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Fireproof Edition of Margaret Atwood’s ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ Fetches $130,000 to Help Fight Book Bans

Ellen Gutoskey
No match for a flamethrower.
No match for a flamethrower. / Sotheby's/Penguin Random House
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Book banning has been around in some form or another for more than 2000 years. Over the last century or so, everything from The Catcher in the Rye to Where’s Waldo? has ended up on a do-not-read list. But while the reasons for prohibiting certain titles are ridiculous enough to seem funny, authorities’ ongoing habit of limiting access to reading material is no laughing matter. 

To help combat the practice, as NPR reports, Margaret Atwood and Penguin Random House recently auctioned off a fireproof edition of Atwood’s dystopian classic The Handmaid’s Tale, which has itself been banned on many occasions. Though Sotheby’s valued “The Unburnable Book” between $50,000 and $100,000, it went for a whopping $130,000. The proceeds will be donated to PEN America to “help drive greater attention, advocacy, and engagement against censorship,” according to a PRH press release.

“The unrelenting pace of book bans and educational gag orders is especially alarming because the censors’ primary targets have been literary works about racism, gender, and sexual orientation, often written by authors of color and LGBTQ+ writers, as well as classroom lessons about social inequality, history, and sexuality,” the press release explained.

The pages of The Unburnable Book are Cinefoil: thin sheets of aluminum that filmmakers wrap around hot lights on set. They can withstand temperatures up to 1220°F. Other materials, including nickel wire, woven stainless steel, and special heat-resistant ink, remain stable well above 2000°F. Atwood tested out the inflammability of the item herself, with a little help from a flamethrower.

“I never thought I’d be trying to burn one of my own books… and failing,” she said in a statement. “Let’s hope we don’t reach the stage of wholesale book burnings, as in Fahrenheit 451. But if we do, let’s hope some books will prove unburnable.”

[h/t NPR]

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