a little perspective would be nice

I like most of Margaret Atwood’s work; The Handmaid’s Tale is on my list of 100 favorite novels. When I met her a few years ago (backstage at the Orange Prize ceremony in London) I liked her too. She was funny and engaging. So I’m wondering why this bit of news about her is so irritating to me.


The Raw Feed reports
that Atwood has invented a robotic hand called the Long Arm. This invention will sign her name. So imagine this: you get in the car, on a train or bus and travel to some bookstore or event specifically because you’d like to get your copy of [insert title] signed. You wait in line. When you reach the front of the line you find a mechanical hand, and a video screen. She’s sitting at home in Canada watching her Long Arm sign her name for you. A face in a box, a mechanical hand.

I know the woman writes sci-fi, but this just strikes me as silly. I do like to get my books signed by the author when possible, sure. Having a book signed by a hunk of metal just isn’t the same thing. And why go to all this trouble? The reasons to do this that come to mind are not complimentary.

6 Replies to “a little perspective would be nice”

  1. I too met Margaret Atwood, well after becoming a fan – first of her poetry, then the early novels. My opinion of Atwood herself took a turn for the worse after a one week “writer in residence” stint in late 1976 or early ’77 at Lake Forest College.
    >
    >At seven months pregnant Atwood brusquely opined about our student “privileged class insulation” (while I was a poor rural kid on financial aid), American fictions lack of originality (“The romance novel evidences your cultural need for continual synaptic stroking…”) and the snobbish effrontery Americans show all things Canadian.
    >
    >From my limited perspective, Ms. Atwood would likely be offended by your mechanical signature misgivings – as a cultural bias.

  2. Crickey. I wonder if she relaxed any over the last thirty years. My interaction with her was very limited, and in that situation she couldn’t really get an attitude on. If she had one at that point.

    She did leave immediately when it turned out she hadn’t won.

    The lesson here is that bad behavior follows you around forevermore.

  3. I love Margaret Atwood’s work and I usually race to the book store to buy as soon as I know something is available. I can forgive her the mechanical arm (I’m not a people person either) and even the popup-heavy Web site with no “there” there, OW Toad, but I was really disappointed in “Oryx and Crake.” She has said that it was not science fiction, and if you believe as I do that the science in sci fi actually plays a part in advancing the story, she was right to say so. Still, I have two works in progress based around bioengineered organisms, and the surface treatment of the topic was one of those “needlepoint bedspread” moments that took a notch or two off her standing for me.

  4. Heard Atwood interviewed on a CBC Saturday afternoon radio show this past December. The interviewer played a game of “Would you rather…” with her. So not an interview so much as a game really. She played along gamely, but then, it was an admirer’s interview. (Do I need to explain the game? Questions like: Would you rather do this, or that, and why? Depending on the interviewer, highly subjective and often unrelated options are chosen, and it’s just a crapshoot what comes out in the process. A bit ‘stream of consciousness’ in style for an interview.) Atwood struck me as a person comfortable in her own skin, but not interested in comforting others when her skin doesn’t please them. I could relate to the isolation she seemed to be cultivating with that pose, although it may seem unforgiveably rude to others. I wondered if appearing rude in your preference for isolation is one of the side-effects of the writerly headspace you’ve talked about here in the past.

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