Book Review: Negotiating with the Dead – A Writer on Writing

I’m not going to lie, even though she’s a national treasure, I’m not fond of Margaret Atwood’s fiction. I am, however, a fan of the woman herself (she is very, very bright – do you follow her on twitter?) and I’m a fan of her non-fiction, lecture-style writing. I came to Negotiating With the Dead: A Writer on Writing by accident. It was on the discount table at a bookstore I passed while on my lunch break; I was sold on the cover, and impulse bought it. It turns out to be a fabulous book on the topic of being a professional creative. Kind of.

About the Author

Margaret Atwood is a Canadian author who has written more than twenty-five volumes of fiction, non-fiction, and poetry. She has won just about every literary prize imaginable, and her books have been published in over thirty-five languages. Most recently, she became the public face in a fight to keep Toronto’s libraries open. (Back-story on that here).

General Idea

While the book’s title is about ‘a writer on writing’, it can just as easily be seen as ‘an artist on art-making’ (Though, the title would be far less catchy…) Atwood’s writing is her art, and so her musings transcend her specific medium.  She explores what it means to be someone who writes, in the context of a history of writing. She talks about the dual nature of being an artist; being a Creator in the times when one is not actually creating. Atwood is honest, and entertaining, and challenging when talking about the business of being an artist.

Key Highlight

The writer as two – “…By two, I mean the person who exists when no writing is going forward – the one who walks the dog, eats bran for regularity, takes the car in to be washed and so forth- and that other, more shadowy and altogether more equivocal personage who shares the same body and uses it to commit the actual writing ” (p. 35)

The slippery double – “…All writers are double, for the simple reason that you can never actually meet the author of the book you just read. Too much time has elapsed between composition and publication, and the person who wrote the book is now a different person.” (p. 37)

Everyone needs to eat – “…You can have money of your own; you can marry money; you can attract a patron – whether a king, a duke, or an arts board; you can have a day job; or you can sell to the market. These are the choices, for a writer, in relation to money, and they are the only choices” (p. 64)

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