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Bourke’s Banned Bookshelf: ‘Sanity is a valuable possession’

This week's banned and challenged book is "The Handmaid's Tale" by Margaret Atwood.

Cover of "The Handmaid's Tale"
"The Handmaid's Tale" by Margaret Atwood.
Tim Speier / Brainerd Dispatch
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Theresa Bourke headshot

There’s no way a book will appeal to every person who reads it.

I’ve read some books considered classics that I didn’t really care for, like “Catcher in the Rye” and “1984.” But just because I didn’t enjoy them or didn’t relate to the material or even found some portions offensive doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be available for others who might feel differently.

I’ve also read books I have absolutely loved but have gotten terrible reviews from others. That’s just the way it goes.

This week’s banned book is one of those I was really excited to read but didn’t ultimately love. The storyline was good, and the message was meaningful, but I felt like it moved really slowly. I also realized I’m not a huge fan of Margaret Atwood’s choppy writing style.

But that’s OK. It wasn’t for me, but it might be for someone else. And I hope those who want to read it have that chance.

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‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ by Maragaret Atwood

In a dystopian society where words are replaced with pictures because women aren’t allowed to read, Offred is stripped of her job, her money, her family and even her name. She now answers to a name denoting her duties to the commander in whose house she lives and with whom she is expected to have sex once a month in order to bear a child.

Offred isn’t the only one living like this. All the high-ranking commanders have handmaids for the same purpose. The girls who are lucky enough to reproduce are celebrated and then sent to another household to do the same for someone else.

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No one wants to talk about what happens to the unlucky ones.

While secluded in her room at the commander’s house, Offred recalls bits and pieces of her former life, including her husband, daughter, mother and friend, Moira. Where they are and whether they’re even alive is a complete mystery. But she hasn’t seen any of their bodies strung up on the brick wall in town, so there’s that.

The limited interaction Offred has with other handmaids is a coveted time to glean information, but their cautious whispers aren’t nearly enough to convey what they want.

Will things ever get back to normal, or is Offred doomed to either rely on the vitality of her reproductive organs or end up in a place even worse?

The critic’s tale

Published in 1985, “The Handmaid’s Tale” still remains a popularly challenged book in recent years, appearing at No. 29 on the American Library Association’s list of the Top 100 most banned and challenged books for 2010-19.

North Medford High School in Oregon removed a graphic novel version of the book from its library earlier this year due to images of “nudity, sexual assault, and violence” throughout the book.

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The novel was among 24 removed from libraries in the Nampa School District in Idaho earlier this year as well, with the reason being related to sexual content.

The book has been called into question so many times that the author herself worked with Penguin Random House to create a fireproof copy of the book as a stand against its critics. The book sold at auction by Sotheby’s for $130,000 in June. The proceeds went to PEN America’s efforts to fight book bans.

Similar to Ray Bradbury’s classic “Fahrenheit 451,” I can’t help but find extreme irony in the banning of a book detailing a horrific dystopian world where reading isn’t allowed. I don’t know if those who have challenged the book read it in its entirety before doing so, but in the unlikely event they did, it is very clear they do not understand it.

THERESA BOURKE may be reached at theresa.bourke@brainerddispatch.com or 218-855-5860. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/DispatchTheresa .

Related Topics: BOOKS
Theresa Bourke started working at the Dispatch in July 2018, covering Brainerd city government and area education, including Brainerd Public Schools and Central Lakes College.
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