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19 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars When We Pretend that We're Dead
What makes someone a writer? What's the role of the writer in the world today? Should she write just for Art's sake or does she have a social responsibility? Is there a third way? And is there an underlying (and universal) psychological reason behind every writer's desire to put words to paper? Margaret Atwood answers all these questions, and more, in six essays which...
Published on 21 May 2008 by Oliver Redfern

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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not up to what I expected.
I'm afraid my high hopes of Atwood have come rather crashing down. I should have known better I suppose as my son warned me (two English teachers in the same house, eh?). There is - for me - a lack of objectivity between it covers, too much fancy and thus a lack of authenticity. I have to say that I have been forced, for now, to review my thoughts on this author's...
Published on 19 Jun. 2011 by Scampo


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19 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars When We Pretend that We're Dead, 21 May 2008
This review is from: Negotiating With The Dead: A Writer on Writing (Paperback)
What makes someone a writer? What's the role of the writer in the world today? Should she write just for Art's sake or does she have a social responsibility? Is there a third way? And is there an underlying (and universal) psychological reason behind every writer's desire to put words to paper? Margaret Atwood answers all these questions, and more, in six essays which were originally lectures given at Cambridge University.

The great thing about Atwood is that she doesn't place herself, or anyone else, on a pedestal. Her tone is warm, familiar, self-deprecating and very witty. She weaves quotes and poems into her explanations which give you a better understanding of those original works and even make you wish to go out and buy some of them (I've added Carol Shield's "Mary Swann" to my wish list.) This is the second time I read this book and I feel that I've gained new insight into what happens inside my head when I write. If you are a writer, this book is a must
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24 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars 'All writers are double' - some are simply magnificent, 22 Sept. 2007
This review is from: Negotiating With The Dead: A Writer on Writing (Paperback)
The amount of drivel written on writing has to be experienced to be believed. It is significant that many of the authors of this tripe are not to be found on any best seller list. They're hacks. Their words are tired. Their advice inane. Why any publisher produces their unhelpful prose is a mystery this writer cannot understand. What joy then to read Margaret Atwood's book. It will not give you 36 points on how to become a best selling novelist/poet/non-fiction writer/grafitti artist. It may not help you to write a single line at all. What it will display is great writing, sly wit, it will open a little, the door into the lives of writers and writing. It should inspire you. It should encourage you. It will definitely cause the occasional chuckle, among my favourites: "Wanting to meet an author because you like his work is like wanting to meet a duck because you like pate." And, "all writers are double, for the simple reason you cannot 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." It's worth being a different person. Read this book.
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4.0 out of 5 stars The Writer and Her Craft, 1 Dec. 2014
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J. Ang - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Negotiating With The Dead: A Writer on Writing (Paperback)
A collection of six essays that gives as much insight into the author as much as it does the strange trade of creative writing. For example, Atwood has at various junctures in her prolific and enduring career resisted the feminist writer label, claiming instead she is merely a woman writer writing about the experiences of women. The reader gets a sense of where she is coming from when Atwood recounts her early childhood isolation from other girls, which may have impacted her view of women and their portrayal in her writing. Other little girls were a revelation to her only when she was eight and they moved to a postwar bungalow near the center of Toronto, when before she had as a playmate and role model her older brother:
"I was now faced with real life, in the form of other little girls – their prudery and snobbery, their Byzantine social life based on whispering and vicious gossip, and an inability to pick up earthworms without wriggling all over and making mewing noises like a kitten. I was more familiar with the forthright mindset of boys… little girls were almost an alien species. I was very curious about them, and remain so" (10) .

Here is apparent that not only was she beguiled by other little girls in her childhood, she has maintained a certain separateness rather than camaraderie with the female sex. This distinguishes her work from those of other women writers of women’s fiction, if that is a valid categorisation in the first place. It stems not from a position of self-identification but rather a position of one beholding the Other – with feelings of equal parts awe and fear.

Atwood also discusses her identity as a Canadian writer, postulating how it began to surface when she interrogated the landscape of living authors. She is insightful when she observes the distinguishing characteristic of writing that separates it from other arts, with “its apparent democracy… its availability to almost everyone as a medium of expression” (25). However, she cautions that the apparent easiness of it and the fact that no special training is needed, unlike an opera singer or a dancer, does not mean everyone is a writer, as much as they might feel that they have a book in them, and could write it if only they had the time. She likens being a writer to that of being a grave-digger, who does more than excavate:

You carry upon your shoulders the weight of other people’s projections, of their fears and fantasies and anxieties and superstitions. You represent mortality, whether you like it or not. And so it is with any public role, including that of the Writer, capital W; but also as with any public role, the significance of that role – its emotional and symbolic content – varies over time (26).

In Chapter 2, Atwood examines the duplicitous identities of the author-self and asks:
“Can an ‘author’ exist, apart from the work and the name attached to it? .... And who is the writing ‘I’?” (45).
Atwood identifies the double nature of writers as consisting of two halves, “one half does the living, the other half the writing” (37). The two halves can be seen as having a “parasitic” relationship, or it can be “symbiotic…. The double may be shadowy, but it is also indispensable” (37).

Besides the notion of doubles, Atwood goes on in Chapter 3 to argue about the motive behind a writer’s writing and the notion that “to write for money, or even to be thought to have done so, put you in the prostitute category” (68). Her comeback to the question “Is it true you write the bestsellers?” is “Not on purpose”. She exposes the hypocrisy and feels that “both kinds of snobbery: that which ascribes value to a book because it makes lots of money, and that which ascribes value to a book because it doesn’t” (69) are equally damning.

So what makes a work Art? Atwood details for us the battle over the proper function of art in the 19th century, the sense of martyrdom and sacrifice in the notion of the artist, who is not only self-effacing, but is also priest in service of an implied God of Art, who is “a cruel and selfish god", but also how that view changed so that by Kafka’s time, art for art’s sake was “falling out of widespread favor – and the fasting-artist ends up in a neglected corner of a circus menagerie” (81).

In the second half the book, Atwood addresses the the place of the author, the reader and the text, and the various relationships at play in the process of writing and reading. All serious stuff, but Atwood (as always) with her trademark wit and candour, and through interesting parallels and comparisons, invites the reader to examine these issues, and ruminate over them long after the last page is turned.
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39 of 51 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent, 15 Nov. 2003
This review is from: Negotiating With The Dead: A Writer on Writing (Paperback)
Worth reading for recreation or for research, this book makes literary criticism fun! Negotiating With The Dead is of interest to anyone who has ever wondered what it really means to be a writer, and its a page turner. Educational and interesting, what more could you ask for?!
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Thought Provoking, 29 Dec. 2011
This review is from: Negotiating With The Dead: A Writer on Writing (Paperback)
Based on a lecture series given by Margaret Attwood, this book tackles the philosophical questions of why write? does a writer have to suffer for his or her art? who is the reader? where does writing come from? Margaret Attwood has an astonishing knowledge of her subject and an all-encompassing source of quotations ranging from Gilgamesh to Flaubert. Her background as a poet is also much in evidence with some very thought-provoking examples that illustrate the debates she analyses.

The book's weaknesses are in its strengths. The debating style leads to weak conclusions and rather protracted analysis which makes parts of the book dry. I wasn't surprised to find the Brown Owl example quoted in other reviews as this is one of the relatively few personal experiences that provide a depth of feeling and inspiration, the book could have done with more of these. Nevertheless, well worth the read.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Great, 20 Jan. 2014
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This review is from: Negotiating With The Dead: A Writer on Writing (Paperback)
Margaret Attwood will always be five stars. I found this informative, interesting & enlightening. It's beside my bed and I keep dippig i at random when I need some inspiration.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not up to what I expected., 19 Jun. 2011
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Scampo "Steve C" (UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Negotiating With The Dead: A Writer on Writing (Paperback)
I'm afraid my high hopes of Atwood have come rather crashing down. I should have known better I suppose as my son warned me (two English teachers in the same house, eh?). There is - for me - a lack of objectivity between it covers, too much fancy and thus a lack of authenticity. I have to say that I have been forced, for now, to review my thoughts on this author's abilities and views.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing, 25 Jun. 2012
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This review is from: Negotiating With The Dead: A Writer on Writing (Paperback)
I didn't expect a How to Manual but Ms Atwood seems to be peversely determined not to share any tips at all about writing with her public.The pieces are very clever, lots of quotes and references but ultimately very empty.The best thing about this book is the title.
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11 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Magical insights from a master novelist, 14 April 2007
By 
Baggy "Baggy" (Herts , England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Negotiating With The Dead: A Writer on Writing (Paperback)
If you love Margaret Atwood's novels then please buy this book. It has the same qualities you will have treasured before - every paragraph has a shaft of humour, an original insight, and a poetic use of language.

I've hesitated before to move from Margaret Atwood's novels into the short stories and poetry - a mistake i'll be rectifying soon. The writing and the level of intelligence in this set of reflections on the artist's life and motivations are as one with the rest of her captivating work.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Not quite up there with the title, 9 Sept. 2012
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This review is from: Negotiating With The Dead: A Writer on Writing (Paperback)
Enjoy Margaret Atwood and just starting out on life writing myself so jumped at the title, but only one chapter focuses on this - the last. However, lots of gems along the way as MA generously shares her wisdom and humour - introduced me too to other interesting writers - full of easy unpretentious scholarship.
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Negotiating With The Dead: A Writer on Writing
Negotiating With The Dead: A Writer on Writing by Margaret Atwood (Paperback - 4 Nov. 2003)
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