“The Handmaid’s Tale” and “1984” Sit at Top of Amazon’s Best Sellers List

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Some people read books to escape from the harsh truths of reality. And some people (or, apparently, a lot of people) read books to better discern the totalitarian threat of the current political environment, I guess?

Much has been said about George Orwell’s “1984” returning to the top of Amazon’s best sellers list, but another dystopian fiction novel has since joined it. This week, Margaret Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale” hit Amazon’s best sellers list at number two, with “1984” dropping down to the third slot from the top spot it held after the #alternativefacts controversy late last month.

Considered as somewhat of a “feminist ‘1984,’” “The Handmaid’s Tale” is set in a dystopian future where a totalitarian state run by religious zealots, the Republic of Gilead, has replaced America. In Gilead, women are property, a large number of them are infertile, and they are placed in a caste system where their worth is determined by their ability to bear children, race, and class. As warfare rages on throughout the country, fertile women are put in camps and trained to be “Handmaids,” who are tasked with bearing the children of rich white men. Sounds like a fun and breezy read, no?

Like “1984,” which has been banned and challenged many times by school boards since its publication, “The Handmaid’s Tale” has been caught up in similar controversy. Most recently, in 2014, the book was banned by a school board in Pennsylvania because of the novel’s profanity and graphic sexual references. In 2012, according to the Winston-Salem Journal, two mothers in Guilford County, North Carolina attempted to ban the book from schools because of its extreme view of Christianity.

On NPR’s “All Things Considered,” Russell Perreault, head of publicity for Anchor Books, which now publishes “The Handmaid’s Tale,” said that sales of the book shot up 60 percent in the last year and, since the election, sales increased by 200 percent.

While some of the book’s success can be attributed to the impending April premiere of the Hulu show based on the novel (Hulu premiered the show’s second trailer during last Sunday’s Super Bowl), it’s not out of the question to consider the book’s renewed prominence could be connected to an increase in political anxiety.

This spike in sales for “The Handmaid’s Tale” is similar to the sales numbers posted by “1984.” According to CNNMoney, which spoke to a Penguin spokesman, Penguin reprinted 75,000 copies of “1984” the week after the inauguration–which is a significantly larger reprint than normal for the novel. This upsurge in sales for “1984” is similar to but larger than the spike that sales of the novel saw in the midst of the NSA surveillance scandal in 2013.

Following this gloom and doom of the future reading trend, Sinclair Lewis’ cautionary novel “It Can Happen Here” as well as Aldous Huxley’s even more cautionary novel “Brave New World” can be found further down the Amazon best sellers list. However, it should be noted that the children’s books “Llama Llama I Love You” and “Love from the Very Hungry Caterpillar” sit at fifth and sixth on the list, so do not despair, for children’s reading habits have not been affected…yet.

Austin Elias-De Jesus
Austin is an editorial intern at Law Street Media. He is a junior at The George Washington University majoring in Political Communication. You can usually find him reading somewhere. If you can’t find him reading, he’s probably taking a walk. Contact Austin at Staff@Lawstreetmedia.com.



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