Saturday, February 19, 2011

By Kate Beaton
Unless you're running drug rehab centers for Hollywood actors, you've probably had enough leisure time to notice a massive paradigm shift taking place in book publishing.

Brick and mortar stores closing. Borders declaring bankruptcy. Kindles and Nooks and E-Readers. Self-published authors climbing the New York Times Bestseller lists.

Old ideas are passing away.

But nobody knows what will grow from this scorched earth. Current theories range from Amazon ruling the universe -- after fighting Apple for the heavyweight title -- to every writer becoming his own publisher.

When theories cover that much range, the only certainty is uncertainty: Literally, nobody knows.

On that note, a friend passed along this darkly humorous yet telling perspective from author Margaret Atwood. Poet, novelist, literary lioness, Atwood has been writing longer than I've been alive.

Her question was simple: what about the writer?

By modern standards, her presentation isn't short. It's about 30 minutes long -- or 29 minutes forty-five seconds beyond the modern attention span. And the delivery isn't "snappy." But I would encourage writers to watch it for the same reason Atwood's books are worth reading.

I don't always agree with her perspective, but Margaret Atwood comes at things from singular angles. She's one of those writers -- a dying breed -- who will cogitate until some elemental truth appears. Then she applies the rapier word.

When I first stumbled upon her books, I was a teenager who had never heard of her. But she had written a poem that described winter dawn in the far north. The imagery was so clear, so haunting, that to this day I can close my eyes and still see the blushing hues on the frozen tundra. It's as easy as recalling a melody to a favorite song.

Since then I've come to appreciate her as an intellectual who isn't effete. For example, check out the image in her presentation borrowed from the butcher shop.

Morbidly funny, terribly true.

Poetic in its own way.