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Having Her Book Banned In Various Places, Margaret Atwood Introduces Us To A Symbolic Issue Of The Handmaid’s Tale That Is Unburnable
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Art, Good News6 months ago

Having Her Book Banned In Various Places, Margaret Atwood Introduces Us To A Symbolic Issue Of The Handmaid’s Tale That Is Unburnable

“I had thought America was against totalitarianisms. If so, surely it is important for young people to be able to recognize the signs of them. One of those signs is book-banning. Need I say more?” asked Margaret Atwood when her book The Handmaid’s Tale was banned, becoming the seventh-most challenged book on the American Library Association’s list in 2019.

Whether you agree or disagree, in my opinion, quality writing should be acknowledged and discussed, especially when the themes bring food for thought and a commentary on issues people face in their respective societies. And when a book written nearly 40 years ago foretells the future that we are slowly walking towards, it needs to be paid attention to.

The author and Penguin Random House came together and forged a copy of the book which can not be destroyed, at the very least, by fire. Paying homage to all the knowledge that was lost during book burning bonfires and raising money to support PEN America’s crucial work to counter the national crisis of censorship, this is a true representation of the words: “Don’t let the bastards grind you down.” Let’s dive into the details.

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Penguin Random House presented an incredible collaboration with Margaret Atwood and her book The Handmaid’s Tale – The Unburnable Book

Image credits: Penguin Random House

The Handmaid’s Tale has become a modern classic, widely praised by those who’ve managed to read it. Published in 1985, the dystopian novel focuses on the survival and emancipation of endangered women who go through devaluation, coercion, enslavement, torture, and outright genocide.

However, due to these themes, it has been banned in many schools, libraries, and even countries. The book itself has been criticized for being anti-Christian, anti-Islamic and for its portrayal of sex and violence, among others. Yet, the book shed light onto issues that present-day women face within society, making it a symbol of feminist resistance.

Crafted from non-reflective aluminum foil paper, metal wiring and stainless steel, the book has become fire-resistant up to 2,600 degrees Fahrenheit

Image credits: therealmargaretatwood

The book is one of hundreds currently facing bans in the US. PEN America, which has been at the forefront fighting censorship in American schools, documented 1,586 instances of individual books being banned in 86 school districts in 26 states between July 1, 2021, and March 31, 2022.

The irony of free speech is quite obvious. The First Amendment guarantees the right to free expression and association, which means that the government does not have the right to forbid people from speaking their truths, however, they have to be part of certain standards and topics, otherwise, they might be silenced, due to being perceived as ‘harmful’.

Approved by Margaret Atwood, the project aims to raise awareness of censorship in the US, as The Handmaid’s Tale remains one of the top banned books in the country

Image credits: Penguin Random House

And yet, the most common books to be in the midst of censorship are ones dealing with topics of sexual and mental health, featuring LGBTQ+ protagonists and historical figures, many of which are of color. One would not be wrong to ask the question – why are these topics considered harmful and to whom? I suppose a quote from the Handmaid’s Tale sums it up nicely: “A rat in a maze is free to go anywhere, as long as it stays inside the maze.”

But regardless of the debate very much in front of us, let us lean back into the story at present – the birth of The Unburnable Book. The fireproof narrative was a joint project among PEN, Margaret Atwood, Penguin Random House and two companies based in Toronto, the Rethink creative agency and The Gas Company Inc. It was manufactured by print-and-bindery master craftsman Jeremy Martin, whilst the fireproof materials and processes were researched and tested by Doug Laxdal.

To showcase the strength of the book, Atwood took a flamethrower and torched it, paying a homage to the knowledge lost in book burning bonfires

Image credits: therealmargaretatwood

As reported by Uproxx, it is capable of withstanding up to 2,600 degrees Fahrenheit, or 1426 degrees Celsius. For context, paper ignites at around 480 degrees Fahrenheit (248°C), getting far hotter once it’s burning. Though a bit different than mentioned in the infamous book by Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451, it’s still an impressive feat, making the new edition around 5 times more resistant to fire damage.

To test the book’s durability, 87-year-old Margaret Atwood took a flamethrower to the novel, torching her work. The moment, accompanied with the statement, “Because powerful words can never be extinguished,” pays a homage to all literature which succumbed to the flames of censorship. Although her work has not been known to be burnt as of yet, it brings forth the debate of censorship and historical events where, ignited by a cultural, religious, or political opposition to the topics or themes in question, knowledge was systematically destroyed.

PEN America’s CEO Suzanne Nossel told The Globe and Mail: “There’s just something about this concept of an unburnable book that I think captures the moment and the determination that we all feel to withstand an onslaught.” Whereas Markus Dohle, CEO of Penguin Random House stated: “To see her classic novel about the dangers of oppression reborn in this innovative, unburnable edition is a timely reminder of what’s at stake in the battle against censorship.”

Published in 1985, the dystopian novel focuses on the survival and emancipation of endangered women, topics that are becoming more prevalent today

Image credits: Penguin Random House

“When it comes to projects like this, you don’t have a second shot,” said Mr. Martin, Jared Bland adding, “I knew Margaret would love the idea because it’s a cause that’s important to her and because she loves mischievous things.” However, the task at hand was not for the faint of heart, as it took more than two months to complete.

First – finding a paper the words would be printed on. When flame-retardant paper didn’t work, they came across non-reflective aluminum foil paper that was painted on both sides. Not only was it unburnable, but it was also thin enough to go through the company’s printer without getting mangled.

Once it was printed, they needed a cover. The team ordered fire-retardant cloth from Amazon, but it was not good enough. They went back to aluminum foil for the outside and phenolic, a substance made to withstand high heat, for the board. Once it was certain that they’d survive torching, they needed to stitch the book together.

The book is now in the process of being auctioned off to raise money for PEN America, leading the fight against book bans and educational gag orders

Image credits: Penguin Random House

At a craft store, they bought some metal wire, which replaced the usual thread and after around 7 hours of hand-sewing, the book was close to being done. They added stainless-steel ribbons for decorative head and tail bands, ordered from an electronics supplier, and with that the project was completed.

Jeremy believed that the book looked almost too authentic, only distinguishable from the original by the silver-page edges and the weight. “Absolutely nothing in this book is going to burn,” he said. “If you did take a flamethrower to it, there would be some smoke and some smell. But it would still be a readable book.”

The book is now in the process of being auctioned off in New York to raise money for PEN America, which is leading the charge against book bans and educational gag orders, and to raise awareness of book censorship as a whole.

The fireproof edition of The Handmaid’s Tale is a powerful symbol against censorship and the vocalization of those who’ve been silenced

Image credits: ActuaLitté

As incredible as this project is, we must not forget the rights for which it is advocating – free speech and equality. It is interesting to see how “Life imitates Art far more than Art imitates Life,” in the words of Oscar Wilde, as certain themes from the Handmaid’s Tale are becoming increasingly worrisome today, with Roe v. Wade, the protection of a pregnant woman’s liberty to choose to have an abortion without excessive government restriction, being on the brink of being overturned.

The books of the past that foretold a dystopian future have become the crystal balls of the modern day, as we seem to be regressing more and more into the past. To ban or burn writing is to burn history and knowledge; the daily lives and influences of the times, as well as the fears, observations and speculations for what’s to come.

You can watch the full demonstration of the unburnable book here

Let us know what you think of this idea and which books you’d like to see printed on fire-proof paper!

People have loved this idea, suggesting that all books should have such a copy. Others could see the political and social parallels. Leave your thoughts in the comments!

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Gremlan jonnson
Community Member
6 months ago Created by potrace 1.15, written by Peter Selinger 2001-2017

If a book like this is considered "anti-christian" "anti-muslim" than maybe just maybe the problem is within those religions and not a work of "fiction"

Nina
Community Member
6 months ago Created by potrace 1.15, written by Peter Selinger 2001-2017

This book (along with to kill a mockingbird) got banned in my school because of me.

Nathaniel
Community Member
6 months ago Created by potrace 1.15, written by Peter Selinger 2001-2017

Even though I am an avid reader, I shied away from this book for years. I think I used to believe the criticism that this was JUST a feminist book. When I finally read it, it became my fave book. It is "feminist" because it has a lead female character? It is "feminist" because it talks about women's issues? Honestly, it was just refreshing to read a female main character, and not one created by the fantasies of male writers. Most of the books I have read in the past, science fiction, fantasy, crime, have been mostly male authors, but why? Why did I shy away from female writers? I have no good answers, but now make the promise to myself not to ignore a book just because of the gender of the writer.

Gremlan jonnson
Community Member
6 months ago Created by potrace 1.15, written by Peter Selinger 2001-2017

Well my question would be why you would shye away from a book that is feminist, because it is very much that.

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Gremlan jonnson
Community Member
6 months ago Created by potrace 1.15, written by Peter Selinger 2001-2017

If a book like this is considered "anti-christian" "anti-muslim" than maybe just maybe the problem is within those religions and not a work of "fiction"

Nina
Community Member
6 months ago Created by potrace 1.15, written by Peter Selinger 2001-2017

This book (along with to kill a mockingbird) got banned in my school because of me.

Nathaniel
Community Member
6 months ago Created by potrace 1.15, written by Peter Selinger 2001-2017

Even though I am an avid reader, I shied away from this book for years. I think I used to believe the criticism that this was JUST a feminist book. When I finally read it, it became my fave book. It is "feminist" because it has a lead female character? It is "feminist" because it talks about women's issues? Honestly, it was just refreshing to read a female main character, and not one created by the fantasies of male writers. Most of the books I have read in the past, science fiction, fantasy, crime, have been mostly male authors, but why? Why did I shy away from female writers? I have no good answers, but now make the promise to myself not to ignore a book just because of the gender of the writer.

Gremlan jonnson
Community Member
6 months ago Created by potrace 1.15, written by Peter Selinger 2001-2017

Well my question would be why you would shye away from a book that is feminist, because it is very much that.

Load More Replies...
Load More Comments
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