Margaret Atwood is the author of more than forty books of fiction, poetry, and critical essays, including the 2000 Booker Prize–winning The Blind Assassin; Alias Grace, which won the Giller Prize and the Premio Mondello; The Robber Bride, Cat’s Eye, The Handmaid’s Tale, and The Penelopiad. Her latest work is a book of short stories called Stone Mattress: Nine Tales (2014). Her newest novel, Madd­Addam (2013) is the third in a trilogy comprising The Year of the Flood (2009) and the Giller and Booker Prize–nominated Oryx and Crake (2003). Atwood lives in Toronto with the writer Graeme Gibson.

When Privacy Is Theft

Dave Eggers, 2007
Dave Eggers’s The Circle is in part a novel of ideas. What sort of ideas? Ideas about the social construction and deconstruction of privacy, and about the increasing corporate ownership of privacy, and about the effects such ownership may have on the nature of Western democracy. Dissemination of information is power, as the old yellow-journalism newspaper proprietors knew so well. What is withheld can be as potent as what is disclosed, and who can lie publicly and get away with it is determined by gatekeepers: thus, in the Internet age, code-owners have the keys to the kingdom.

My Psychic Garburator

 

Most dreams of writers aren’t about dead people or writing, and—like everyone else’s dreams—they aren’t very memorable. If you keep a dream journal, your mind will obligingly supply you with more dreams and shapelier ones, but you don’t always want that, nor can you necessarily make any sense of what you may have so vividly dreamt. Why, for instance, did I dream I had surged up through the lawn of Toronto’s Victoria College and clomped into the library, decomposing and covered with mud? The librarian didn’t notice a thing, which, in the dream, I found surprising. Was this an anxiety dream? If so, which anxiety?

Ariel or Caliban?

Clark Blaise, Southampton, New York, 2005
The Meagre Tarmac is the latest work of fiction by veteran story writer, novelist, and essayist Clark Blaise. Blaise has been publishing stories since the early 1970s, beginning with A North American Education (1973), which was followed by nine other collections, several of them having place names—Southern Stories (2000), Pittsburgh …

Deeper into the Twungle

A still from The Skeleton Dance (1929)

Not long ago, I found myself having a Twitter conversation with a rotating skull. Its picture shows a skull turning around and around against a black background. Its handle is simply @rotatingskull. Its self-description is cryptic: “I am a skull that rotates.” When I asked it how I might make my own head rotate in this attractive manner—something I have always longed to do, as it would be a visual description of my state of mind in the mornings before caffeine—it told me I should view The Exorcist backwards while sprinkling holy water. Then it sent me a YouTube of itself in younger days, when it still had a skeleton, featuring as the prima ballerina—or ballerino—in the 1929 Disney Silly Symphony, The Skeleton Dance.

Atwood in the Twittersphere

Margaret Atwood, tweeting aboard the Queen Mary 2, August 2009
A long time ago—less than a year ago in fact, but time goes all stretchy in the Twittersphere, just as it does in those folksongs in which the hero spends a night with the Queen of Faerie and then returns to find that a hundred years have passed and all his friends are dead…. Where was I?

The Homer of the Ants

Leafcutter ants on Barro Colorado Island, Panama; photograph by Mark Moffett from his book Adventures Among Ants, which will be published by University of California Press in May. For more images, see the NYR blog, blogs.nybooks.com.
Anthill is E.O. Wilson’s first work of fiction. It contains what its title promises it will contain: an anthill, embedded at its core. Not a metaphorical anthill, a real anthill, filled to the brim with—well, ants. And thereby hangs its tale. People have long been fascinated by the similarities between …

The Double Life & Its Dangers

Valerie Martin, New York City, circa 2007
The Confessions of Edward Day is Valerie Martin’s ninth novel, and it’s a triumph of her unique art. As usual, it’s easy on the ear—Martin writes with amplitude, precision, grace, and wit—but it’s hard on the characters. They do not spare one another, and their author doesn’t spare them. None …

In the Heart of the Heartland

The Echo Maker is Richard Powers’s ninth novel. His first, the acclaimed Three Farmers on Their Way to a Dance, came out in 1985. In the twenty-one years since then, Powers has been a volcano of activity, producing works as varied as Prisoner’s Dilemma, Galatea 2.2, The Gold Bug Variations, …

After the Last Battle

The novella-length fiction Visa for Avalon by the writer who called herself Bryher was first published in 1965 and was reissued by the Paris Press in 2004, before the US presidential election of that year. Since it is set in the future—a future in which violent mass movements are causing …

He Springs Eternal

If Studs Terkel were Japanese, he’d be a Sacred Treasure. As John Kenneth Galbraith has said of him, “Studs Terkel is more than a writer, he is a national resource.” Hope Dies Last is the latest in the series of American oral histories he’s been publishing since Division Street, America …

Arguing Against Ice Cream

Enough, by Bill McKibben, is a passionate, succinct, chilling, closely argued, sometimes hilarious, touchingly well-intentioned, and essential summary of the future proposed by “science” for the human race. This is the same Bill McKibben who wrote The End of Nature, about how Homo sapiens has been rearranging the biosphere with …

‘Castle of the Imagination’

Child of My Heart is Alice McDermott’s fifth work of fiction. The fourth, Charming Billy, won the National Book Award, and was a best seller, as was At Weddings and Wakes. Both of these novels explore, subtly but ruthlessly, the same complex world—that of second- and third-generation emigrant Irish, living …

The Queen of Quinkdom

The Birthday of the World is Ursula K. Le Guin’s tenth collection of stories. In it she demonstrates once again why she is the reigning queen of…but immediately we come to a difficulty, for what is the fitting name of her kingdom? Or, in view of her abiding concern with …

Cops and Robbers

Elmore Leonard doesn’t write whodunits—we always know who done it because we see them doing it. You might say he writes howdunits. His plots are like chess games—the pieces are all out in the open, we can watch the setup, but it’s the rapid moves of the endgame that surprise. They’re also like Feydeau farces, which is in no way to disparage them. Such performances are very hard to pull off successfully, and timing is everything.

Mystery Man

When I was a pre-adolescent spending summers in northern Canada, I read a lot of old detective fiction because it was there. When I’d got through the pile I read some of it over again, there being no library where I could go and get more. I didn’t reread Erle …