Margaret Atwood interview

Canadian author on the books she loves to read again and again

Interview, Time In

On the back of her latest novel MaddAddam, Canadian author Margaret Atwood reveals the works that she found most inspiring while growing up.

At the ripe age of 73, one can only assume Canadian author Margaret Atwood has read thousands of books over the years. Like a good joke, a great story can stay with us for decades and, in Atwood’s case, inspire us to go on to become writers ourselves. Having just published the final instalment in her dystopian trilogy MaddAddam, Atwood reveals her favourite books and the titles she takes inspiration from.

What were your favourite books during your formative years?
Growing up covers a lot of reading material for me, from Mother Goose Nursery Rhymes (this was my introduction to surrealism) to the tales of Beatrix Potter (a taste of dark gothic). I went from Wild Animals I Have Known by Ernest Thompson (furry romance) to reading about Sherlock Holmes (my pre-teen pop idol crush) and on to the outer galaxies of Jane Austen via Curt Siodmak’s sci-fi Donovan’s Brain. Let’s just say it was very inclusive.

Which books give you utopian or dystopian inspiration?
I’ve been deeply immersed in the early forms: all of HG Wells, much of Jules Verne and onward to Huxley, Orwell and Ray Bradbury. For those who don’t know it, you can also have a lot of fun with Consider Her Ways by John Wyndham. And I do love Riddley Walker by Russell Hoban for the language and The Left Hand Of Darkness by Ursula K Le Guin for its sheer effrontery.

Has a book ever inspired you to do something strange?
Ellsworth Jaeger’s Wildwood Wisdom: Classic Wilderness Living inspired me to try almost all of the wilderness survival foods it mentions. I didn’t manage the porcupine, but I’ve eaten cattails, acorns and many more which are best relied on for emergencies only.

What would you be if you weren’t an author?
Realistically, a gene-splicing botanist cloning glow-in-the-dark potatoes. I was good at botany when I was younger and examiners didn’t take marks off for spelling, unlike those marking the English exams – like a lot of writers, I was a bad speller. Unrealistically, an opera singer. Though I might have ended up as a graphic designer. I still take an unhealthy interest in my own book covers.

Which book have you re-read more than any other?
All the murder mystery novels which are kept at our family summer house in the woods. Why? Because they are there. I also read the Bible a lot – the stranger parts, such as the dismembered concubine – because the nice Gideons leave it around in hotel rooms for people like me who are taking a break from the news.
MaddAddam, from Dhs60, available at www.amazon.com.

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