November 18, 2008

Negotiating With the Dead: Review

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I have a few books on writing in my collection. Some are strictly how-to's and are fairly dry manuals on how to get noticed as an author. However, Negotiating With the Dead: A Writer on Writing does not fall into this category. It's more of an attempt by Margaret Atwood to explain writers to the world. What makes a writer write exactly?

Atwood expands on lectures she's given herself throughout her career about writing. She looks at the myths surrounding writing and writers. Is writing an art, a compulsion, a job? In the first chapter, Atwood explains how she became a writer and it's not some kind of traumatic event that compels her to write. It's pretty ordinary and quaint. This was the most enjoyable chapter for me, seeing a glimpse of the young author, telling stories with her brother.

The second chapter on the duality of the writer, one half takes out the garbage, the other writes, was also quite interesting. Then she lost me. Chapters 3 and 4 had a lot of Greek god name dropping and I kept losing my train of thought. She did get me back with Chapter 5: Nobody to Nobody which is a chapter about the reader and our roles in all of this. Without a reader, why write? Finally, Chapter 6: Negotiating with the Dead asks where the writer gets ideas and we're back to mythology, this time about hell.

So, Negotiating With the Dead has it's ups and downs. Atwood has a conversational style, like sitting around the kitchen table having a cup of tea, when she's speaking of her life. She's quite funny. However, she's heavy on the mythology and if you like that kind of thing, you won't mind but it was too much for me.

I'd recommend it to anyone with an interest in the writing life.

2nd Canadian Book Challenge read.


  1. Sounds interesting! Since I"m in the midst of a Greek literature project myself, this may be alright with me....

  2. The parts about mythology would actually draw me into the book! I'll have to look in our library's collection.
    Thanks for the review -

  3. I really like what I have read of Atwood's novels so this sounds interesting. Thanks as I hadn't heard of it.

  4. I hadn't heard of it before either and it sounds very interesting. I'm a fan of Greek mythology, so I think I might enjoy those [arts.

  5. It does sound interesting. I think I will add it to my list for the 100 + Reading Challenge 2009. Thanks for posting your review.

  6. It dies sound interesting, Greek gods notwithstanding.

  7. Great review, I am a fan of Atwoods non-fiction, because like you mentioned she does have a very conversational style.

  8. "Chapters 3 and 4 had a lot of Greek god name dropping and I kept losing my train of thought."

    That bit made me laugh. I fear those chapters would make me lose my train of thought, too. I plunked this book onto my wishlist ages ago, and I'd completely forgotten about it. Thanks for the reminder!

  9. Well I like mythology but I'm still not sure how that mixes in with this book! I guess I'll have to read it to find out :)

    I think I do have this somewhere in the stacks!

  10. Hmm, I'm not a big mythology reader, but my son is a walking mythology encyclopedia. I could always ask him to translate. I'll stick this one on Ye Olde Wishliste. Thanks, Chris!

  11. I've had that book on my shelf for a long time, but other books keep on getting in the way. I'm going to push it up my TBR list. But the greek god stuff scare me. ;)


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