Last year in 2021, the number of attempts in the U.S. to ban books in schools and libraries surged.
The recent report Banned in the U.S.A. by PEN America tracked more than 1586 instances of individual books being banned in 2021, and that book bans have occurred in 86 school districts in 26 states.
A fire-proof copy of The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood’s dystopian novel, was auctioned by Sotheby’s to help fight book bans. Proceeds will go to support PEN America’s work to oppose book bans.
In a promotional video for the auction, the 82-year-old Atwood tries, unsuccessfully, to burn The Handmaid’s Tale with a flamethrower.
The Handmaid’s Tale seems to be a favorite target among those who are afraid of the written word. The dystopian novel about misogyny and other dangers of oppression became a best-selling novel, and Emmy-winning TV show, and a regular on banned books lists.
“I never thought I’d be trying to burn one of my own books, and failing,” said Margaret Atwood in a statement.
The Handmaid’s Tale, originally published in 1985, has been banned many times, sometimes by whole countries, such as Portugal and Spain; sometimes by school boards; sometimes by libraries.
Sotheby’s estimated the unburnable book would fetch $100,000 at auction. A spokesperson said “it feels like a regular book even though it’s made of fire-proof material.” According to the book’s designers the special edition is printed on heat resistant aluminum material, bound with nickel wire and stainless steel used in aerospace manufacturing, and printed with ink that won’t be destroyed or degraded even when exposed to temperatures of 2200 degrees Fahrenheit.
“Let’s hope we don’t reach the stage of wholesale book burnings as in Fahrenheit 451″, says Atwood. “But if we do, let’s hope some books will prove unburnable; that they will travel underground as prohibited books did in the Soviet Union.”
Meanwhile, the American Library Association has released their list of 100 most challenged books of the past decade.
#1. The Absolutely True Diary of Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexi
#2. Captain Underpants series by Dav Pilkey
#3. Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher
#4. Looking for Alaska by John Green
#5. George by Alex Gino
#6. And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson & Peter Parnell
#7. Drama by Raina Telgemeier
#8. Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James
#9. Internet Girls series by Lauren Myracle
#10. The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
The list, overall, is a mixture of old standards such as Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird and Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn, and more recent works such as Stephen Chbosky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower and Suzanne Collins’ multi-million selling The Hunger Games.
As the number of banned books continue to rise, Atwood’s fears of actual book burnings may or may not come to pass, but it seems her hope for underground access has already been exceeded, as libraries around the country are stocking extra copies of books banned by local school boards and prominently displaying them for all to read, sometimes even including them on Summer Reading Lists. Many librarians, at least, still hold the written word, it’s unpopular opinions and it’s uncomfortable historical truths in high regard.