‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ has been turned into an ‘imburnable’ book

Written by Megan C. Hills

Margaret Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale” has often sparked controversy, facing book bans in the decades since its release in 1985.

Now, in an effort to raise awareness of rising censorship and the resurgence of book banning efforts in American schools, Atwood and publisher Penguin Random House have released a single “unburnable” copy of the seminal novel, a dystopian tale about a theocracy that forces fertile women to bear children for the privileged.

And it was tested by Atwood with a real flamethrower.

“Never thought I would try to burn one of my own books…and fail,” she wrote on Twitter, adding that it was her “first time” using the ‘device.

Margaret Atwood using a flamethrower on the “unburnable” version of “The Handmaid’s Tale”. Credit: Sotheby’s

The fireproof version is being auctioned by Sotheby’s New York on Wednesday with a high estimate of $100,000. Proceeds will go to PEN America, an advocacy organization for literature and free speech, which recently released a report indicating that 1,586 books were banned from US schools over a nine-month period from July 1, 2021. as of March 31, 2022.
Texas leads the nation with the most book bans — 713 — affecting 16 school districts, according to the report. Last year, state governor Greg Abbott called on school boards to remove books he called “pornography.” Pennsylvania and Florida had 456 and 204 bans, respectively. PEN America defines a book ban as “any action taken against a book based on its content” that leads to the removal or restriction of a previously accessible title.
‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ was among titles targeted for sexual or health-related content, while a ‘disproportionate’ number of bans focused on stories relating to LGBTQ+ people and people of color, according to PEN America . Such bans reflect a broader conservative movement to restrict how topics such as race, gender and sexual orientation are taught in public schools.

At first glance, the Special Edition looks like any other paper-and-ink printed work, but it’s made with nickel wire, stainless steel, aluminum, and fire-resistant inks. It was created by graphic arts studio The Gas Company Inc. and creative agency Rethink.

“‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ has been banned multiple times,” Atwood said in a press release announcing the sale. “Let’s hope we don’t reach the stage of mass book burning, like in ‘Fahrenheit 451,'” she added, referring to the acclaimed 1953 novel in which books are destroyed to preserve a version America’s totalitarian. “But if we do, let’s hope some books turn out to be non-flammable – that they travel underground, like banned books did in the Soviet Union.”

Suzanne Nossel, CEO of PEN America, added, “In the face of a determined effort at censorship and silence, this unwritable book is an emblem of our collective determination to protect books, stories and ideas from those who fear and insult. We are grateful to be able to deploy proceeds from this auction to bolster this unprecedented fight for books.”

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