Burning Questions by Margaret Atwood – wisdom and wonder

Shahidha Bari in The Guardian:

How do you evade a rampaging crocodile? By zigzagging as you run, according to Margaret Atwood, since crocodiles, apparently, struggle to navigate corners. It’s a piece of wisdom she imparts in passing in one of the essays in her latest collection. To be clear, the burning questions of the title are less to do with crocodiles and more concerned with those issues “we’ve been faced with for a century and more: urgent climate change, wealth inequality and democracy in peril”. The most serious questions of all, then. Still, the crocodiles are indicative of a sensibility that prevails throughout: droll, deadpan humour and an instinct for self-deprecation that saves the work from grandstanding or piety.

The novelist’s essay collection has become a curious genre in recent years. Zadie Smith and Salman Rushdie periodically produce them to fanfare, but really there’s no reason for us to expect writers of fiction to be qualified to comment on fact. For every writer that proves themself a stylish and smart observer of reality, another dismays us with windbaggery and vanity. Atwood’s essays luckily escape that, but they do have the whiff of a publisher capitalising on the odds and ends that litter the successful writer’s desk – the keynote speech here, the guest lecture there. Still, there’s something cheerfully game about how politely Atwood thanks her hosts for their invitations to speak at the “Carleton School of Journalism and Communication”, “the Charles Sauriol Environmental Dinner” and the “Department of Forestry’s Centennial”. She’s both gracious and tongue-in‑cheek about the grandeur of these occasions.

More here.