10 Ways Reading Margaret Atwood Will Change You

by Emma Cueto

The first time I read anything by the legendary Margaret Atwood, I was 14, which is probably a little too young to be reading The Handmaid's Tale... but whatever. Plus, my father was the one who recommended it to me (and yes, I recognize how weird it is that the first time I read a Serious Feminist Novel™ it was because a man lent me the book; what can I say, my father's pretty awesome).

No matter how Margaret Atwood came into my life, once there, she completely blew my mind. I've spent the 10 years since slowly working my way through her (massive) body of work, and the only reason I haven't devoured absolutely everything is because I don't ever want to run out — although I guess if I just hold out hope of living until the year 2114, I won't have to.

As any Atwood fan can tell you, reading Margaret Atwood will change your life. The woman is a living legend for a reason. She can not only craft engaging and engrossing stories, can not only write them in language that is just gorgeous, but she's also a brilliant thinker whose complex ideas, woven into her work, will make you think long after the final page has been turned. And the best part is that she's incredibly prolific, with more than a dozen novels, plus multiple books of short stories, poetry collections, and even children's books.

But maybe the best reason to love reading Margaret Atwood is that you are never quite the same person at the end of a Margaret Atwood novel as you were at the start. Reading Atwood is an experience, one that will change you in all sorts of ways.

You WILL Become A Feminist

I don't know if it's possible to read Margaret Atwood without becoming a feminist unless you are particularly misogynistic and/or dense. Though Atwood rarely if ever uses the f-word itself (no, not that one — the equality one), her work is some of the best exploration of the discrimination, oppression, violence (both physical and non), and just general crap that women are subjected to that I've ever read in fictional form. It will make you angry. It will make you uncomfortable. It will make you think. And at the end of it, you'll probably be a feminist.

You'll Start Thinking That Dystopias Feel Frighteningly Possible

Whether it's the repressively patriarchal totalitarian Christian regime in The Handmaid's Tale or the apocalyptic collapse described in Oryx and Crake and its sequels, The Year of the Flood and MaddAddam, Atwood knows how to write a terrifying dystopian future. Her dystopias aren't always the most plausible, but they feel real enough to chill the blood. Read enough of her and it'll get under your skin.

You'll Find That Nothing Is Ever As It Seems

Whether she's writing a short story about an ordinary office worker or weaving a Booker Prize-winning novel that consists of a story within a story within a story and more secrets than anyone knows what to do with, Margaret Atwood's work is brilliant at showing things that are more than they appear. The things we take for granted as ordinary she's able to turn into something extraordinary. It's a knack that changes the way you look at the world.

You'll Never Hear The Phrase "May Day" The Same Way Again

In every Margaret Atwood novel there are lines and images that stick with you and can't help but remind you of the book, but I'm always partial to the one I took with me from The Handmaid's Tale. Hearing "May Day" now reminds me of oppressive dictatorships and underground resistance movements. It's just a thing.

You'll Find There's Always Another Side to the Story

If there's one novelist whose good at showing us that there's always another side to every story, it's Margaret Atwood. From the murder mystery of Alias Grace to the multiple viewpoints of Cat's Eye to the shocking revelations of The Blind Assassin or the subtle genius of the poem "Siren Song" or that time where she basically rewrote the Odyssey from Penelope's perspective in The Penelopiad, Margaret Atwood will always make you question the official narrative and dig deeper to find the other side of the story.

You'll Have Some Sleepless Nights

For someone who isn't writing horror, Margaret Atwood has given me quite a few sleepless nights. It's not just that her dystopias are a little too disturbing for comfort or that her ghost story in Alias Grace is way creepier than you bargain on. Atwood has a knack for writing unsettling situations, often ones that her protagonist can't really do anything about, and it's enough to leave anyone feeling disturbed.

You'll See How Much Women's Stories Matter

I could write a whole essay on the way in which Margaret Atwood writes women and the weight and attention she gives to women's stories. In fact, I could write a whole essay just on the implicit commentary on how women's stories are treated that Atwood provides by putting the "Historical Note" in the back of The Handmaid's Tale. But without Margaret Atwood, I don't know how long it would have taken me to realize that women have stories to tell and that women's stories matter, no matter how hard the world tries to undervalue them.

You'll Know To Never Trust Anyone Named Zenia

Okay, I'm joking, but seriously, the character of Zenia in The Robber Bride is one of my favorite villains in literature because she's designed to never quite be pinned down. But also because she demonstrates Atwood's ability to craft female villains that defy the usual misogynistic tropes we find everywhere else — or in this case that uses all of the tropes all at once to her advantage. Atwood teaches us that women can be villains just as easily and uniquely as we can be heroes. And to never trust anyone named Zenia.

You'll Start Thinking Genre is an Illusion

Margaret Atwood writes across lots of genres — science fiction, literary fiction, even some books with murder mystery and horror touches. She retells classic myths. She writes short stories, novels, essays, poetry, and children's books. In The Blind Assassin she writes a science fiction novel inside a literary novel that is in and of itself inside another literary novel. Read enough of her and you might soon find yourself no longer so convinced that the boundaries between genres are more than artificial constructs.

You'll Learn That Feminism Is Complicated

Did I mention that Margaret Atwood is a feminist author? Because she is, but she's also a great introduction to feminism because she makes it pretty clear just how complicated feminism and the oppression of women is. No one is going to read a Margaret Atwood novel and come away thinking that a little "Girl Power!" spirit is all we need to fix the problems of the world. Instead, you'll come away thinking about how intricate and interconnected and just down right difficult all of these problems are. Life isn't simple, oppression isn't simple, and feminism isn't simple either. And reading Margaret Atwood is enough to definitely drive that point home.

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