The Barnes & Noble Book Club selection for September, Margaret Atwood’s The Testaments, picks up more than 15 years after the events in her original classic The Handmaid’s Tale. Though the theocratic regime remains in the Republic of Gilead, signs abound that it’s the beginning of the end for the patriarchal power. Poised for revenge, Aunt Lydia is now old and dying, but she has no intention to leave this world without taking down some people with her in this captivating tale that fans won’t be able to put down. But what is a reader to do after finishing this incredible book and discussing it at your local B&N Book Club meeting on Wednesday, October 9th at 7 p.m.? We’ve rounded up 8 more reads to keep you busy until next month. Check out our readalike picks for The Testaments.
The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood
After reading the sequel, you may want to revisit Atwood’s instant classic that started it all. The dystopian future novel focuses on Offred, an enslaved Handmaid to the Commander and his wife in the Republic of Gilead—which was once known as the United States—an oppressive monotheocracy in which women have no rights and are only as valuable as their reproductive systems are viable. Offred only has her memories of a time when she had her freedom, a job, a husband, a child, a life of her own. And now she’s not even permitted to read and is only allowed to leave the house once a day to go to the food market. It’s a reality that seems all at once surreal and prescient to readers who won’t soon forget The Handmaid’s Tale or its powerful sequel.
Station Eleven, by Emily St. John Mandel
Kirstin Raymonde is just 8 years old, acting in a production of King Lear in Toronto when the show’s star, Hollywood-famous Arthur Leander, dies on stage of a heart attack. On the very same night, a flu pandemic is spreading across the world, wiping out civilization in Emily St. John Mandel’s spellbinding National Book Award finalist that will appeal to fans of Atwood’s latest dystopian tale. Kirsten can’t find her parents, and she and her older brother must try to survive this bleak new reality. We pick back up with Kirsten 20 years later—she has joined up with a traveling Shakespeare troupe called the Traveling Symphony, determined to bring art to those that remain to remind the survivors that humanity can indeed still exist.
1984, by George Orwell
Much like Atwood’s The Testaments, George Orwell’s 1984, written 70 years ago, feels chillingly prophetic in today’s climate. A masterpiece of dystopian fiction, Orwell’s tale offers his profound take on the effects of government surveillance, oppression, and revisionist history. In the tale, Winston Smith is a government employee for the Ministry of Truth, altering historical records to reflect the storyline preferred by the Party, who punishes anyone for even thinking negatively about the government—after all, Big Brother is always watching. Thus Winston has been secretly writing his thoughts in a diary, and one day, when he sees a girl staring, he naturally assumes she’s onto him. But Julia is also a rebel, and soon the two attempt to have a relationship and form a bond that simply isn’t allowed in this society.
Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley
Fans of alarmingly prophetic dystopias would also do well not to miss (or, if it’s been a few decades, to revisit) Aldous Huxley’s ruthless, timeless, terrifying vision of a world that seems, in the current climate, jarringly famillier. This classic is often contrasted with the more overtly dark dystopian novel 1984, but it also offers an interesting counterpoint to the world depicted in The Handmaid’s Tale (in it, reproduction is also managed by the government, but in this case, it has been completely divorced from humanity, and babies are genetically engineered and grown in jars.) Brave New World finds humanity completely controlled by the state—but this control is implemented not through fear and subjugation, but by keeping people so distracted by trivial entertainment, state-sanctioned tranquilizing drugs, and government-approved promiscuity that they barely notice or care about their lack of personal freedom.
The Power, by Naomi Alderman
Have you ever heard a woman say she always knows where men are on any given street she’s walking on…like she has eyes in the back of her head? This novel imagines that men might be the ones who have something to fear, when teenage girls can torture and kill if they want to. Follow four perspectives of people whose lives are irrevocably altered when this power emerges, and remember the metaphor that Handmaid’s Tale and its sequel also drive home: that the power for evil is certainly within us, and if provoked, we can unleash it.
The Memory Police, by Yoko Ogawa
Ogawa’s dystopian tale about government surveillance and control is a perfect next read for fans of Atwood’s The Testaments. Objects, people, and even concepts are disappearing from the island—and it’s happening at a more rapid pace by the day. Most people on the island don’t even notice, but some are able to remember the things lost to the Memory Police—and these people live in fear of the draconian enforcement group. When a young novelist finds out that her editor has been targeted by the Memory Police, she hides him away in a secret room in her house, where they cling to her writing as a way to preserve the past and their relationship as a means for preserving their humanity. This novel was longlisted for the National Book Award for Translated Literature.
Never Let Me Go, by Kazuo Ishiguro
In Ishiguro’s dystopian sci-fi novel, Kathy, Ruth, and Tommy all grew up attending an exclusive private school together in the English countryside, where the students were sheltered from reality. The children always knew that they were somehow special, but their uniqueness was shrouded in mystery. Now, as adults, the threesome has come back together as 31-year-old Kathy is serving as a “carer” for Ruth and Tommy prior to becoming a “donor” herself in this haunting novel in which an oppressed underclass exists solely to act as organ banks to keep other people alive longer—and the underclass doesn’t understand their unavoidable destiny until it’s too late.
Vox, by Christina Dalcher
Vox‘s entire premise is based on the silencing of women, literally: allotted only 100 words per day and violently punished if they exceed it, women in this version of America have been robbed of their voices, their careers, and their dignity. But when one former cognitive linguist (aka, a scientist of words) is recruited by the higher echelon of the government to work on a cure for a Very Important Person’s brain injury impacting their speech, she decides that this (and her added allotment of words per day) is her opportunity to seek justice. Not just for her, but for her young daughter, who has grown up being silent, and her teenage son, whom she watches becoming more indoctrinated into this toxic system each day. A gripping read with twists and turns you won’t see coming!
What books would you recommend for fans of The Testaments?