Margaret Atwood Releases an Unburnable Edition of The Handmaid’s Tale, to Support Freedom of Expression

When first pub­lished in 1985, Mar­garet Atwood’s The Hand­maid­’s Tale drew acclaim for how it com­bined and made new the genre con­ven­tions of the dystopi­an, his­tor­i­cal, and fan­ta­sy nov­el. But the book has enjoyed its great­est fame in the past decade, thanks in part to a 2017 adap­ta­tion on Hulu and a sequel, The Tes­ta­ments, pub­lished two years there­after. It’s even become promi­nent in mass cul­ture, fre­quent­ly ref­er­enced in dis­cus­sions of real-life pol­i­tics and soci­ety in the man­ner of Nine­teen Eighty-Four or Fahren­heit 451.

Like George Orwell and Ray Brad­bury’s famous works, The Hand­maid­’s Tale also seems at risk of becom­ing less often read than pub­licly ref­er­enced — and there­fore, no small amount of the time, pub­licly mis­in­ter­pret­ed. The only way to for­ti­fy your­self against such abuse of lit­er­a­ture is, of course, actu­al­ly to read the book. For­tu­nate­ly, The Hand­maid­’s Tale is now wide­ly avail­able, unlike cer­tain books in cer­tain places that have been sub­ject to bans. It is against such ban­ning that the lat­est edi­tion of Atwood’s nov­el stands, print­ed and bound using only fire­proof mate­ri­als.

“Across the Unit­ed States and around the world, books are being chal­lenged, banned, and even burned,” says pub­lish­er Pen­guin Ran­dom House. “So we cre­at­ed a spe­cial edi­tion of a book that’s been chal­lenged and banned for decades.” This unique­ly “unburn­able” Hand­maid­’s Tale “will be pre­sent­ed for auc­tion by Sotheby’s New York from May 23 to June 7 with all pro­ceeds going to ben­e­fit PEN America’s work in sup­port of free expres­sion.” You can bid on it at Sothe­by’s site, where as of this writ­ing the price stands at USD $70,000.

Pen­guin has exper­i­ment­ed with phys­i­cal­ly metaphor­i­cal books before: the paper­back edi­tion of Nine­teen Eighty-Four, for exam­ple, whose cov­er becomes less “cen­sored” with use. More recent­ly, the graph­ic design stu­dio Super Ter­rain pub­lished Fahren­heit 451, its title long a byword for book-burn­ing, that only becomes read­able with the appli­ca­tion of heat. But it’s Bal­lan­ti­ne’s 1953 spe­cial edi­tion of that nov­el, “bound in Johns-Manville quin­ter­ra, an asbestos mate­r­i­al with excep­tion­al resis­tance to pyrol­y­sis,” that tru­ly set the prece­dent for this one-off Hand­maid’s tale. Those mak­ing bids cer­tain­ly under­stand the book’s place in today’s cul­tur­al debates — but let’s hope they also intend to read it.

Relat­ed con­tent:

Pret­ty Much Pop #10 Exam­ines Mar­garet Atwood’s Night­mare Vision: The Handmaid’s Tale

An Ani­mat­ed Mar­garet Atwood Explains How Sto­ries Change with Tech­nol­o­gy

An Asbestos-Bound, Fire­proof Edi­tion of Ray Bradbury’s Fahren­heit 451 (1953)

The Cov­er of George Orwell’s 1984 Becomes Less Cen­sored with Wear and Tear

To Read This Exper­i­men­tal Edi­tion of Ray Bradbury’s Fahren­heit 451, You’ll Need to Add Heat to the Pages

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall, on Face­book, or on Insta­gram.

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Comments (4)
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  • dBrady says:

    You mean an unburn­able copy? Not an unburn­able edi­tion? Or how large is the edi­tion?

  • Trinity says:

    A Flame throw­er doesn’t pro­duce near­ly enough heat as an mor­tu­ary incin­er­a­tor. Put it one one of those and see if it her claims still holds up. It won’t. Haha­ha

  • Mike Lee says:

    This is awe­some. Find Trin­i­ty hilar­i­ous in they think the aver­age brain­dead book burn­er has a mor­tu­ary incin­er­a­tor at their dis­pos­al.

  • Jasmine says:

    And it’s a lit­tle sick­en­ing that Trin­i­ty is rel­ish­ing the idea of book burn­ing. Maybe they are jok­ing but still sick­en­ing😕

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