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  • Tara Sonin 6:00 pm on 2019/08/14 Permalink
    Tags: americanah, brown girl in the ring, chandler baker, , christina dalcher, leni zumas, lisa taddeo, margaret atwood, meg ellison, nalo hopkinson, , paradise, , red clocks, rory power, the book of the unnamed midwife, , three women, , vox, whisper network, wilder girls   

    10 Books to Read After the Season Finale of The Handmaid’s Tale Season 3 


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    Once you’re recovered from the roller coaster of emotions that was the season three finale of The Handmaid’s Tale, the long wait until season 4 will start to set in. What will you do with your Wednesday nights without cheering on the fall of Gilead? Here are 10 books (plus a bonus) we recommend to get you through the post-season slump.

    Vox, by Christina Dalcher
    One of the creepiest parts of the new season was (mild spoiler alert!) the violent way Handmaids were silenced during the Waterford’s visit to D.C. Vox‘s entire premise is based on the silencing of women, literally: allotted only 100 words per day and violently punished if they exceed it, women in this version of America have been robbed of their voices, their careers, and their dignity. But when one former cognitive linguist (aka, a badass lady scientist of words) is recruited by the higher echelon of the government to work on a cure for a Very Important Person’s brain injury impacting their speech, she decides that this (and her added allotment of words per day) is her opportunity to seek justice. Not just for her, but for her young daughter, who has grown up being silent, and her teenage son, whom she watches becoming more indoctrinated into this toxic system each day. A gripping read with twists and turns I never saw coming!

    Red Clocks, by Leni Zumas
    Some of the most gorgeous and brutal writing I’ve ever read is in this book. Three POVs are followed throughout the story: a single teacher who is afraid that if she doesn’t get pregnant soon, she’ll miss her window to have a child—since in this patriarchy-defined version of America, adoption is only allowed for married couples; a teenage girl dealing with an unplanned pregnancy; and an outcast woman living beyond the confines of modern society who becomes the target of a smear campaign when rumors run wild that she performs abortions. As the ticking clock of when additional restrictions will be placed on women runs down, these stories intersect in powerful and unexpected ways, making the reader question what it means to be a woman, a mother, and a friend.

    Whisper Network, by Chandler Baker
    A novel with a ripped-from-the-headlines premise (and recent Reese Witherspoon bookclub pick!), Whisper Network is all over everyone’s TBR. Sloane, Ardie, Grace, and Rosalita are bound together by their work for Truviv, Inc. But they become even more united when the CEO dies and their boss, Ames, is set to ascend into the role. The problem? Ames is the subject of many, many whispers. When these women decide to bring those shadowy accusations into the light, none of their lives will ever be the same. Not a dystopia, but sometimes reality can be even eerier when we look at the relationships between men and women in corporate America, and the cost of speaking truth to power.

    Americanah, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
    Another book where dystopia isn’t needed to show the impact of real toxic systems on real people, Americanah follows Ifemelu and Obinze, a couple in love, as they flee tyrannical Nigeria and attempt a life together in the West. But soon they are separated by forces beyond their control. Many years pass, and when they return to Nigeria— now democratized— they are different people, scarred by the ramifications of their individual lives in post 9/11 America and living undocumented in London. With searing, soaring prose and unforgettable characters, the harsh realities of being African, Black, Male, and Female are explored with great depth and authenticity.

    Paradise, by Toni Morrison
    One of the consistent critiques of The Handmaid’s Tale show is its handling of people of color, especially women. The great Toni Morrison is a necessary author to read to understand that for many PoC, this country is already a dystopia. Set in an all-black town in Oklahoma originally founded by former slaves, Paradise deals with events of harrowing violence, racism, abuse, and more. Like The Handmaid’s Tale, though, it focuses on the communities created by women, for women, in times of crisis, and with Morrison’s unforgettable, almost magical prose, its impact is indelible.

    Three Women, by Lisa Taddeo 
    A new non-fiction book thoroughly researched by author Lisa Taddeo (seriously, she talks in her introduction about how she moved to the towns as the women she was interviewing in order to become part of their communities!) Three Women has taken bookshelves by storm. It follows, as the title suggests, three individual women as they wrestle with sexual desire, trauma, the impact of sexism and misogyny, and more. Each of them feels trapped, in one way or another— usually because of the choices of men. The stories are true, but read like fiction: a woman who, as a teenager, had a Twilight-inspired affair with a married teacher; a restaurant owner who ‘swings’ with a dangerous partner; a mother unsatisfied with the lack of intimacy and sex with her husband. If nonfiction is usually a non-starter for you, consider giving this one a try.

    The Power, by Naomi Alderman
    Have you ever heard a woman say she always knows where men are on any given street she’s walking on…like she has eyes in the back of her head? Well, this book imagines that men might be the ones who have something to fear when teenage girls can torture and kill if they want to. Follow four perspectives of people whose lives are irrevocably altered when this power emerges, and remember the metaphor that Handmaid’s Tale also drives home: that the power for evil is certainly within us, and if provoked, we can unleash it.

    Wilder Girls, by Rory Power
    Speaking of teenage girls with incredible power, while this YA dystopian “retelling” of sorts is inspired by Lord of the Flies, I like this book for Handmaid’s Tale fans, too. A mysterious illness called The Tox has taken out many people in Heddy’s life, to the point where she and her still-uninfected friends can’t venture beyond the walls of their school for risk of coming into contact with it. That is, until someone close to her goes missing. Then, Heddy will unleash the wildness within her and venture into the dangerous beyond, no matter the cost. If whip-smart writing and a bit of body horror is your thing, check out Wilder Girls.

    Brown Girl in the Ring, by Nalo Hopkinson
    Imagine this: unlike in The Handmaid’s Tale, where Canada is a haven…in this novel, Toronto has fallen. Ruled with a tyrannical fist by a ruthless crime lord and rendered uninhabitable by the rest of society, the city is mostly disconnected from the outside world. People like the Black main character, Ti-Jeanne, are left to fend for themselves. Described by reviewers as “horror fantasy”, this book puts a woman of color at the center of a dangerous dystopia, giving her the ability to fight against the elements—including the father of her child, who has taken up with the very same crime lord who has destroyed the home she loves.

    The Book of the Unnamed Midwife, by Meg Ellison
    Since the Handmaids who aren’t pregnant on the show seem to function as midwives for the ones who are, a book about a midwife seemed appropriate to add to this list. Of course, it’s also a dystopia: the midwife is rendered irrelevant after a fever causes childbirth to become harmful to both mother and infant. But she’s still in danger, forced to travel under false names and disguised like a man…all with the hope of someday contributing to the rebirth of human society.

    The Testaments, by Margaret Atwood
    I had to plug the highly anticipated sequel to the original The Handmaid’s Tale book, didn’t I? Not available until September, unfortunately, but if you breeze through this list, it will be here before you know it! The Testaments takes place 15 years after Offred’s final appearance in the book, and as Atwood says herself: everything you’ve ever wanted to know about Gilead is in it.

    What books are going to help tide you over until The Handmaid’s Tale returns?

    The post 10 Books to Read After the Season Finale of <i>The Handmaid’s Tale</i> Season 3 appeared first on Barnes & Noble Reads.

     
  • Tara Ariano 5:00 pm on 2019/07/17 Permalink
    Tags: cafe meetups, , hulu, margaret atwood, Ofmargaret, , , ,   

    What Hints Does Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale Give Us About Margaret Atwood’s The Testaments? 


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    Last month, Barnes & Noble stores across the country hosted the first in a series of Cafe Meetups where fans of Hulu’s  The Handmaid’s Tale met to discuss the show and the Margaret Atwood novel upon which it is based. Many of the discussions focused on the differences and similarities between the show and the book—which got us thinking about what that might mean for Margaret Atwood’s forthcoming sequel, The Testaments, which will be published on September 10 in a Barnes & Noble Exclusive Edition. (Our next Cafe Meetup is scheduled for July 25. Find a participating store near you.)

    Speculative fiction was a new genre for Margaret Atwood when she published The Handmaid’s Tale in 1985, but over the past three-and-a-half decades, the novel has become one of her most gripping and indelible. In recent years, it has also taken on new relevance, thanks both to the politics of our era and a television adaptation that has brought it to the forefront of pop culture.

    Though the novel was earlier adapted as a film in 1990 (with a screenplay by Harold Pinter and a cast including Faye Dunaway, Robert Duvall, and the late Natasha Richardson), a standard movie runtime wasn’t sufficient to dramatize all the events and ideas it contains. In 2017, the TV series adaptation arrived on Hulu, with multiple Emmy-nominee Elisabeth Moss as its protagonist. Critical acclaim soon followed. But since, in our day, the content engines must be constantly stoked with new material lest the networks and platforms and streaming services stall out on the tracks, just covering the events of The Handmaid’s Tale wouldn’t do; the book didn’t supply enough events and ideas to fill multiple seasons of the show.

    For the first season, the plot of the series follows the novel’s with a great deal of fidelity: the U.S. government has been toppled in a theocratic coup, and while war continues between the Americans and Gilead, it’s happening far away from June (Moss). A fertile woman in a time when those are in short supply, she has been forced into the Gilead caste of Handmaid. She lives in the home of a Commander named Fred Waterford (Joseph Fiennes) and his wife Serena (Yvonne Strahovski); once a month, she submits to The Ceremony, as procreative rape is euphemistically known. Since female literacy has been outlawed, she has little to do with the rest of her time but shop for food, take short walks around her neighborhood (both in the company of her walking partner, a fellow Handmaid), and worry about her loved ones, whose fates she doesn’t know: her daughter Hannah (Jordana Blake) and her husband Luke (O-T Fagbenle).

    After a time, Commander Waterford invites her for clandestine hangouts in his study, where they scandalously play Scrabble and leaf through antique fashion magazines. Once Waterford is fairly sure June won’t snitch, he brings her with him to Jezebel’s, a brothel, where she has a chance reunion with her college friend Moira (Samira Wiley), who washed out as a Handmaid and ended up as a sex worker, a life she finds far more palatable.

    Back home, Serena is pretty sure June isn’t getting pregnant—because the Commander is sterile—and arranges for June to copulate with the household’s driver, Nick (Max Minghella); the two end up enjoying each other’s company (to say they fall in love would be kind of a reach), and June does get pregnant. She is shocked to find out that her pious walking partner, Ofglen (Alexis Bledel), is involved with a resistance movement known as Mayday, which recruits her to run ops.

    One thing leads to another, and both the book and the show’s first season end with Nick—not only a driver, but also an Eye (an officer of Gilead’s secret intelligence service)—telling June to trust him while two other Eyes remove her from the Waterfords’ house. For a novel, it’s an ambiguous ending; for a TV series, it’s a cliffhanger.

    June/Offred (her Handmaid name, based on that of her head of household) is the book’s narrator, so while she can report to the reader some of the stories she hears from other characters, the novel formally echoes the claustrophobic restrictions of her new life. Where the first season of the TV series diverges from the book is largely through showing us perspectives of other characters that June doesn’t know about.

    Emily/Ofglen, for instance, was married to a woman; the rise of Gilead meant their marriage was invalidated, but her Canadian wife was permitted to flee with their son. In the meantime, Emily started a relationship with a Martha (a domestic worker in her Commander’s household). When they were discovered, her partner was executed on the spot, and Emily was forced to watch. Emily’s fertility makes her, in the official Gilead estimation, more valuable, so her punishment is a cliterodectomy.

    Serena was a conservative pundit whose theories provided some of the basis for the founding fathers of Gilead. She was passionately in love with her husband and now must live each day knowing she helped define the laws currently oppressing all Gilead women, herself included, and wonder if it was worth it to assist a husband who now has no interest in sex with her if it’s non-procreative.

    Nick was a disaffected young man who saw blue-collar jobs leaving his community and was too angry to get hired for one of the few that remained, making him a prime target for recruitment by a radical anti-government militia that actually ended up achieving its treasonous mission. And Luke and Moira? They both make it out, crossing the border into Canada to start their lives over as refugees. They eventually find each other, and start working together to try to get June out.

    The second and third seasons have continued what the first started, building out the world of Gilead, proceeding from the glimpses afforded the Junes of both the novel and the series.

    There are the Colonies—territories ravaged by environmental and nuclear disasters, where “Unwomen” (those who can’t or or aren’t permitted to occupy any of the few castes available to them) work without protection to clean up the sites, subsisting on contaminated water and food until radiation sickness kills them.

    There’s an episode set in an Econo-household (disappointingly, we see the show’s Econowives’ uniforms are just gray, like the Marthas’, and not striped as in the book) in which June does end up being spirited away from the Waterfords’ household and goes on the run.

    In a particularly shocking episode, June and the Waterfords travel to D.C., where the Washington Monument has been turned into an enormous crucifix, the Lincoln Memorial has been destroyed, and, under tight collars that cover their mouths and necks, Handmaids’ lips are closed with metal rings.

    We also learn more about the world around Gilead: the other sovereign nations whose diplomats are now working out whether and how to recognize a government brutally abrogating the civil rights of half its residents; and see what life is like in Canada for the former Americans who’ve escaped but are still processing their traumas.

    Some scenes created for the show echo current events of our day: June holes up in the former offices of the Boston Globe, where evidence remains of staffers’ brutal executions; the episode aired just two months before the shooting at Annapolis’s Capital Gazette last year. In another episode, Emily and her wife Sylvia (Clea DuVall), try to escape and are detained at the airport by a power-tripping ICE agent who tells them their legal immigration protections have disappeared, as occurred when President Trump’s “Muslim ban” executive order was first signed in 2017.

    Though June’s story in the novel ends with her being marched out of the Waterfords’ house, there does follow a section of “Historical Notes,” transcribed from an academic symposium on Gileadean Studies held in 2195, that hint at the future that awaits her. A Prof. James Darcy Pieixoto, an archivist at Cambridge, speaks about reassembling a text—which he and a colleague have dubbed “The Handmaid’s Tale”—from voice recordings made on ’80s-era audio cassettes; he speaks about the details Offred may have changed or elided for safety’s sake, and what she couldn’t know about Gilead due to her limited vantage point.

    This 13-page epilogue condenses a huge amount of data the show has mined for plot and worldbuilding: this season, we’ve seen June record her voice to send to Luke, perhaps creating the account the archivists will pore over in more than a hundred years’ time (the idea that this story is being told via whatever audio storage media is available would explain some of the more egregious needle drops this season. “Que Sera Sera”?).

    In the book, Prof. Pieixoto refers to Gilead’s “racist policies”; the show has been criticized for ignoring race, and given our current political moment, it’s impossible to imagine that the theocratic movement that created Gilead wouldn’t also be white supremacist—though we did get a moment in a recent episode in which Lydia (Ann Dowd) and two fellow Aunts are considering Handmaid assignments and indicate that one won’t be acceptable to a couple who’ve refused to take a “Handmaid of color.”

    Prof. Pieixoto singles the Aunts out for special note, calling them a “crack female control agency” and citing an architect of Gilead who believed “that the best and most cost-effective way to control women for reproductive and other purposes was through women themselves”—a notion that just played out on the show in an episode flashing back to Lydia’s origin story as a kindly elementary school teacher who, after a romantic rejection, turned her rage against a student’s single mother by exploiting newly restrictive laws to get the child sent to foster care for spurious reasons.

    The Handmaid’s Tale is about to end its third season, with the finale dropping on Hulu July 24. The imminent publication of Atwood’s sequel, The Testaments, will bring a whole new vein of material to be mined in potential future seasons. As a critic of the show, I have sometimes been frustrated by moments when characters seemed to be making decisions for the sake of the plot; the idea that June would, in the Season 2 finale, be on the verge of escaping Gilead with her baby and decide to give up her chance on the groundless hope that she might also someday free Hannah from her new family is preposterous. But even in moments like these, characters’ essential natures have remained true to their portrayal in Atwood’s novel. That, paired with the fact that Atwood has been a consulting producer throughout the run of the show thus far, would lead one to believe that, while The Testaments will vault us 15 years past the end of June’s story in The Handmaid’s Tale, she and her fellow Gileadean narrators will still be recognizable to those of us who’ve been watching her on Hulu for the past three seasons. It also seems likely that we shouldn’t be too optimistic about where Atwood will leave June this time.

    Do you have opinions to share about the similarities and differences between Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale and Margaret Atwood’s novel? Do you want to speculate about what readers might discover in The Testaments? On July 25, many Barnes & Noble stores are hosting Handmaid’s Tale Cafe Meetups where fans can come together to discuss the show, book, and more. Find a participating store near you.

    The post What Hints Does Hulu’s <i>The Handmaid’s Tale</i> Give Us About Margaret Atwood’s <i>The Testaments</i>? appeared first on Barnes & Noble Reads.

     
  • Jeff Somers 7:00 pm on 2019/01/28 Permalink
    Tags: cat's eye, , , , margaret atwood, oryx and crake, , , the testament   

    A Definitive Ranking of the Novels of Margaret Atwood 


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    With the continuing success of Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale adaptation and the unexpected announcement of a sequel novel (The Testaments, coming in September 2019), interest in Margaret Atwood’s work is at a fever pitch. And while that dystopian tale will undoubtedly be the book that defines Margaret Atwood’s life, she has written many more works of note—all of them worth exploring. If you’re a new reader looking to jump into her extensive backlist, here is how we’d rank them, from the merely very good to the absolutely essential.

    Bodily Harm (1981)
    Atwood beautifully writes this story of a journalist who travels on assignment to a Caribbean island on the brink of revolution. With lush and elegant prose, it’s a pleasure to read. So why do we place it at the bottom of Atwood’s oeuvre? Rennie, the protagonist, isn’t so much a character with agency as a vessel into which Atwood pours cruelty, making for an occasionally frustrating reading experience. This is likely purposeful, given the prevalent themes of power and emotional addiction, but if the novel is a successful experiment, Rennie’s apparent powerlessness to avoid her own worst possible fates mutes the impact.

    Life Before Man (1979)
    Once again, Atwood delivers a book that is gorgeous and affecting in its language, but peopled with characters who seem to do things only because the author’s purpose requires it. Elizabeth is the director of a museum in Toronto, her husband Nate makes useless wooden toys; they’re living by outdated and outmoded concepts of relationships and emotion, and the stress starts to show when Nate commences a new affair with Lesje, Elizabeth’s colleague. Elizabeth retaliates by seducing Lesje’s own significant other. The story of their corrosive, destructive affairs is claustrophobic, dry to the point of desiccation, and, like Bodily Harm, probably exactly what Atwood wished to achieve. It’s also depressing as heck.

    Surfacing (1972)
    Atwood’s second novel never names its narrator, a fact that underscores her bleak, featureless depression. The prose is as sharp as ever, and the other characters we encounter as the narrator searches for her missing father—the arrogant and self-impressed David; his wife Anna, who bends over backwards to support his delusions despite her unhappiness; Joe, the silent, insecure potter—form a fascinating, dysfunctional group. The mystery of what’s happened to the narrator’s father is also interesting, for all its inevitable tragedy. The blankness of the narrator makes her a bit of a closed book, even as she descends into madness and desperation while searching for her father.

    The Edible Woman (1969)
    Atwood’s debut earns points for an intriguing and affecting premise. It’s the story of Marian, who is so immersed in an orderly, consumerist life as a market researcher. Marian is involved with dull-as-paint Peter, and, scandalized by the sexual and emotional behavior of her friends, begins to disassociate, viewing her physical body as a separate entity from herself. She then begins to imbue the food she encounters with human qualities, and finds herself unable to eat—until a final act of symbolic self-cannibalism. It’s all a bit messy and overcooked, but Atwood’s deft work portraying a personality in the act of dissolving is first-rate.

    Lady Oracle (1976)
    Atwood’s third novel finally sees her having a bit of fun, while retaining the incisive prose that has always defined her work. She explores themes similar to those of her first two novels, but sans the heaviness or the seriousness. Joan Foster had a miserable childhood that continues to afflict her adulthood, until she finds her calling as a writer, and uses trendy automatic writing techniques to craft a cultish bestseller. There’s a lot here: body shaming, blackmail, a sexless marriage, and an identity crises that culminates in the main character faking their death. We’re still in the early days of her impressive career, but there’s a lot to love in this book, as Atwood finally cuts loose a little.

    The Robber Bride (1993)
    This is a divisive book among Atwood acolytes. On the one hand, it’s a deft examination of female friendships and gender relationships, and it features the absolutely brilliant character Zenia, who is either a sociopathic man-eater and world-class frenemy, or a self-actualized heroine, or something else entirely. But the brilliance of the novel is also its weakest point for some: while Zenia is a breathtaking inversion of the unreliable narrator (this is a woman who fakes her own death, then shows up years later without a care and straight-facedly offers several ridiculous explanations about where she’s been), she’s also slippery and inscrutable as a result. In other words, you either buy into this one wholesale, or you bounce right off of it. (Incidentally, we bought in.)

    Hag-Seed (2016)
    The Hogarth Shakespeare series is a fascinating experiment in bringing the Bard’s work into a new era. Atwood’s retelling of The Tempest leans so hard into the meta there’s no room for anything else. Felix Phillips—her Prospero—is the Artistic Director of the Makeshiweg Theatre Festival, until he is pushed out by a scheming, extremely clever underling. Philips lands in a job at the local correctional facility, where he concocts a byzantine revenge plot while literally putting on a production of The Tempest. It’s the sort of literary gesture only someone of Atwood’s stature could pull off. The artificiality of it all gives the affair the flavor of an intellectual experiment, but the clever bits make it well worth reading anyway.

    Cat’s Eye (1988)
    We move into the Atwood top 10 with this diamond-sharp exploration of childhood friendship, bullying, and feminism—a dark sort of proto-Mean Girls. Successful artist Elaine returns home for a retrospective of her paintings, and sinks into a reverie of her childhood and adolescence, a time when she was mercilessly bullied by a trio of girls she’d thought were her friends. As young Elaine descends into and then claws her way out of victimhood, she gains the upper hand over her chief tormentor and enjoys being just as mean, while in adulthood, she begins to see things a bit more clearly than she might like. It’s a story just about everyone can relate to in some way, balancing thematic resonance with narrative drive.

    The Heart Goes Last (2015)
    This is a quietly over-the-top novel, and as a result, it isn’t universally loved. In a dystopian future where society has lost control of law and order, a young couple grows tired of scraping by on tips and low-wage jobs, living in their car, and under threat by the gangs of criminals that rule the streets. They see an advertisement for a community where they would be guaranteed a job and a home, in exchange for spending every other month in prison while someone else occupies their house. All goes well until they begin to obsess over the “alternates” who live in the house when they’re behind bars. This is a caustic look at modern life through a dark funhouse mirror, very funny, and very smart.

    MaddAddam (2013)
    Ranking books in a series is a bit odd, especially in this case, where we’re approaching the tale out of order, so you may want to skip ahead if you aren’t caught up on Atwood’s dystopian sci-fi trilogy that begins with Oryx and Crake and continues in The Year of the Flood. MaddAddam ties those books’ parallel storylines together, as Ren, Toby, and Jimmy unite with other survivors and launch a project to rebuild civilization with the help of the Crakers, while being menaced by a criminal gang of Painball veterans. While it’s a great story that concludes the series in strong fashion, this trilogy-ender understandably lacks a bit of the surprise of the first two.

    Oryx and Crake (2003)
    See above (and four entries below). The dystopian vision Atwood crafts here is arguably darker and more horrifying than the one in The Handmaid’s Tale; the state of pre-apocalypse society is grim, dominated by violent and pornographic entertainment, where gated compounds protect the elite from the outside world. It’s a society ruled by immensely powerful biotech corporations that values technical capability above all else and casually create life in order to experiment on it. That the end of the world is triggered through pharmaceuticals isn’t an accident, and neither is the surprisingly emotional and elegiac tone of the post-apocalypse sections tat follow a man named Snowball—formerly Jimmy—who watches over the genetically engineered, near-human Crakers as he seeks to fulfill a promise to the man who destroyed the world.

    The Penelopiad (2005)
    Atwood’s other literary reimagining is more successful than Hag-Seed. Giving Odysseus’ wife Penelope—and her 12 maids—a voice in their ultimately tragic fate is a genius move, and the book fits perfectly within Atwood’s thematic body of work. It’s narrated by Penelope, speaking from Hades in the modern day. She tells her side of the story of her relationship with Odysseus, and her chapters alternate with chapters from the maids’ points of view; the maids haunt Odysseus and Penelope in Hades, and why wouldn’t they—they’re the ones who executed by Odysseus for doing exactly as they were told, and attempted to help Penelope avoid being forced into marriage after her husband was presumed dead. Lively, sharp, and still blisteringly current, this  twist on an ancient story redefines it utterly.

    Alias Grace (1996)
    In this historical mystery (based on a true story of a 19th century woman accused of murdering her employer and his housekeeper and mistress), Atwood plays with reader expectations and point-of-view so masterfully. the book can be enjoyed on many levels: as mystery, as romance, as history viewed through a feminist lens. In the end, Atwood plays that trick of giving you all the information but denying you a concrete conclusion—you simply don’t know, by the end, what truths lie at the heart of Grace, nor what really happened to her, nor what she did. But it doesn’t matter, because the what and when was never the point. This is a story about the shifting of identity—those thrust upon us, those we choose for ourselves—depending on who ‛s telling the tale, and who’s listening.

    The Blind Assassin (2000)
    This Booker Prize-winner is Atwood’s most structurally complex work. It’s a book about a book, which in turn contains a third book. That’s an oversimplification, of course; it’s one of those slow-building tales that allows you to think you know what’s going on until it becomes obvious you don’t, as the reveals begin landing and you realize you’ve been woefully, terribly wrong about everything. As it begins, it is 1945, and a woman named Laura is dead, possibly by her own hand.Decades later, her sister Iris recalls the childhood they shared, and of the dark events that have befallen their family. Woven into this history is the text of a lurid sci-fi novel (ostensibly penned by Laura) about a killer on a far-distant planet. At the heart of these nesting narratives is the relationship between Laura and Iris, and how it is shaped by both the men who abuse and ruin them, and the lies they tell in order to keep their heads above water. The end result is one of Atwood’s most challenging, spectacular successes.

    The Year of the Flood (2009)
    Oryx and Crake ends on an organic note that feels final, which made the appearance of a sequel seem surprising—at first. But then, so much of Atwood’s most explicitly speculative universe was left unexplored at the end of one book that the second feels, in retrospect, inevitable. Atwood’s return trip into the apocalypse focuses on the poor of the rapidly-declining future, exploring religion, friendship, and catastrophe with a sure-handedness and comfort the belies the fact that this world was already familiar to Atwood when she started. The Year of the Flood crystallizes the themes she shaped in the first book, taking the kinds of chances only possible in a sequel. As a result, it also packs more of an emotional punch than the concluding volume, and shoots to near the very top of her impressive bibliography.

    The Handmaid’s Tale (1985)
    Deservedly, Atwood’s greatest work is also her most famous. Its feminist themes and exploration of a truly misogynistic society are horrifyingly relevant some three decades after it was first published. The secret is that Atwood doesn’t paint a simplistic picture of a society in which women have been reclassified as more or less breeding property; she explores how both sexes support and contribute to a horrifying vision of oppression. Yes, it is clearly the men who have reshaped the world in order to strip women of all political, economic, and legal power, but the women of the Republic of Gilead are often willing, cruel participants in the subjugation of the Handmaids who are forced to bear their children. In crafting this bleak future, Atwood doesn’t forget the fundamentals, either; it’s a story peopled with characters you care about, and stakes that devastate.

    Our hopes for The Testaments are high. Where do you think it’ll land on this ranking?

    The post A Definitive Ranking of the Novels of Margaret Atwood appeared first on Barnes & Noble Reads.

     
  • Jeff Somers 4:00 pm on 2018/07/30 Permalink
    Tags: , always on, , , margaret atwood   

    6 Books in Which the Internet Helps Destroy the World 


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    It’s remarkable how quickly the internet has moved from new innovation to simply become the way we live now. It’s possible no other technology has so deeply permeated every aspect of our lives, even television. And even still, many people are actively seeking more internet access—higher bandwidth, more data, more connected devices.

    But not everyone is sold. Even before the privacy scandals and election tampering, a few writers looked at the internet and saw the potential for worldwide chaos. In these six books, being constantly plugged in isn’t just bad for you, it’s the end of the world.

    Adjustment Day, by Chuck Palahniuk
    Palahniuk’snew novel harkens back to Fight Club, again profiling disaffected youths, a violent underground movement, and an absurd world that’s less absurd the more you think about it. The United States is moving towards war, re-instituting the draft as part of a plan to kill off Millennials before they rise up in anger. As an actor begins appearing on television and radio promising a new world order is coming, an underground movement distributes a book and whispers about a coming Adjustment Day, as an online site called The List begins compiling a database of people who threaten society. When Adjustment Day arrives, the people on The List are brutally murdered, and the world is remade in blood and chaos. The violent are elevated, everyone else is enslaved—and it all started on the internet.

    The Circle, by Dave Eggers
    When first published, Eggers’ divisive novel read almost like it was written by an alien observing internet culture from a distant star, but his story of a privacy armageddon has only grown more chilling as we find out what the real-world tech titans have long known about us—and what they’re doing with that data. The Circle sweeps the world with concepts like TruYou that make any sort of false identity impossible, pushes people to give their every moment over to pervasive cameras—to go “transparent” in the name of openness. Secrets are a thing of the past, but so is privacy. While the world doesn’t exactly end in The Circle, society is damaged and made worse, contemplating the chilling idea that someday even our private thoughts might be made public knowledge.

    American Gods, by Neil Gaiman
    Gaiman’s novel imagines that gods are brought into existence and given power through belief. Thus old gods like Odin are failing, while new and sometimes bizarre ones are rising up thanks to modern innovations. That the god of the internet—known as Technical Boy—is one of the main villains is significant, even though the gods, whether old or new, aren’t presented as good or bad in any rational sense. Technical Boy, growing more powerful as the old gods fade away, wants to not just defeat his rival deities, but to delete them from reality altogether. The idea of the internet (with an assist from the internet’s older mirror, Media) erasing all that came before is effective precisely because we’re already living in a Fake News world.

    Oryx and Crake, by Margaret Atwood
    The role of the internet in the end of the world isn’t made explicit in Atwood’s novel, but it’s clear that the violent entertainment consumed online by Crake and Jimmy is linked to the state of society pre-apocalypse, one ruled by immensely powerful biotech corporations. This future values technical capability above all else, and casually creates life in order to experiment on it, ultimately inspiring Crake to destroy the world entirely. His motivations are up for debate, but the role the internet plays in it is clear, and damning.

    Analog, by Gerry Duggan and David O’Sullivan
    This graphic novel kicks off with “The Great Doxxing,” as secrets hidden across the internet, are exposed. While those with truly horrifying things to hide find their lives destroyed and their connection to society severed, many people find having all their shameful secrets exposed grants them a sort of freedom. After all, once everyone knows what you do in the shadows, why not start doing it wherever you like? Whether this counts as destruction of society or an upgrade depends on your personal point of view, but consider a world where people no longer feel the need to hide things.

    Daemon, by Daniel Suarez
    Matthew A. Sobol, brilliant computer programmer and businessman, is dying of a brain tumor and worried about the future viability of the human race. His solution is to create a daemon—a computer program designed to run noiselessly in the background (the device you’re reading this on has a bunch of daemons running on it right now)—that will work to create a New World Order, by any means necessary. Using the internet, the Daemon soon takes over companies and directs their resources towards creating deadly robots, enlisting human agents, and creating a secret other internet for hidden communication. While the Daemon itself isn’t exactly the Internet, without a globally-linked system like it, Suarez’s world might not actually implode. Let’s hope ours avoids a similar fate.

    What’s the scariest internet novel you’ve ever read?

    The post 6 Books in Which the Internet Helps Destroy the World appeared first on Barnes & Noble Reads.

     
  • Tara Sonin 4:00 pm on 2018/04/13 Permalink
    Tags: , a wounded name, , , , , , darling beast, daughter of time, dot hutchinson, e.k. johnson, , , fool, , howard jacobson, i iago, , if we were villains, , , josephine tey, jude morgan, juliet immortal, katharine davies, m.l. rio, margaret atwood, , miranda and caliban, new boy, nicole galland, one perfect rose, rebecca reisert, , , , ros barber, saving juliet, shylock is my name, , , tessa gratton, the madness of love, the marlowe papers, the princes in the tower, the queens of innis lear, the secret life of william shakespeare, the third witch, , vinegar girl, when you were mine, william shakespeare's star wars   

    25 Romances for Shakespeare Fans 


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    Between fairytales, Jane Austen, and revivals of favorite TV shows from yesteryear, retellings of classic stories for today’s readers are all the rage. Shakespeare is no exception! Here are twenty-five books you’ll love if you’re a fan of the Bard.

    Miranda and Caliban, by Jacqueline Carey
    Jacqueline Carey has the unique ability to blend beautiful prose, lush world building, and lots of fascinating character development. This retelling of The Tempest stars Miranda and Caliban: the daughter of the play’s main character Prospero, who has taken them to an island for mysterious reasons…and the slave described as a monster by his master. Carey reimagines them as star-crossed lovers caught in a web of powerful people they can’t escape.

    As I Descended, by Robin Talley
    A gender-flipped, YA version of Macbeth? Sign me up! Meet Maria and Lily; inseparable, in love, and desperate to carve out a future for themselves when they feel it is in jeopardy. Maria wants to win the Cawdor Kingsley prize, but to do so, they have to get Delilah, the star student, out of the way. When Lily comes up with a plan to do so, things get bloody.

    I, Iago, by Nicole Galland
    Why did Iago insert himself into Othello’s life, causing devastation to everyone he loved? To learn the truth, you have to go back. In this clever retelling, Iago’s past is explored—as is his role in the society he exists within, as a co-conspirator in the act of convincing a man to murder the woman he loves.

    A Thousand Acres, by Jane Smiley
    Larry Cook is retiring, and his land should go to his daughters—but his youngest, Caroline, refuses to accept his offer. King Lear is a story about pride, family, and revenge, and this retelling brings that to life. Buried family secrets are brought to the surface, and in the end, none of its members will be the same.

    The Third Witch, by Rebecca Reisert
    Macbeth begins with three witches, and this novel delves into the story of one of them. Gilly decides to do whatever necessary to ruin Macbeth’s life, including dressing like a boy, sneaking into the castle, and inserting herself into his business. But by putting Macbeth and his wife in her sights, has she unwittingly risked herself?

    Vinegar Girl, by Anne Tyler
    A comedy, for a change of pace! The Taming of The Shrew gets the contemporary treatment when Kate, generally dissatisfied with her life, gets thrown another curveball: her father wants her to marry his assistant, Pytor, without whom his scientific research would be lost, to keep him from being deported. Hilarity ensues.

    Hag-Seed, by Margaret Atwood
    We return to The Tempest with a retelling from the author of The Handmaid’s Tale. A meta-twist on the retelling stars an artistic director of a theater putting on a production of the namesake Shakespeare play itself…but when he is betrayed, Felix winds up alone, missing his lost daughter, wishing for the day vengeance can be his. When an opportunity to teach a theater course in a prison arises, Felix sees his chance to put on his play, and put out the people whom he thought he could trust.

    If We Were Villains, by M.L. Rio
    Sometimes we forget, but Shakespeare’s plays were put on by actors…and this interesting novel combines a narrative fit for the Bard himself with the theatrical backdrop. Oliver Marks has been in jail, but no one knows the real truth of why. He was once an actor surrounded by other talented performers, but something took a turn for the dangerous in their final year at the conservatory. What is the truth? Who is the villain? Only Oliver knows, and you must decide if you believe him.

    Fool, by Christopher Moore
    The court jester always stands on the sidelines, seeing all. In this novel, Lear’s jester is named Pocket, and the story unfolds from his point of view. While their family falls apart, the fool finds a way to make you laugh despite the tragedy that inevitably approaches.

    A Wounded Name, by Dot Hutchinson
    Hamlet is about the titular character, but in this retelling, Ophelia gets the star treatment. At Elsinore Academy, Ophelia sees ghosts that even medicine cannot banish. She finds comfort in the late headmaster’s son, Dane, but together, their connection proves tragic.

    The Queens of Innis Lear, by Tessa Gratton
    This book isn’t even out yet, but I’m so excited about it I had to include it! A magical fantasy inspired by King Lear? Yes, please! Three queens battle for the rights to the throne: one, who sees revenge for her mother’s death, another determined to get an heir to secure her position, and a third who sides with her father, determined to protect him from their war.

    The Princes in the Tower, by Alison Weir
    If you’re a fan of Shakespeare’s Richard III, you will love this historical fiction novel that envisions what occurred when Richard infamously made two young princes disappear since they were a threat to his crown.

    The Marlowe Papers, by Ros Barber
    If you love Shakespeare, you should know his greatest frenemy: Christopher Marlowe. Some call him a competitor, others a collaborator…and in this novel, Marlowe reveals the truth about his death…or rather, the death he faked so he could escape being a convicted heretic. And of course, the greatest forgery of them all: that he continued to write plays in Shakespeare’s name. A rich, imaginative novel about a time mired in mystery.

    The Secret Life of William Shakespeare, by Jude Morgan
    For all of his works and his enduring legacy, William Shakespeare is still something of an enigma. This novel unravels the mystery behind his childhood, his marriage, the death of his son, and much more.

    Shylock is My Name, by Howard Jacobson
    The Merchant of Venice is one of Shakespeare’s slightly more obscure plays (but one of my personal favorites.) About family, betrayal, faith and revenge, this story is re-interpreted for the present day where Simon Strulovitch takes the place of Shylock. His daughter Beatrice has fallen for an athlete with anti-semitic views despite the fact that she is Jewish, and eventually, Strulovich is driven to seek revenge.

    Darling Beast, by Elizabeth Hoyt
    This romance takes place in the theater, so of course Shakespeare would approve! An actress has fallen on difficult times while trying to take care of her young son. When she meets another inhabitant of the theater, a Viscount with a violent past, they both turn to one another to bring themselves out of the darkness of the wings and into the bright light of center stage.

    One Perfect Rose, by Mary Jo Putney
    Stephen has just been diagnosed with a devastating illness. Wanting to waste no time, he decides to leave the responsibilities of his life behind and travel, meeting a theater family and falling for their daughter, Rosalind. But even as they grow to love one another, Stephen knows that his curtain call is approaching…

    Exit, Pursued by a Bear, by E.K. Johnston
    This YA retelling of The Winter’s Tale involves the aftermath of one girl’s rape while at cheerleading camp. Hermione feels that she’s doomed to fulfill the legacy of every senior class in her school: a girl ends up pregnant before graduation. But instead, with her family, friends, and the community rallying around her, she defies expectations and makes the best choices for her future.

    Saving Juliet, by Suzanne Selfors
    Traveling back to Shakespeare’s time thanks to an accident of magic, Mimi and her acting partner on Broadway, Troy Summer, find themselves in the time of the Montagues and Capulets. There, she meets the real Juliet, and finds herself tempted to intervene and save the star-crossed lovers before tragedy strikes.

    New Boy, by Tracy Chevalier
    Othello takes a trip to the 1970’s in this gripping retelling. Osei is a diplomat’s son, used to traveling and never fitting in. But here, he fits with Dee, a popular girl in school…to Ian’s dismay. Many things remain the same, such as the investigation of racism, pride, and revenge. The twist? All of the characters are eleven years old, and what happens during school will change their lives forever.

    Wiliam Shakespeare’s Star Wars, by Ian Doescher
    See the story of Star Wars through a Shakespearean lens, with the Jedis, Sith Lords, and captive princesses all told through a re-imagining of Shakespeare’s play format as though it were being performed for Queen Elizabeth herself.

    Juliet Immortal, by Stacey Jay
    Here’s the truth: Juliet didn’t kill herself. Romeo murdered her to get something for himself: immortality. But in this re-imagining of the classic tragedy, Juliet may get the last word. Granted eternal life, she spends her centuries fighting back against Romeo—and that fight will become even more dangerous when she meets someone else she loves.

    Daughter of Time, by Josephine Tey
    Was Richard III as evil and cunning as history remembers him? Or was he misunderstood, forced into a difficult position by the circumstances of the time? This novel stars a Scotland Yard detective determined to find out the truth behind one of history’s most enigmatic and infamous figures.

    The Madness of Love, by Katharine Davies
    Twelfth Night is part comedy, part drama, and so is this novel about a girl named Valentina who misses her twin brother after he’s abandoned her to go traveling. She decides to disguise herself as a boy and travel after him, even if it means having to help a man she may have feelings for in his plan to find happiness with the girl he’s loved since he was young. Unrequited love, mistaken identity, and more collide.

    When You Were Mine, by Rebecca Serle
    Ah! Another character gets their turn in the spotlight. Serle’s When You Were Mine is a modern take on Romeo & Juliet, but focuses on the character of Rosaline. Remember her? She’s the girl Romeo was smitten with before meeting Juliet. In Serle’s reimagining, Juliet and Rosaline (or Rose), are former BFFs, and Rob (Romeo) and Rose have finally, finally shared a kiss. But when Juliet moves back into town, she steals Rob away from Rose, who is absolutely crushed. You get to watch literature’s most famous love story through the eyes of Rosaline, the broken-hearted, jilted former flame…and then the downward spiral Juliet sets herself on.

    What are your favorite Shakespearean retellings?

    The post 25 Romances for Shakespeare Fans appeared first on Barnes & Noble Reads.

     
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