Margaret Atwood: "I'm too old to worry about that"

Margaret Atwood took the stage at the Portsmouth, NH, music hall, looking and sounding anything but elderly.

Keith Beaty/Newscom
Margaret Atwood – who has been shortlisted for the Booker Prize five times – is one of the most honored fiction writers in recent history.

Asked if she ever worried that the topicality of some of her books would someday hurt their readability, Margaret Atwood had to laugh. "I'm too old to worry about that!" she told her questioner.

Atwood filled the historic Music Hall in Portsmouth, NH, last night, promoting her latest book, "The Year of the Flood" as part of the "Writers on a New England Stage" series. Despite her reference to her age (70), Atwood was vibrant on stage as she read passages from "The Year of the Flood," answered questions, and even sang a hymn she wrote for God's Gardeners – the fictional religious group featured in her novel. (A three-man band provided by the organizers of the event shared the stage with Atwood.) [Correction: The original version mistakenly stated that Atwood had hired the musicians herself.]

Atwood spoke about her creative process ("I think that It's a personality flaw.... All you can do is to be as true to it as you can be. You must be true to the world that you are creating"), the intersection of science and religion ("Science can only talk about what it can measure. The spirit cannot be measured"), the need for a balance between instruction and entertainment in books ("People don't like to be preached to"), and the occasional burden of being "an icon."

She also sent a few messages. She began with a shout out to her friends Stephen King and son Joe Hill, both apparently somewhere in the audience. She then conveyed to Dan Brown – who she hoped soon to be meeting up with – that she "knew he'd win that law suit" (a case that charged that Brown copied "The Da Vinci Code" from another novel) because she had "read both books."

And she also had a message for any Atwoods listening to her anywhere in New Hampshire. (The event was covered by New Hampshire Public Radio.) "We're probably related," she said, explaining that her ancestors had once lived in New England but later moved on. The Atwoods, she said, had a long history of allying themselves with the losing side.

Marjorie Kehe is the Monitor's book editor.

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