Friday, 29 May 2015

Iris, Alice, Margaret and Maya

If I lost everything in a fire, it is my books I would be most keen to replace. I have made myself a library in which to live, full of reference books, non-fiction, novels, short stories, poems and even some plays.  I try not to be attached to material things, but my books are my anchor in this world.

Choosing favourite writers is a bit like choosing my favourite flower.  I definitely prefer some, love some, but the moment I start a list it just keeps growing.

Iris Murdoch:

I love Iris because she was herself, a bit of a mess actually, a philosopher, a bit of an odd duck.  Scholars debate whether or not she is a good writer or a bad one, but they can't not pay attention to her one way or the other. She is known for her confidence but private letters reveal that she had great doubts about her abilities and that makes her so relatable.  Her books are not easy to read and somehow manage to combine a boring, yet dramatic plot with characters to whom you don't really attach but want to learn their fate.  

I love Iris for her exploration of human psychology, of philosophy, ethics, human relationships and the complex not all good, not all bad nature of most people.  She might be one of the few writers who gets away with a lot of telling instead of showing.  Break those rules, Iris!

Alice Munro:

Another writer not everyone can embrace, Munro writes short stories which she describes as a slice of life or about the pain of human contact.  She focuses on people, relationships and ordinary lives, often small towns, often revisiting the same characters or themes.  Sometimes the story, or our view of the people and events, simply ceases to continue rather than any sort of dramatic ending.  Just like real life.  There is no academic debate as to whether she is any good, but she is not everyone's taste.

I love Alice for her great success with the short story in a culture that prefers novels.  I love the glimpses into lives and the very ordinary people coping with what comes their way.  Her style is deceptively simple, which I greatly admire and rather hope I also can achieve.

Margaret Atwood:

This woman is possibly  my idol.  A brilliant writer, speaker, feminist, environmentalist, essayist, and poet among other things, I just find myself wanting to either be her or marry her.  She makes it all look so easy yet never undermining her obvious intelligence in the process.  It must be added that anyone who writes a poem that includes the lines "Cat, enough of your greedy whining and your small pink bumhole. Off my face!"  has my attention.

I love Margaret for her intelligence and her talent, her versatility and clever, novel plots and her wit.  I love that she wrote a Home Economics Opera while in high school, that she considered being an artist or a scientist instead of a writer, and pretty much everything she says is riveting. I believe her to be one of the few writers I admire as a person just as much as I admire her work.

Just a few of my favourite quotes:

''I feel that the task of criticizing my poetry is best left to others (i.e. critics) and would much rather have it take place after I am dead. If at all.''

''Everyone thinks writers must know more about the inside of the human head, but that is wrong. They know less, that's why they write. Trying to find out what everyone else takes for granted.'' 

''If a stranger taps you on the ass and says, "How's the little lady today!" you will probably cringe. But if he's an American, he's only being friendly.''

Margaret Atwood Poems and quotes

Maya Angelou:
How is it that I relate to the words of an African American woman twice my age? At first I might be tempted to say it is because we are both women but I think more is due to  her talent for beautiful, precise language which makes such a clear mental picture for the reader.  When you read a poem by Maya Angelou you are her.  With clear, simple yet powerful language she makes her point and tells her stories.


I am a reader who reads for the writing style as much as for the content.  I look for poetry and philosophy in what I read.  A cracking good story can be a pleasure but if I am touched, moved by the writing and the depth of the content the book is a treasure forever.  Sometimes cake is nice but I want the nourishment of a good, hearty stew most of the time.


  1. Margaret Atwood is my favorite writer. Her work lured me into fiction and taught me how deep it can be.

    1. She is amazing and versatile and brilliant and I will probably just gush if I keep going. xo

  2. You really READ, whereas I read. I love reading. You love READING. I can see how you love stew. I do too but I also consume junk food, sometimes linger on the appies, and love a buffet of dessert, which can also include stew.

    1. I am a lit nerd, Melanie. Though if we are talking about actual food, bring on the junk the appies and the desert! xo

  3. When I read i do it to escape into another world for a while and I don't want to have to think too hard about it. I don't really enjoy books where I have to think hard, I like to gobble a story up quickly... so I'm definitely a cake eater ;0)

    1. Well cake is delicious, there is no denying that!

  4. I strongly remember reading The Handmaid's Tale and I was haunted by it for months. Even now come to think of it. I truly favor short stories and I think it may have something to do with attention deficit. ;)

  5. I think I know what you are talking about - you are in a great company in your library-home, Shawna! They are your friends, your family, your teachers, and your writing group... You know Iris Murdoch was on the top of my list when we studied Western literature in the uni. Loved her work! Apparently, my teacher considered her a good writer, and I'm glad she did. I still remember some of her quotes which I wrote down back then. Later, I was also captivated by her personality - have you watched the movie Iris where she is played by the amazing Judi Dench and Kate Winslet? I watched it a few years ago, and now it is on Netflix - time to watch it again...

    I have not read other authors (a little bit of Maya), but I know what you mean by looking for both poetry and philosophy in writing. Both are extremely important to me too, and to be truly moved, both had to hit me. I will just add that many writers' philosophies I do not find all that deep or helping. And that turns me off. But I do recognize that it all has its place, and someone's voice when expressed genuinely and with a passion, will always someone who needed to hear it.

    ps Your name was said during our meet-up with Joni - how sad that you live in another country!! With much love, my literature friend! xxxxx

    1. No wonder my ears were burning. It looks like the two of you had a wonderful time and I am quite envious! Darn that border (and the ferry and the whole time and cost of the trip) A direct flight to Seattle would be awfully useful. I can fly directly to Mexico from here, want to meet me there? ;-) xoxo

    2. If not for that burden, I would be already there, have no doubts. It's only 7 hours away, it's not serious. :)

  6. Alice Munro is a genius.

    I read The Painted Door when I was in university and have been hooked ever since.


  7. Atwood for me is one the most haunting writers out there, her novels and short stories seem to be imprinted in my brain, sometimes when I'm reminded on them it is like it all happened to me or as if some close friend told me about is like she forms an emotional connection to the reader without even trying to. Maya has such a powerful voice, I do love her so much! Iris is only familiar to me as a character in a film, I don't think I've ever read anything by her....and I will have to add Munro to my reading list.

  8. i must admit - i´m an ignorant. books fall in my hands and i love them or not. the only ones i searched after were agatha christie. what i like most (after a good criminal story) is non fiction - mostly reports from mountaineers, explorers and other adventurers. or science. lately i read a book about meteorology from 1905 - not much new stuff added since :-) once i looooved gabriel garcia marquez, read his books xxx times........
    hugs! xxxxxx

  9. I was lucky to see Margaret Atwood give a talk at the University Lit. Festival here a few years ago - she was all of the things you say, it was a truly inspiring talk...and afterwards as we were walking up the path I heard a familiar voice directly behind us dropping a few f-bombs, in a conversational and funny manner, and it just made me love her all the more!


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