Margaret Atwood’s frighteningly realistic dystopian novel The Handmaid’s Tale is generating a lot of buzz these days. Admittedly, that’s largely due to the widely popular Hulu original series based on the book, and perhaps some clever marketing from the studio; teams of eerie fully-decked out Handmaids have cropped up everywhere from SXSW to state legislature buildings. But that doesn’t necessarily explain the return to the bestseller lists of a book that’s more than thirty years old…or does it?
All high school literature class references to watching Romeo & Juliet instead of reading it aside, the adaptation of books into movies has long irritated genuine bibliophiles. Phrases like “the book was better” have become pop culture norms, indicating our daily awareness that movie adaptations can fall short. But with all of the acclaim surrounding the Hulu series, why is The Handmaid’s Tale back at #1 in several retail book markets?
It’s not just the series that we can thank for bringing renewed focus to this book. Unfortunately, the rise of conservative administrations across the US has already been blamed for references to both the book’s title and the designation of women as chattel with offshoots of their male owners’ names. The Handmaid corp that silently protested in the Texas state house were there to show disdain for two reproductive rights bills before the legislature, for example. The Guardian also points to the increase in US sales of Atwood’s book immediately following Trump’s claim to the highest office in the country.
But why is the UK seeing a skyrocketing increase in sales following Channel 14’s airing of the first Hulu episode? It could be a Game of Thrones phenomenon, in which viewers simply couldn’t wait for the rest of the series to air in order to find out what happens (joke’s on them…get busy writing, Mr. Martin). It could also point to a genuine love of reading: if the broadcast is this good, the book must be incredible.
However the renewed interest has come about, it’s good for books and readers. It indicates that the naysayers who’ve long predicted the death of reading in the visual media age may not have so much to worry about. Ironically, one of the many crimes in Atwood’s near-future Gilead society for which a woman can be put to death is reading.