Negotiating With The Dead: A Writer On Writing, by Margaret Atwood Cambridge University Press $210 THERE IS AN OLD saying that every person has a good book hidden inside them and that is a good place for it to stay. Canadian author Margaret Atwood's latest book reminds us of just that fact. She points out that while many people can write, few are Writers, in the capital 'W' sense of the word. The observation sets the stage for Atwood to explain the people, process and culture behind her craft and how there is more to writing than defacing paper with ink. The book is Atwood's first since The Blind Assassin, which won the 2000 Booker Prize. Although initially it may appear to be an autobiography, or even a 'how to' book for aspiring writers, Negotiating With The Dead is neither. This is a work drawn from a series of Empson lectures that the author gave at Britain's University of Cambridge in 2000. The material has been reworked (Atwood says she removed the jokes) but the lecture hall feel permeates the pages from start to finish. This book is sure to find fans among those who enjoy the academic study of literature; it is a well-informed and meticulously researched work. It will not, however, be well-received by people who buy books in search of an enthralling tale. Even those looking to understand what makes Atwood tick or for insights into becoming better writers themselves might be disappointed. The book begins with promise. In an autobiographical chapter, the author reminisces about her youth in the remote regions of northern Quebec. She recalls her first poem, written in 1956 as she walked across a frozen football field on her way home from school. But in subsequent chapters, Atwood has disappointingly little to say about herself. A lack of intimacy is a common complaint about her work, but in this case the reader is more alienated from the writer by the lecture hall format in which the material was first delivered. Rather than curling up in a comfortable chair and indulging in the pleasure of her words, you find yourself sitting at a cramped wooden desk, watching the clock to see when class is over. Readers are left to glean snippets of insight into Atwood's life and work from the other authors she talks about. Unless you are well-versed in 20th-century literature, you may find the exercise unrewarding. Atwood manages more than 200 footnoted references to 100 authors in a book of only 180 pages. With the death last year of Canada's beloved Mordecai Richler, Atwood has emerged as arguably the finest living Canadian author. If you are unfamiliar with her work, The Handmaid's Tale, Alias Grace or The Blind Assassin would probably be a more welcome addition to your library, and certainly a better way to get acquainted with the Atwood so dearly loved by her legion of fans.