So, I kind of stumbled over this, but it is very cool. Amazon Charts puts out a “Year in Books” report that provides some really interesting data on the book business, which is fine, but also on the culture, which is more interesting.
So, the most read book on the Amazon platforms this year is The Handmaid’s Tale. Eight of the top 10 are typical much-read books by Rowling, King, Martin, Brown, which is not to denigrate them but just to say that I don’t divine much Zeitgeist in there.
But The Handmaid’s Tale? #1? In 2017? Let’s talk.
First, I have a confession to make. Until this year, I had not read The Handmaid’s Tale. That’s not something I am proud of. I hadn’t. I knew lots of people thought it was significant and important, but I had kind of written it off as speculative fiction, which is something I think is kind of irrelevant and cheating and uninteresting…as opposed to, say, honestly looking at what has and is happening.
So, with the TV series (which I did not watch) and the seeming rise of an authoritarian-leaning sentiment in the United States, I thought it might be time for me to read it.
With that, it is also time to admit that I was 100% wrong. The book is brilliant and not speculative in the sense that it packages things that have happened and shows them to use in the future. It is not fantastical, but chilling in how women are treated, but also dissent. It presents you things you cannot bear to look at and reminds you that they are not fiction.
It might be the rare book that was so far ahead of its time that it is more relevant today than when it came out. In fact, I might not have had the same reaction had I read it on release date, but in these times, it was far too close to reality than comfort would allow.
Second, though, is the other things that have happened as it relates to women. So, we can’t deny that the Hulu series on The Handmaid’s Tale is probably driving most of that Amazon readership. That certainly happens a lot.
But bear with me. In the time since the Hulu series ran and in the time when this reading was going on, we saw a surge of women telling their stories of harassment and victimization by powerful men, actions which are the chemical precursor of the world that Atwood envisioned.
My question–which we will probably never know the answer to–is to what extent The Handmaid’s Tale…in video and book form…dropped into today’s world where there appear to be even less protection than there was before…where things that should not be are increasingly being normalized…to what extent that had a role in women speaking out and raising this kind of stuff to a new level of awareness.
That’s the power of art and the power of literature, for sure. Art doesn’t have to be political, but I wonder if Atwood’s book will end up with Uncle Tom’s Cabin, The Jungle and others as books that truly influenced the generally immovable curve of history.