Thursday, September 13, 2012

Why The Handmaid's Tale Makes a Bold Choice for Mayor Dean's 'Citywide Read'

Posted By on Thu, Sep 13, 2012 at 9:45 AM

Over at our sister blog Pith in the Wind, Betsy Phillips has a great post about what she deems "the most politically bold thing" Mayor Karl Dean has done: announcing a citywide read of Margaret Atwood's dystopian science-fiction novel The Handmaid's Tale in conjunction with Atwood's visit to Nashville Oct. 26-27.

As Phillips notes, it's a book that seems as timely now as it did when it was issued at the midpoint of the Reagan years:

But it's more than just controversial. It's a searing and damning indictment of a very popular mindset around the state — that we should have a Christian theocracy, that all sex should be procreative, that women should be focused on domestic tasks and making babies, and that anyone who doesn't want a life like that should get the fuck out.

And I was thinking, my God, it takes some intestinal fortitude to take up a citywide discussion of how the state's goals can spiral into the sickness on display in Atwood's novel. But then I got to thinking — is there a Republican I think would read this? Maybe House Speaker Beth Harwell. And it's not like she's going to take the time to explain to her colleagues why they might be upset by this choice.

Maybe it's not such a political risk after all.

Still, I had a certain feeling about the mayor when I heard this — a feeling I didn't recognize at first, because I hadn't felt this way about a Tennessee Democratic politician in a long time.

I am proud.

The most dangerous thing about The Handmaid's Tale isn't its ideas but its readability. I haven't read the book since college, but I remember finding it deeply unsettling and suspenseful — a novel of ideas that uses an entertaining form the way Atwood's fellow Canadian David Cronenberg once used genre movies to propagate visionary concepts and black-humored social commentary.

I look forward to encountering those ideas again ... in fiction.

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