Last night—Friday, October 30th—I went to hear Margaret Atwood read at the Lisner Auditorium at George Washington University, promoting her new book, Year of the Flood. This novel is set in a future world, which has been devastated by a natural disaster that destroyed most human life. Although I’ve not read it yet, I learned from the reading that much of the story centers around an eco-religion.
The reading itself was a forward-thinking experience. Instead of just the novelist reading from her book, Atwood had GWU students performing characters’ narrative perspectives and musicians interpreting hymns, which she wrote for her invented eco-religion. It transformed the book reading into a theatrical event, capturing the audience’s interest by setting the mood for the story and touching on central conflicts.
Margaret Atwood is a hero of mine. One of my favorite novels is The Blind Assassin and one of my favorite short stories is “Death by Landscape.” So, I was particularly excited to hear her read. Her natural wit and liveliness charmed me, but I was also excited to see such a well respected and established writer breaking the mold of a fiction reading.
I have a dirty secret. I don’t particularly enjoy fiction readings. I’d almost always rather hear a poet read. I think this is because it’s so difficult for a novelist to offer enough of his or her story to really satisfy a listener. Atwood seems to understand this and has managed to rethink the way a reading should go. Much like the bizarre genetic hybrids in her novel, she’s managed to create a successful hybrid literary experience.
When my partner Jeff and I approached her to get our books signed, Jeff asked her to sign his Kindle. She did so gladly, remarking that it was the first Kindle she had ever signed! (See Margaret Atwood’s blog) She seemed open to embracing the future of publishing – and she even asked him if she could take his picture to document the occasion.