IMAGINE a book that can’t be burnt. Actually, you don’t have to imagine, that very thing has just been created.

A one-off copy of Margaret Atwood’s classic novel The Handmaid’s Tale is being auctioned by Sotheby’s in support of PEN America and in defence of freedom of expression. What makes it special is that it is fire-resistant.

Hold on, an unburnable book. How is that possible?

A bookbinding speciality studio called The Gas Company Inc, has produced a version of the book printed on Cinefoil, a specially treated aluminium product, which was then bound by hand using nickel copper wire.

And this can resist fire?

It seems so. A video has been made which shows The Handmaid’s Tale’s author Margaret Atwood attacking it with a flamethrower and the book emerges unscathed.

So, what’s behind this?

“The Unburnable Book” project is a joint venture between the author, Atwood’s American publisher Penguin Random House, PEN America and a creative agency called Rethink who came up with the idea in response to reports that a Texas legislator listing hundreds of works for potential banning from school libraries. Book banning has been on the rise in the US.

Which books are being banned?

They include such award-winning novels as The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini and Beloved by Toni Morrison, removed from a school library in Florida. In Tennessee the Pulitzer Prize-winning graphic memoir Maus, in which Art Spiegelman retells the story of his Holocaust survivor father, was removed from the curriculum by a school board for profanity and nudity. Even Harper Lee’s classic To Kill a Mockingbird was dropped from the curriculum by a school district near Seattle.

And are any being burned?

Earlier this year a pastor in Tennessee livestreamed a book burning on Facebook. Copies of Twilight and JK Rowling’s Harry Potter books were consigned to the flames.

What about The Handmaid’s Tale?

HeraldScotland: Margaret AtwoodMargaret Atwood

As far as its author knows, it has not been burnt. But her novel of a futuristic patriarchal, white supremacist state has been the subject of bans and attempted bans. Hence the reason for a fireproof version.

“To see her classic novel about the dangers of oppression reborn in this innovative, unburnable edition is a timely reminder of what’s at stake in the battle against censorship”, Markus Dohle, CEO of Penguin Random House said.

Book burning is not just an American hobby, is it?

Hardly. Salman Rushdie’s novel The Satanic Verses was burnt in Bolton and Bradford in the late 1980s and infamously Nazi youth groups burnt books from German university libraries including works by HG Wells and Albert Einstein.

In Bebelplatz in Berlin that destruction is commemorated in a plaque which quotes the German poet Heinrich Heine: “That was but a prelude; where they burn books, they will ultimately burn people as well.”