Future Library – fun, fad, fantasy or folly?
You might have spotted various articles recently concerning the project called Future Library. I’m not giving links because, for one thing, you can google as well as I can, and for another, I’m loathe to give the big websites any more traffic than they already get. Basically, the concept is this: authors have been approached to produce a book that after it’s been written and put into a form that will last, it will be sealed up for a hundred years. Various famous folks like David Mitchell (of Cloud Atlas and Bone Clocks fame), and Margaret Atwood ( The Handmaiden’s Tale) have already agreed and have written their books. Until the century is up, no one will know what they have written; none of us alive now will ever know.
There’s been a lot of discussion about this and there seems to be a significant camp for whom this is cool, interesting and liberating and should be seen as art, and another camp (into which I fall) that is baffled by it. To me, it makes no sense, to which the other camp would say, it’s art, it doesn’t have to make sense. I would disagree profoundly; in my pretty humble opinion, art does need to make sense, on some level, however esoteric. It might be that my cognitive functions are so seriously impaired by the overwhelming depression that’s made life very hard at present, but I can’t find any sense in Future Library no matter how I try.
There are many reasons why I find the whole concept troubling. One is that I tend to wonder whether in a hundred year’s time whether there will be anyone around to actually retrieve these books. Another is that for me a book, a story, is a living thing, and the idea of hiding it away is like locking a dog in a bank vault. Every fibre of what’s left of my soul shrinks from this thought. Another problem is that those who are contributing are those whose work has reached a certain level of success and critical acclaim; yes, perhaps they can spare a book for the purpose, but given that neither of the two I named, is a prolific writer, I can’t help wondering if they might regret this act of sacrifice. Yet another concern is, what is this for? Why is it being done? Yes, we come back to the idea of it being art. I’m obviously too stupid to really get this.
If I had the means, the money and the influence, I’d do my own Future Library. It would be entirely different because the books would not be entombed and lost from view. I’d fill those shelves with the books that are already lost, those works by talented, clever, modest and self-effacing authors whose character and personality have meant that they can no more slash their way to prominence through the jungle of self-promotion, than they could slash their way through the tangled rainforests to find lost cities. I’m tired of being told, “You just gotta make yourself do it,” by people who cannot understand that to many of us are given gifts of word-crafting from the heart and soul, but we lack the huckster gene that means we can sell ourselves and our works like they were so many knock-off Rolex watches.
I’ve watched the toxin of despair seep into the souls of too many authors whose work (and them) I esteem so highly that I consider myself lucky that I can call them friends, because the Juggernaut of publishing crashes over them and speeds off into the distance, leaving them crushed and bewildered. In a recent blog post on the books she’s lately read, Clare Weiner reviewed a couple of my books, after those of a couple of very big names, prefacing the reviews by explaining that though I was an unknown, I deserved a wider audience recognition. Claire herself deserves that too, as do a significant number of authors whose work I would champion more had I more strength.
My Future Library would consist of books lost to easy discovery amid the millions of other books. They’d be the stories that I’d want grandchildren and great grandchildren to read, the lost voices of the first two decades of the twenty first century, those books that got trampled in the rush to commercial success but which contain tales that ought never have been so discarded by people who (like me) deserved a much wider audience than the one we got when we lived.