When you settle in to read a Margaret Atwood novel, you're kind of experiencing the grown-up version of watching a scary movie before bed with a babysitter who doesn't know to shield your eyes. The occurrence itself is thrilling — boundaries are pushed, new sensations rush forward to awe you, and at the back of your mind a flicker of fear begins to glow red hot, waiting for the fuel to kindle a full-blown fire of terror. And then, night falls, the bedroom door closes and that flame begins to feed off the darkness under your bed, the empty space behind your closet door, and the fierce knowledge that your parents are far from home.
Of course, when you read Margaret Atwood, there's nothing actually to fear... but if you have any of the same sensitive tendencies that I do, as you turn page after page, new and different worries will slowly grow. All of the horrors that lie dormant in our world seem to take on power in an Atwood tale and come to life right before your eyes. (Dramatic, I know. But THIS IS ALL REAL I SWEAR.)
Atwood's novels draw power from the connections our worlds share with hers — like Dr. Frankenstein, Margaret Atwood builds her greatest monsters from the material that surrounds us every day, making her work that much more poignant and petrifying. With a new Margaret Atwood book, The Heart Goes Last, scheduled for release on September 29, I've decided to prepare myself for the read ahead. Here are 7 tricks and tips to get you through a Margaret Atwood novel without freaking yourself out.
Make Sure Your Snacks Are All GMO-Free
If you've spent time with Crakers of Oryx and Crake and
God's Gardner's in The Year of the Flood, I would be shocked if your shelves are stocked with anything but organic, GMO-free snacks. The speculative fiction of Atwood's Maddaddam trilogy brings to life the horrors of genetic engineering in the food system and elsewhere, making the only safe snack for an Atwood reading an all natural one, unless you want to spend chapter after chapter fearing for the safety of your internal organs.
Check Your Closets... You Never Know Who Else Is Living In Your House
Take a lesson from your younger self: check those closets before you cuddle up with an Atwood novel. This is especially the case if you're planning on relaxing with The Heart Goes Last, which chronicles the lives of a young couple who stave off debt and homelessness by moving into a desirable housing development and becoming productive members of the community... except for every other month, which they spend in prison while another family occupies their home. Now, tell me you don't want to peek inside your closet before you crack the spine...
Turn Off Your Smartphone... they could be watching
After following the clinical gaze of the "alienist" doctor probing into the life of Grace Marks in Alias Grace, and squeamishly moving through the surveillance state of Gilead in The Handmaid's Tale, you should know that there is always somebody watching in an Atwood story. So, with the specter of surveillance hovering over every sentence, why not eliminate that particular concern from your own experience by turning off that smartphone before you flip to the first page.
Fill Up A Water Bottle... Just In Case
It never hurts to stay hydrated as you read, and if the text in question is an Atwood novel, that handy water bottle at your side can serve two purposes at once. As you trace your way through one speculative future after another, you can be sure of just one thing — fresh, clean water will be in short supply, especially if you're on the road with the Snowman or locked up with Offred. With your own secure supply right by your side, you can sail through the text without fear — at least for this one sitting you'll have a private reservoir of the nectar of the gods ready and waiting at all times.
Open a Window and Let the Fresh Air In
The characters of a Margaret Atwood novel are frequently cloistered in prisons of one kind or another, from the personal hell of a life of lies depicted in The Blind Assassin to the societal prison of The Handmaid's Tale or the ecological cage of the Maddaddam trilogy. Keep yourself grounded in the glory of your own gorgeous planet Earth and all of the rich possibilities available to you by letting the cool air stream in from an open window as you lose yourself in the literature. Whatever the weather, a strong connection to a free and healthy planet should keep any concerns about an environmental apocalypse or a totalitarian coup at bay.
Delete Your Internet History. It's Easier Than You Think
Before you read on, take a moment to check that browser history of yours. If your records look anything like mine, you'll probably find yourself laughing over the assumptions someone might draw about you if all they had to go on was this particular data. Luckily, unless you commit a crime or subscribe to the some of the more creative conspiracy theories out there, your browsing history is private. Of course, in the world of an Atwood novel, privacy, like water, is in short supply. Whether you're more concerned about the prying eyes of a nosy sister thanks to The Blind Assassin or the the political scrutiny of theocratic military dictatorship as a result of reading The Handmaid's Tale,the safest way to protect your privacy and peace of mind is simply to delete that browser history before you turn the next page.
Keep Your Favorite Feminist Texts Close At Hand
Women catch a tough break in most Margaret Atwood novels. From the alluring Oryx who makes her way from child pornography to adult prostitution to the inimitable Offred who singlehandedly stands up for an entire oppressed people through sheer force of personality, sometimes it can be difficult to feel empowered as you trudge through all of the repression and exploitation. With Gloria Steinem, Betty Friedan, and Simone de Beauvoir at your side, the going may still be tough, but at least you'll have some truly badass women to keep you tough as you get going.
Let Your Family Know You Love Them
As Iris and Laura of The Blind Assassin and Offred of The Handmaid's Tale learned all too well, you can't always foresee when your last hours, days, moments, or words with a loved one will be. So, because the boy scouts have gotten some things right and it is always better to be prepared, why not send a quick heart emoji to your bff or an email of love to your mom and dad. With your true feelings out in the open, you can comfortably resist the temptation to jump up every few pages and call your loved ones as you linger over an Atwood novel.
Images: Giphy (8)