LAKE MACBRIDE— Having never been a fan of the UNESCO City of Literature designation for Iowa City, I can see why people like it. It gives the social mavens something to preen over. In telling the story of Iowa’s development into a cultural oasis among fields of row crops, mine is somewhat different than what I read and hear about from the source of brightly lit night skies to the south. The main benefit of what the late Darrell Gray described as the U.S.S. Prairie Schooner has been an increased ability to hear writers, authors and lecturers invited by the local literati to speak or read from their work. Last night it was Margaret Atwood.
I don’t know Atwood or her work at all, so it was easy to listen to her talk without prejudice. Somewhere in a box, I have a copy of “The Handmaid’s Tale,” which someone posted on social media is “canonical.” First to admit my deficiencies, I looked up canonical and it means, “included in the list of sacred books officially accepted as genuine.” Genuine is good, and when I find my copy, I’ll give it a try.
What most engaged me was Atwood’s question and answer period. Between you, me and the Internet, I didn’t care much for some of the questions, especially if they revealed too much about the questioner. One teacher went on about a group of women students and their class. She had one of Atwood’s works on the syllabus, but it appeared she wasn’t very knowledgeable about it. An awkward moment that soon passed. While I’m complaining, in the row in front of me was a couple behaving like they were in Juliet’s boudoir, and one or both of them needed a shower to wash away an offensive body odor that reminded me of stints in the oil patch of West Texas. Get a room people and take a shower before coming out in public. My neighbor to the right made a comment about reading the Guardian on my handheld device while waiting for the event to start. Nonetheless, we live life’s diversity, and these things were not a real distraction, even if recalled here.
I perked up at the question about the e-book – paper book divide. Atwood said the market share of e-books had declined from 30 to 20 percent, and that e-readers were better suited for short works. That resonates. She also mentioned her “Three Reasons to Keep Paper Books,” which can be found here, and is worth a read.
Margaret Atwood was smart, witty and attentive to the audience. I was happy to immerse myself in the weird, smelly, nosy and boisterous literary scene in the city just to hear her speak.