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Fireproof "Handmaid's Tale" edition is up for auction: A "symbol against censorship"

The price of free speech - and censorship
The price of free speech - and censorship 08:39

A record number of books have been banned or challenged in the U.S. in the last year, part of a push by conservatives to rein in discussion of issues that some find distasteful. Now, author Margaret Atwood is responding to the rise in censorship by auctioning a fireproof edition of her novel "The Handmaid's Tale," which ranks among the most frequently banned books in the U.S.

In a video posted on Sotheby's site for "The Unburnable Book," Atwood is shown with a flamethrower as she takes aim at the edition, which is printed on pages made from heat-resistant Cinefoil, sewn together with nickel wire. The flames lick at the book, but the pages remain intact.

"I never thought I'd be trying to burn one of my own books ... and failing," Atwood said in a statement.

The edition is "designed to protect this vital story and stand as a powerful symbol against censorship," the auction site notes.

The Unburnable Book: Margaret Atwood’s THE HANDMAID'S TALE by Penguin Random House on YouTube

The auction, which places the expected sale range at $50,000  $100,000, will direct all proceeds to PEN America, a group that advocates for free expression and that plans to use the money to support those efforts. "The Handmaid's Tale," first published in 1985, is a dystopian vision of a future America where women are stripped of their rights and live under a theocracy that prizes them strictly for their reproductive abilities. 

Interest in "The Handmaid's Tale" has increased amid a leaked Supreme Court draft opinion that, if finalized, would pave the way for states to severely curtail abortion rights in the U.S. The prospect Roe v. Wade being overturned has sparked observations about the book's prescience and relevance to modern events. 

"The Handmaid's Tale" has been among the most challenged publications in America, with the American Library Association (ALA) noting that it has been targeted for "vulgarity and sexual overtones."

Efforts to ban books have surged in the past year, with the ALA finding there were a record 729 challenges to more than almost 1,600 titles in 2021, double the number in 2020. 

Atwood said in the statement that her book has been banned "by whole countries, as Portugal and Spain in the days of Salazar and the Francoists, sometimes by school boards, sometimes by libraries." She also expressed hope that society doesn't get to the point of "wholesale book burnings, as in 'Fahrenheit 451'," referring to the Ray Bradbury classic.  

Suburban moms push back against book bans in schools 08:28

More recently, Barnes & Noble has faced pressure from a Virginia lawmaker and a congressional candidate to restrict sales of two  books deemed "obscene" to minors without parental consent. The candidate, Tommy Altman, said he is running for Congress to protect freedom, including the right to free speech. One of the books the pair is aiming to restrict is the most challenged book of 2021, the memoir "Gender Queer" by Maia Kobabe.

"To see [Atwood's] 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," Penguin Random House CEO Markus Dohle said in a statement. 

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