cover image Burning Questions: Essays and Occasional Pieces, 2004 to 2021

Burning Questions: Essays and Occasional Pieces, 2004 to 2021

Margaret Atwood. Doubleday, $30 (496p) ISBN 978-0-385547-48-2

Atwood returns to nonfiction (after Moving Targets) with this impressive collection of answers to “some of the burning questions I’ve been asked.” As she writes, “The questions we’ve been faced with so far in the twenty-first century are more than urgent.” “The Futures Market” sees her amusingly parse the popularity of zombies in pop culture (they offer “an escape from a real future we quite rightly fear”), and “Literature and the Environment” addresses the responsibilities writers have regarding climate change: “Unless we can preserve such an environment, your writing and my writing... will become simply irrelevant, as there will be nobody left to read it.” Readers will also appreciate the insight into Atwood’s creative process: “Scientific Romancing” reveals the inspiration she found in Orwell’s 1984, and in “Reflections on The Handmaid’s Tale,” she shares her thoughts about the novel three decades on (“Is [it] prophetic? No. No novel is prophetic except in retrospect”). Despite the oft-serious nature of the collection, there are welcome dashes of levity, as when Atwood describes her encounter with a hard-selling mall clerk who manipulated Atwood’s young daughter into demanding a Cabbage Patch doll. (It wound up “living in squalor at the back of the closet”). The result is a superior assembly of intellectual excursions. (Mar.)