An interview with Margaret Atwood

Margaret AtwoodBy Collin Kelley, Editor

Award winning novelist, poet and essayist Margaret Atwood will read from her latest novel, The Year of the Flood, on Tuesday, Feb. 23, as part of the Savannah College of Art & Design-Atlanta’s Ivy Hall Writers Series. The event will be held on the fourth floor of Building C at SCAD, 1600 Peachtree St, from 6:30 to 8 p.m. The event is free and open to the public.

Known for modern classics like The Handmaid’s Tale, Cat’s Eye, Alias Grace and The Blind Assassin, Atwood’s latest novel is a continuation of Oryx & Crake, about a group of people struggling to rebuild society after an environmental catastrophe. I spoke to Atwood by phone last week about the new popularity of e-books, the Google copyright infringement case and the joys of Twitter.

Do gadgets like the Kindle and iPad intrigue you?

My concern is that electronics are vulnerable, so it’s better to have it in hard form. People want physical books to read in an armchair, but they want to be able to continue reading in electronic form when they go on a trip. There is place for all these things. With the Internet so overcrowded we need to focus on building infrastructure. Technology changes so quickly that I’m concerned things will be lost on the Internet. One solar flare and anything in electronic form is gone. It’s like when we switched over from floppy disks and now no one has a way to access them anymore.

Do you think readers are getting the same experience by reading books on the fly rather than sitting down with a physical book?

I think people who are using E-readers are picking books they can read quickly. If the text is dense you have to pay closer attention  and I don’t think people want to sit with a computer screen trying to digest a more challenging book. I think  E-readers have the potential to enhance students’ experiences, especially when it comes to searching text. They could, for example, instantly look up all references to the moors in Wuthering Heights.

Now that you’re on Twitter, do you enjoy it? Have you found its usefulness?

I’m old enough to remember when the telegraph was in use and I compare Twitter to that form of communication. It’s a signaling device. You can convey useful information quickly. There was a tiny learning curve with keeping it to 140 characters and learning about shortening URLs for links. Now, I can let my followers know when I’ve posted a new blog on my website (www.yearoftheflood.com) or retweet information I find that I think my followers might find useful. (Follow Atwood on Twitter at www.twitter.com/margaretatwood)

What are your thoughts on the copyright infringement case against Google, which wants to digitise books and put them online?

It’s the usual attitude that everyone should make money out of the artist’s work except the artist. It devalues copyright and it’s stealing. I don’t go into the garage and take your lawnmower, so why would you go online and take my book? We’re raising a generation of kids who believe that everything on the Internet should be free, and that mindset has to change.

In Oryx & Crake and The Year of the Flood, the planet is recovering from an environmental meltdown; do you think we’re headed in that direction?

I’m hopeful because there are a lot of people working together now to solve issues like the degeneration of our oceans, extinction of certain species of animals and the loss of forests. I think America is still behind when it comes to embracing the need to change the way we create energy and use resources. With other countries pledging to make changes there is going to be a new prosperity through low carbon emissions. There will be jobs involved and if America and some of the other resistant nations don’t come around, they will find jobs and tech going elsewhere.

2 Responses to An interview with Margaret Atwood

  1. Rosemary Nissen-Wade

    February 23, 2010 at 3:04 am

    I love her intelligence!

  2. Joan Baril

    February 27, 2010 at 12:18 am

    My blog chose Year of the Flood as the best book in 2009. Payback was a hit with our NoStress Book Group. Bravo Margaret.

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