks who love this sort of thing.  (You know who you are.)

2015

Number of Books Read = 52
Number of Pages Read = 10,001
Longest Book:  The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters (564 pages)
Shortest Book: Remnants of Passion by Sarah Einstein (37 pages)
Number of Audiobooks Listened To = 10
Number of Hours Spent Listening to Audiobooks = 87.31
How Many Days of Listening That Equals = 3.6
Average Number of Days It Took Me to Finish a Book = 7
My Average Rating of a Book = 3.9
Authors Who Were New to Me = 36
Authors Who I’d Read Previously = 16
Female Authors Read = 33
Male Authors Read = 19
Oldest Book Read = The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde (published in 1890)
Second Oldest Book Read = The Yellow Wallpaper and Other Stories by Charlotte Perkins Gilman (published in 1892)

And now, without further ado, here are my favorite books in Fiction, Short Stories, Memoir, and Nonfiction.  Links take you to my reviews, if I’ve written one. (Writing reviews was also a bit of a challenge this year.) As you’ll note by the years in parenthesis, these include my favorite books I read in 2015, regardless of the publication date.

Best Fiction

Thirteen Ways of Looking

Thirteen Ways of Looking by Colum McCann (2015)

None of the Above

None of the Above by I.W. Gregorio

“But once you understood what you were … how could someone not want to be fixed? I couldn’t conceive of a world in which I wasn’t broken.” (pg. 146)  Debut novelist I.W. Gregorio has given her readers a story that explores identity and acceptance through the perspective of a main character who just learned she was born intersex. This is one of those books that I appreciated on a highly personal level and for the sensitive way the author handles a subject matter that’s considered by some to be taboo. Because of books like None of the Above and authors like I.W. Gregorio, there exists the hope for a more caring, sensitive, and accepting world. ~ from my review, 6/22/2015.

Tampa - 2

Tampa by Alissa Nutting (2013)

The Paying Guests

The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters (2014)

The Picture of Dorian Gray

The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde (1890)

Honorable Mentions for Fiction:

The Edible WomanThe MiniaturistZLike FamilyOur Souls at NightEverything I Never Told YouWest of SunsetMy Sunshine Away

The Edible Woman by Margaret Atwood (1969)

The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton (2014)

Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald by Therese Fowler (2013)

Like Family by Paolo Giordano (2015)

Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf (2015)

Our Souls at Night is a quiet, understated novel about love and grief, family and community.  It challenges the reader to view older people as still having desires and needs rather than individuals who should renounce all vestiges of intimacy the minute their AARP card arrives in the mail.  It is a gorgeous finale for author Kent Haruf.  (From my review 9/22/2015)

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng (2014)

Living in suburban Ohio in the 1970s, the Lee family is one full of secrets, of regrets, of unfulfilled dreams and hijacked ambitions. Of letters never sent nor received, of tchkotches stolen, of misunderstandings big and small, of innermost feelings repressed and silent pacts. And sometimes – yes, oftentimes – our lives turn out differently than we planned. Terrible things happen. But by listening to what the people we love are and aren’t saying, admitting to our deepest wishes and exposing our most fragile insecurities, our lives and those around us have a chance to change for the better. (Reviewed 5/4/2015)

West of Sunset by Stewart O’Nan (2015)

Stewart O’Nan, a Pittsburgh author, more than succeeds in capturing legendary F. Scott Fitzgerald during the legendary author’s final troubled three years.  At 40, Scott’s literary success is well in the past and his wife Zelda is institutionalized for psychiatric issues. When Hollywood (finally, thankfully) comes calling with work as a screenwriter, Scott is emotionally and financially broke, “borrowing against stories he has yet to imagine.” (Love that line!)

Dust off the Hollywood glitter, though, and there’s something universally relatable about West of Sunset. Anyone who has ever gone through a difficult professional or personal stretch of time (which would be …oh, all of us) will likely find something to identify with in the F. Scott Fitzgerald that Stewart O’Nan presents. West of Sunset is about coming to terms with real and perceived failure, the drumbeat of self-doubt and loathing that accompanies it, the quest for self-redemption, and what happens when our self-reliance runs out.  (“Somewhere in this latest humiliation there was a lesson in self-reliance. He’d failed so completely that he’d become his own man again.”)  Reviewed 2/5/2015.

My Sunshine Away by M.O. Walsh (2015)

Best Short Stories

The Yellow Wallpaper

The Yellow Wallpaper and Other Stories by Charlotte Perkins Gilman (1892)

Best Memoirs

Dear Mr. You

Dear Mr. You by Mary-Louise Parker (2015)

Whatever ...Love Is Love

Whatever … Love Is Love: Questioning the Labels We Give Ourselves by Maria Bello (2015)

Belief Is Its Own Kind of Truth, Maybe

Belief is Its Own Kind of Truth, Maybe by Lori Jakiela (2015)

M Train

M Train by Patti Smith (2015)

Best Nonfiction

Between the World and Me

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates (2015)

This book’s moment in the spotlight comes at precisely the right time, given the current racial climate and rhetoric in our country. Between the World and Me is an important book, a classic of our era that deserves to be widely-read and taught in schools long after the accolades and the “best of” lists fade into the New Year and the ether of the Internet. Ta-Nehisi Coates writes that he “would have [his son] be a conscious citizen of this terrible and beautiful world.”  Reading this book and talking with others about it is one small way we can do the same.  Reviewed 12/29/2015.

Big Magic

Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert (2015)

You may be thinking that Big Magic is just another gimmicky book about creativity and following your passion, the likes of which you’ve probably read before. And you also may be judging this based on perhaps a negative impression of Eat Pray Love or any other of Gilbert’s work. And you would be wrong on both counts.  (I can say that because I did both of those things.)

Elizabeth Gilbert isn’t advocating that we creative types go into the office tomorrow and quit our jobs or commit to waking up every morning at 3 a.m. to write The Best Novel Ever or build a wing onto our house for the studio of our dreams. If you are able to do those things, more power to you. That’s not reality for most of us, however. And if we’re looking to our creativity to solve the bigger questions of our lives, we might be missing the point altogether.

“Perhaps creativity’s greatest mercy is this: By completely absorbing our attention for a short and magical spell, it can relieve us temporarily from the dreadful burden of being who we are. Best of all, at the end of your creative adventure, you have a souvenir — something that you made, something to remind you forever of your brief but transformative encounter with inspiration.” (pg. 172)

I really enjoyed this book and Elizabeth Gilbert’s direct and down-to-earth approach to creativity was exactly what I needed at the time.  Reviewed 11/3/2015.

Letters to a Young Poet

Letters to a Young Poet by Rainier Maria Rilke (1929)

As I said, this was a wonderful year. Thanks so much for reading my reviews and bookish banter. Looking forward to another fun year here together in 2016!

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Currently …Birthdays, Burghosphere, and Books

Chocolate cake

Currently …
Sunday evening, at the end of a busier than usual weekend. The highlights: a dentist visit for an 8:45 a.m. root canal (there’s no better way to spend a Saturday, let me tell you) and a Sunday afternoon hanging out with some of Pittsburgh’s best bloggers at Best of the Burghosphere, which I’ll post more about tomorrow. Afterwards, The Girl and I stopped by Half Price Books for some birthday shopping. As much as this may surprise some of you, I’d never been there before today. It’s now The Girl’s favorite store (and one of mine, too).

Celebrating …
We’re celebrating the kids’ birthdays this weekend. Hard to believe they are 14. We kept things fairly low-key with one of their favorite dinners (a simple version of pasta with chicken in alfredo sauce) and the chocolate cake, pictured above.

Reading … 
I finished two books this week, which is practically unheard of for me — especially given the slow pace at which I’ve been reading.

M TrainAccidental Saints

M Train by Patti Smith, which I enjoyed. This has a very free-form quality to it.  If you’ve ever been part of a writing workshop and the instructor says to write for ten minutes about whatever comes to mind, that’s what this feels like.  (It’s not so easy writing about nothing is the first line and at times this feels as if you’ve stolen a glimpse at a page written in Patti Smith’s notebook.) Non-linear in structure, M Train is what I would describe as a “writer’s book” and it isn’t going to appeal to everyone. It meanders, often in an esoteric way.

Accidental Saints: Finding God in All the Wrong People, by Nadia Bolz-Weber, who is the pastor of House for All Sinners and Saints in Denver.  I picked this up at the library after hearing a great interview with the author on NPR’s Fresh Air.  This was more … I don’t know … religious? theological? than I expected. (Also a bit too self-deprecating.)

Not Reading …
Another week, another DNF.  Despite my appreciation for its author, I’m finding the characters in Moral Disorder and Other Stories by Margaret Atwood to be somewhat boring.  I’ve been listening to this collection of linked stories on audio but it isn’t holding my attention. Back to the library it goes.

Anticipating …
Thanksgiving, which comes with a few additional vacation days from work for me.  Plenty of time for Thankfully Reading Weekend!

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currently … october 25

 

 

Currently …
I’ve decided to switch over to this format — which quite a few bloggers have been using for awhile now — for these Sunday posts. The Sunday Salon is perfectly fine but I feel like I’ve gotten away from the intent of the Salon. I wanted a structure that would allow me to capture more of the week’s happenings in addition to the reading, because during some weeks, this is the only post that I manage to write.

(Like many things, I’m probably over-thinking this.)

Recapping…
This was a busier week than usual, with several highlights.  A few weeks ago, I was in the right place at the right time (checking my email when a reminder popped up) and I snagged one of the few tickets to Margaret Atwood’s lecture and book-signing at our library. That was on Wednesday evening and it was a fabulous event. I have a separate post in the works recapping her talk, which touched on quite a few topics and issues while being very funny. (She has a very  dry sense of humor.)

This weekend some out-of-town friends were visiting Pittsburgh (they stayed in the cutest Airbnb in Shadyside!) and last night we went out to dinner at Shady Grove. I hadn’t eaten there before and they gave us a private area upstairs, which was perfect for our group. The menu is your typical bar/pub food: salads, burgers, pizzas, sandwiches, etc. Something for everyone.  I had a very good black bean veggie burger with sweet potato tater tots.

Reading …
The Edible WomanStill reading Margaret Atwood’s first novel, The Edible Woman. It focuses on Marian, whose age isn’t quite specified (at least not yet) but you get the sense she’s in her early 20s and a college graduate (“What can you do with a B.A. these days?” is an occasional phrase that a character says). She works for a market research firm and is in a serious relationship with Peter, who is 26.

This feels similar to The Handmaid’s Tale in that it is a brilliant, ironic commentary on a bigger theme — in this case, how society’s expectations and pressures are such that they have the power to consume us. Like The Handmaid’s Tale, this proves to be extremely prescient. (This was written in 1969.)

I’m hoping to finish this tonight, but the Eagles game currently on TV might hinder that a bit.

I’m trying to catch up on more than a few months-old issues of The New Yorker.  In the August 10 issue, Michael Cunningham — another of my favorite authors — has a short story called “Little Man” which is based on the fairy tale “Rumplestiltskin.” It’s part of his new collection of short stories coming out next month, which I cannot wait to read.

Anticipating …
The Husband and I actually have a date night planned for Tuesday night! We have tickets to see Ringo Starr, which we are looking forward to.  We bought the tickets several months ago and we’ll probably treat ourselves to a nice dinner downtown before the show.

Blogging…

Nonfiction-November-2015

Nonfiction November returns next month and will once again be hosted by Kim of Sophisticated Dorkiness, Leslie of Regular Rumination, Katie  of Doing Dewey and Rebecca of I’m Lost In Books. All the details are here. This is always a great event for those of us who are nonfiction enthusiasts, so expect a few additional posts here focused on nonfiction reads.

I’m participating in a few local blogging events happening next month, which I am very excited about. I’ll have separate posts about those, too.

One thing I’m not going to be doing this year is NaNoWriMo.  There’s just too much else happening and with everything else going on, I won’t get much done.

Hard to believe November is next week!

 

 

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Read-a-thon Mid Event Survey

Readathon - Day and Night

We’re into Hour 12 of the Read-a-thon, which means it’s time for the Mid-Event Survey.

1. What are you reading right now?

The Edible WomanThe Edible Woman, by Margaret Atwood. Really enjoying this one.  I cannot believe this was Margaret Atwood’s first book AND that it was written in 1969. Aside from some cultural and societal references (mimeo machines, the absence of discrimination laws in the workplace), this easily could be set in the current day. There are some similar themes as The Handmaid’s Tale.

2. How many books have you read so far?

Haven’t completed any yet. I started with The Edible Woman and am only on page 86.  Not my best Read-a-thon, but the night is still young! (It’s 8 p.m. here in my time zone.)

3. What book are you most looking forward to for the second half of the Read-a-thon?

Seeing what happens in the next 224 pages of The Edible Woman. This is a little longer than my typical Read-a-thon book; I’m OK if this is the only book I finish tonight. (Of course, there is tomorrow, too.  I always unofficially extend my Read-a-thons into Sunday.)

4. Have you had many interruptions? How did you deal with those?

Not too many.  The daughter and I ran out to do some quick errands. We went to the post office to mail some packages and to drop off six large bags of clothes to Goodwill (took me awhile but I’ve finally jumped onto the Konmari bandwagon). Twitter is proving to be a distraction this time around and I’m catching up on some blogs. Trying not to stress about any of this because all that matters is having fun. Which I certainly am.

5. What surprises you most about the Read-a-thon, so far?

The fact that we’re halfway done already.  Other than that, no surprises.

Are you participating in the Read-a-Thon? If so, how are things going for you?

 

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