Margaret Atwood and a flamethrower? Okay, you have my undivided attention.
Collaborating with The Handmaid's Tale author, Penguin Random House has commissioned the creation of an indestructable version of the famed feminist dystopian novel. The single, unburnable book was auctioned by Sotheby's New York recently, where it fetched US$130,000. All the proceeds went towards PEN America, an organization founded 100 years ago that continues to fight for freedom of expression in the United States and worldwide.
According to the project's official website, the fireproof book comprises a phenolic hardcover, white heat shield foil pages, nickel wire sewing, stainless steel head and tail bands, Kapton high temperature adhesive, and a Cinefoil dust jacket. It was produced by Rethink creative agency with graphic arts studio The Gas Company, Inc. and bookbinding master Jeremy Martin. To demonstrate its resistance, Atwood can be seen on video aiming a flamethrower at the special edition, which refuses to disintegrate. Anyone who's ever read The Handmaid's Tale will see the poetic symbolism of all of this. Add on top of that the fact that Atwood's literary masterpiece, which was first released in 1985, still gets banned all over the world.
Atwood has said, "I’m very pleased that the one-of-a-kind Unburnable Book of The Handmaid’s Tale has raised so much money for PEN America. Free speech issues are being hotly debated, and PEN is a sane voice amidst all the shouting."
In a recent report, PEN America has documented the banning of 1,145 titles in the United States over a period of nine months (July 2021–March 2022). These bans affect the creative and scholarly expression of 1,081 people, including authors, illustrators, translators and more. PEN also reports that censors primarily target literature that deals with racism, gender, sex, and social inequality, and often works penned by authors belonging to minority groups.
Book banning is clearly a global issue though, not just an American one. It also occurs at the state level, in addition to the individual rulings of institutions. Thailand, where Koktail Magazine is based, infamously bans books as well as other forms of expression that violate the country's strict lèse majesté law; ongoing political protests call for the abolition of this law.
Watch Margaret Atwood unsuccessfully burn her own book and its compelling message here: