This book began, we’re explained, as a series of lectures in England about the nature of writing. Atwood approaches this subject with some playfulness and hesitancy, but ultimately divides her talks into some distinct categories and topics: “Orientation: Who Do you think you are?”; “Duplicity: The jekyll hand, the hyde hand, and the slippery double”; “Dedication: The Great God Pen”; “Temptation: Prospero, the Wizard of Oz, Mephisto &co”; “Communion: Nobody to Nobody”; and “Descent: Negotiating with the Dead”.
From these topics she is able to expounded in a kind of exploratory way with some amount of memoir, but more so a literacy narrative about her reading growing up and through education, while also connecting each topics to a set of touchstone texts that either are important in the exploration of that topic, or was important to her in exploring it. In a lot of ways this book is a kind masterclass in how to look at literature (and certainly commit some acts of literary criticism) and remember what is magical about it. This is separate from a love of reading, or more so distinct from it, as this also involves the more murky love of the world of literature as a whole, not simply the world a singe book or single author might create. This is the kind of bibliopoesis of being readerly and literate. So when you’re reading a book about Mephisto, the various different evocations and allusions that come through when you’re reading becomes a kind of tapestry. This is the feeling of knowing something about a book as you’re reading it, even if you didn’t know you were about to. Catching an allusion, understanding a layer, and enjoying that feeling of connection.
It’s a book that you could definitely generate a reading list from.