Book bans are increasingly common in American school libraries and classrooms, making it more difficult (but not impossible) for students to get their hands on certain texts that could broaden their worldview. To raise awareness of such moves and perhaps protest the threat of literal book burning, Margaret Atwood and Penguin Random House are auctioning off a one-off, “unburnable” edition of her classic dystopian novel, The Handmaid’s Tale.
The publisher says it is “a powerful symbol against censorship and a reminder of the need to protect vital stories.” This copy of the book is printed and bound in refractory materials, including white heat shield foil pages and a phenolic hard cover. Atwood put a prototype to the test by trying to burn it with a flamethrower.
“The Handmaid’s Tale has been banned many times — sometimes by entire countries, like Portugal and Spain in the days of Salazar and the Francoists, sometimes by school boards, sometimes by libraries,” the author said in a statement. “Let’s hope we don’t reach the stage of large-scale book burnings, as in Fahrenheit 451. But if we do, let’s hope that some books will prove incombustible – that they will travel underground, as banned books did in the Soviet Union.” .”
At the time of writing, the highest bid for the book is $48,000. The auction closes on June 7.
All proceeds will go to PEN America to support its efforts to fight book bans in the US. In a recent report, the Free Speech Organization documented 1,586 bans on individual books in 86 school districts in 26 states.
Penguin Random House notes that censors’ targets tend to be “literary works on racism, gender, and sexual orientation, often written by authors of color and LGBTQ+ writers, as well as classroom lessons on social inequality, history, and sexuality.” It argued that such movements violate the first amendment rights of students and hinder education and the flow of ideas.
“We are at an urgent moment in our history, with ideas and truth – the foundations of our democracy – under attack,” said Markus Dohle, CEO of the publisher. “Few writers have been more instrumental in the fight for free speech than Margaret Atwood.”
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