In Margaret Atwood’s Essays and Speeches, Some Hazards of the Trade

She wades into the culture wars, defending a professor who was accused of sexual misconduct and fired, though an inquiry exonerated him. She asks, “Why have accountability and transparency been framed as antithetical to women’s rights?”

There’s also a speech about teaching writing with the help of Tarot cards.

Some of the most memorable things in “Burning Questions” are simply stray comments that noodle their way into your mind. She writes, “When I first saw the term child molester in a newspaper, I though it said child mole-ster, a job available to children, in which they would be paid for collecting moles.”

She writes about an early job in market research. She was skeptical about Pop-Tarts, “those breakfast confections made of two layers of flour product glued together like clamshells, with a blob of jam in the clam position,” because they (initially) kept exploding in the toaster.

There’s an excellently bonkers essay, titled “Cat’s Robo-Cradle,” in which she posits a moral way to eliminate feral cats that decimate the bird population. She imagines robotic coyotes that will swallow the cats and remove them to an enclosed fun fair, where they can live out the rest of their lives playing with squeaky catnip toys.

A sidebar: This reminded me of a friend’s experience. This friend is broke and unemployed and starting to lose his good humor; he is starting to feel feral. He is ready, he thinks, to be robo-coyote’d.

When Mormon missionaries recently came knocking, he said he’d convert on the spot if they gave him “the full package.” His visitors were perplexed. The full package, he explained — an apartment in Salt Lake City and a well-paying job, ideally in the book field. The Mormons sped away on their bicycles, leaving dust in their wake.

No enclosed fun fair for him.

Christopher Hitchens wrote that he needed a rectal thermometer to detect how quickly he was becoming an old fart. Atwood, at 82, hardly seems ossified. She’s radiant on this book’s cover, and the best pieces here cast a certain glow as well.

As for the speeches, I suppose during those you can, as at any conference, sneak out to the sidewalk for an illicit vape.

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