Bid on a special, fireproof copy of Margaret Atwood The Handmaid’s Tale ended Tuesday afternoon, when the book was auctioned by Sotheby’s for $130,000. Proceeds from the auction will go to PEN America’s efforts to fight the book ban.
In a promotional video for the auction, Atwood, 82, tries unsuccessfully to burn the book with a flamethrower.
The Handmaid’s Tale seems to be a favorite among those who fear the written word. The dystopian novel about misogyny and other dangers of oppression has become a bestselling novel, an Emmy-winning TV show, and a regular on banned book lists.
“I never thought I would try to burn one of my own books…and fail,” Margaret Atwood said in a statement. “The Handmaid’s Tale has been banned many times, sometimes by whole countries, like Portugal and Spain during the time of Salazar and the Francoists, sometimes by school boards, sometimes by libraries.
The number of attempts to ban books from schools and libraries has increased over the past year. Among the findings of the recent “Banned In The USA” report, PEN America tracked more than 1,586 cases of individual books being banned in 2021 and that book bans “occurred in 86 school districts in 26 states.”
“In the face of a determined effort of censorship and silence,” says Suzanne Nossel, CEO of PEN America, “this unwritable book is an emblem of our collective resolve to protect books, stories, and ideas from those who fear them and We are grateful to be able to use the proceeds of this auction to strengthen this unprecedented fight for the books.”
Sotheby’s estimates The Unburnable Book will fetch $100,000 at auction. A spokesperson says it “looks like a regular book” even though it’s made of fire-retardant 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 will not not destroyed or degraded even when exposed to 2200°F temperature.
“Let’s hope we don’t get to the stage of book burning, as in Fahrenheit 451” said Atwood, “But if we do, let’s hope that some books will prove to be non-flammable – that they will travel underground, as the banned books did in the Soviet Union.”