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Boss B*tch Book Club: The Handmaid’s Tale

The people have voted: it’s Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale by a landslide (or 14 votes, to be exact, because that idiom’s always kind of annoyed me)! So, get thee to Barnes & Noble or your local library for a copy. I’ll be reading from the Anchor edition, but no need to fret or go out for a new book if the version you have is different—I’ll use chapters as reference points instead of page numbers.

The first week we’ll read sections I (Night) up to VI (Household), or pages 1-77 in the Anchor edition. We’ll reconvene next Friday, the 15th, with discussion questions unless enough of you tell me that’s not enough time for you to procure the book and read a quarter of it. But if we do go ahead and you don’t get to read all of it: don’t stress. This isn’t class. This is your space to discuss, whether or not you’ve read it all. (Also known as: The Chill Book Club.)

As mentioned briefly before, Handmaid’s Tale is a dystopian novel, like The Hunger Games or The Maze Runner—only it was way ahead of that trend: it was published in 1985. In 1985, Russia was was still the Soviet Union and the Cold War was still a thing. The Cold War was a time of constant fear—fear of nuclear attack and warfare and the fall of the U.S.—and those fears are, I think reflected in Atwood’s novel. But Atwood wrote the book based on her time spent researching early American Puritans, who did not come to the U.S., as we learn in grade school, merely to escape religious persecution but, as Atwood learned, to establish a theocracy, or a government ruled by religious leaders—so, you know, without that famous separation of church and state. The early Puritans weren’t interested in freedom; they persecuted those who opposed their values (think: Salem witch, Scarlet Letter).

Atwood’s depiction of an extremist form of Christianity has gotten her book in trouble. It’s earned a spot on the list of “100 Most Frequently Challenged Books of 1990 to 2000” not only for the way it depicts religion, but also for profanity, graphic sex, violence, violence towards women, and “bleak depression” (that one cracks me up—has the dude who filed that complaint read any great literature???). That said, don’t be scared away! It’s a seriously awesome book that does, despite the description, have moments of humor and happiness (even that happiness is only remembered).

So, get started! Get oriented in this new world! And remember: a book club is what we bring to it! So get on your thinking cats (nope, not a typo) and start reading.

**PS: for those of you who’ve already read the book, please no spoilers.**

(To others: yup, it’s that kind of book. I have a feeling many of you are going to read past the 77-page mark.)