Tag Archives: Margaret Atwood

Saturday Seven: What to Read Next If You Loved The Handmaid’s Tale

Saturday Seven is hosted by Long and Short Reviews.

As those of you who follow me on social media have no doubt already noticed, I’m a huge fan of The Handmaid’s Tale.   I first read this Margaret Atwood book when I was in high school, and I loved it from the opening sentence:

We slept in what had once been the gymnasium.

Offred’s descriptions of what it was like to live in an abandoned school and why a group of young, fertile women had been enslaved in the first place captured my imagination. There was grief, loneliness, and pain etched into every thought this protagonist had even before I had any idea what was going on with the characters or setting.

The writers for the TV show based on this novel have done a superb job of fleshing out the storyline so far. While I’m waiting to see the next episode of this show, I’ve been thinking about books that have similar social justice themes and writing styles to this one. If you enjoyedThe Handmaid’s Tale, you might like these titles as well.

1. The Stone Angel by Margaret Laurence.

I’m tentatively planning to talk about Margaret Laurence’s work again this summer in a Canadian-themed Saturday Seven post, but I had to include her in this list as well. The main character of this book was someone whose choices in life were severely limited due to abuse, poverty, and being born into a society that had pretty limited empathy or help available for women who found themselves in difficult circumstances.

I should warn you that Hagar wasn’t an easy character to like at times. Her harsh life had shaped her into someone who could be abrasive under certain circumstances, but I still saw glimpses of the young, hopeful girl she’d once been no matter how difficult she was to love at the end of her life.

2. The Unit by Ninni Holmqvist.

Fertile women in The Handmaid’s Tale were forced to bear children for powerful infertile couples. Characters in The Unit were forced to donate their organs to strangers even if doing so lead to their immediate deaths. Both groups of people were simultaneously shunned for “sinning” against the impossibly-strict rules of their societies while also being told their suffering was worth it for the greater good of humanity.

3. The Gate to Women’s Country by Sheri S. Tepper.

If you can only read one book from this list, make it this one. Fertility was controlled in The Gate to Women’s Country just as strictly as it was in The Handmaid’s Tale. The difference between the two lies in how well women are treated otherwise, who raises the children they conceive, and how (un)aware they are of what is really happening to their bodies.

4. The Fire-Dwellers by Margaret Laurence.

I read this so long ago that I’ve forgotten a lot of it. I feel compelled to reread it again soon. What I remember the most about it was the fact that two people could remember the same event so differently. There’s no doubt in my mind that Offred’s account of what happened to her wouldn’t be the same as the men who drafted the laws that made all sorts of human rights violations legal or the wives of the high-ranking members of The Republic of Gilead who ignored the abuse of women like Offred because of how much they stood to gain from the arrangement.

This isn’t to say that any of the supporting characters in The Fire-Dwellers are violent like the ones in The Handmaid’s Tale, only that empathy isn’t a skill everyone develops in life. Such a lack of empathy can show up in both small and profoundly serious ways.

5. Bloodchild and Other Stories by Octavia E. Butler.

Honestly, I could have listed many of Ms. Butler’s books here. The things she had to say about prejudice, how power can be horribly misused, and what happens when one group of people oppresses another over a long period of time fit in beautifully with the themes in The Handmaid’s Tale.

6. He, She, It by Marge Piercy.

This book didn’t arrive from the library in time for me to read it before this post went live, but I’m looking forward to seeing how the main character handles a custody dispute that’s mentioned in the blurb. It reminded me of how Offred pined for her daughter after they were ripped away from each other.

7. The Stone Diaries by Carol Shields.

Once again, this book hasn’t arrived from the library yet. I like the idea of a female character telling stories about her life that are typically the sorts of things someone wouldn’t talk about. While this narrator had a much happier and safer life than Offred did, there were still parts of it she regretted at the end. I think there’s something to be said for talking about those things openly sometimes instead of hiding them.

How many of my readers are fans of The Handmaid’s Tale? Do you enjoy books about social justice in general?

Saturday Seven: Cold and Flu Season Reads

Saturday Seven is hosted by Long and Short Reviews.

We’re well into the depths of winter now here in Ontario. Cold and flu season is in full swing. I spent the last several weeks fighting and just recently finally getting over a stubborn cold myself, so communicable winter illnesses like these have been on my mind. How do you stay healthy when everyone is sniffling and coughing their way through January? Will we ever come up with a cure for the flu or the common cold?

Today I thought it would be amusing to talk about books that approach these questions from a wide variety of perspectives. My list begins with one of the most common ways that germs enter a body, explores what happens when an epidemic occurs, and ends with the one of the greatest medical discoveries of all time.

Three of these books are non-fiction, and four of them are fiction.

5. Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal by Mary Roach. 

One of the most common ways to catch a cold, the flu, or other diseases is to touch your face after you’ve touched someone or something that is carrying those germs. That virus then travels from your eyes, nose, or mouth into your body and begins replicating.

While this book spends most of its time talking how the digestive tract works in general, it also discusses the body’s defences against germs and how someone’s diet can affect their chances of getting sick. I was simultaneously fascinated and also a little grossed out by the author’s descriptions of how all of these things work.

 

1. Flu: The Story of the Great Influenza Pandemic of 1918 and the Search for the Virus that Caused It by Gina Kolata. 

Imagine how terrifying it must have been for our ancestors to watch their loved ones die from this strain of the flu or from the secondary infections they developed as a result of it. Normally, influenza kills people who are very young, very old, or who have underlying health conditions. It must have been even more frightening to see so many young, healthy adults succumb to it.

Antibiotics and life support machines didn’t exist in 1918, so there was little the hospitals could do in general to help patients who had severe reactions to this virus. People either recovered or they didn’t. All the doctors and nurses could do was watch and wait.

What I enjoyed the most about this book was how much detail it went into why this strain of the flu was so deadly, how it disrupted the daily schedules of the people who encountered it, and why it faded away.

2. The Stand by Stephen King.

The Stand was the first story I ever read about a virulent strain of influenza accidentally being released and killing off 99.4% of all humans. It ignited my interest in this genre.

While the plot soon veered off in other directions, the first few chapters went into great detail about why the U.S. army weaponized this virus to be so deadly in the first place, how it ended up being introduced into the general population, and what happened once people began dying in droves.

 

3. Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood. 

As regular readers of this blog know, I’m a huge fan of Margaret Atwood’s stories in general. What appeals to me the most about Oryx and Crake is how much time she spent describing what the world would be like after all but a handful of humans died in a terrible pandemic.

Some species flourished after mankind died off either because or in spite of all of the ways we bio-engineered them. Other species weren’t so capable of looking after themselves without a friendly human to feed them and keep them out of mischief. The buildings, trees, and land in general also changed in many ways as the Earth quieted down.

4. The Plague by Albert Camus. 

Don’t read The Plague if you’re easily grossed out by detailed descriptions of disease or what happens to a body after someone dies. The communicable disease that these characters come down with is a particularly nasty one, and there were never enough people around to take care of the ill or bury the dead.

With that being said, there are a lot of poetic passages in this book once you get past the descriptions of what happened when the characters fell ill.

5. I Am Legend by Richard Matheson.

Most post-apocalyptic novels assume that everyone who comes down with the disease that’s destroying humanity will die. This one describes a world in which infected people remain alive but are changed into something that is no longer human. By the time the first scene began, there is only one human left in the entire world.

That’s all I can tell you about the plot without giving away spoilers, but I was fascinated by the idea of a virus that permanently and severely changes someone’s personality, habits, and ability to communicate rather than outright kills them.

 

6. Miracle Cure: The Creation of Antibiotics and the Birth of Modern Medicine by William Rosen. 

Finally, we come to the idea of a cure. The introduction of antibiotics changed how modern medicine was practiced in so many positive ways. Surgery became much safer, and with the threat of infection greatly reduced we were eventually able to start performing risky procedures like organ transplants as well.

Before I read this book, I had no idea how dangerous it used to be to give birth, have surgery, or even do something as ordinary as accidentally cutting yourself and then developing an infection in that wound. No one was too young or too healthy to avoid a terrible death if the wrong strain of bacteria entered their body during one of those events. I wonder if a similar drug will ever be invented that cures the common cold or the flu?

My fingers are crossed that we’ll someday have such a thing. In the meantime, stay healthy this winter!