Books are . . . I just love them. They’re my favorite way to relax, they’re piled all over my apartment (decor!) and they frequently got me in trouble as a little kid. (Apparently, “set the table” does not actually mean “Read the next three chapters of The Babysitters’ Club and then set the table.” A little clarity would’ve been nice, Mom). So, I thought I’d start a new series, one in which I share what I’ve been reading and everyone can leave their latest finds in the comments. Share a book, make a friend . . . right? I’m pretty sure that’s a thing.
Pick It Up: The Handmaid’s Tale
I’ve talked before about how Audible has changed my life (and they still haven’t offered me free books for eternity, which is odd) but I have to bring them up again today. That’s because I haven’t technically “read” this book; I listened to it. I don’t really think there’s much of a difference, generally. I love the written word, but I like to collect stories even more, and it’s illegal to read while you drive. Now that I have a legit commute, audiobooks have earned themselves a spot in my heavy rotation (which sounds a little wrong, and I mean it. I like them that much).
None of this would particularly matter in a book review, except that the version of this book that I listened to was narrated by Claire Danes. I don’t happen to be an especially intense Claire Danes fan (whoever cast her as Beth in Little Women had lost their everloving mind) but as a narrator, she is stellar. Seriously. There legitimately were several instances in which I noticed how well she was conveying the emotional heft of the story; not getting in front of it or demanding attention, but just transporting herself to the story’s twisted universe . . . and taking me with her.
The protagonist, who is unnamed for much of the story, leads you through a dystopian future world in which a sick version of Christianity is king. I won’t say what the specifics of her situation are, because the way Atwood unfolds them one at a time is one of the best things about the story. In general: for those who aren’t in charge, all of life is boiled down to its most essential elements; the egg she eats each morning, the tentative interactions she has with the woman who walks with her to the market each day. If this sounds stripped-down and boring, that couldn’t be farther from the truth. This life of details is the perfect vehicle for Atwood’s gorgeous imagery, and her narrative doesn’t meander. It races and dodges until you’re not exactly sure what to make of this world that’s so recognizable (grumbling cooks and the joy of being in love) and yet so frightening. Atwood’s depiction of ordinary life, what we need and what we’re so often distracted by, re-centered the way I looked at the little luxuries I’d categorized as mundane: feeling a magazine or hand lotion on your body, spending your crumpled dollar bills on any chocolate bar you choose.
I like dystopian fiction, but I wouldn’t say it’s my favorite genre; it’s usually too depressing. What makes this book so special is the “reality-around-the-corner” sense it imparts; while we might be pretty far removed from the genetic engineering of Brave New World, it’d only take us a few months to descend into the world Atwood details. That makes the book less sad and more alarming; a call to be vigilant and participate in the political reality of now.
So, pick it up! And let me know how you liked it. What are you reading now?