The Future Library Project: Can’t see the words for the trees

I read the Handmaid’s Tale in my late teens and quickly became a fan of Margaret Atwood. Since then I treat myself to one of her novels every few years or so. However, it will take an absolute miracle if I’m ever to read her current novel as it’s being locked away for the next 100 years. Not even J.D Salinger was that cruel.

And the reason for this abuse of readers’ loyalty? Friggin’ art!

Atwood has been named as the first contributor to a new public artwork called the Future Library Project, conceived by the award-winning young Scottish artist Katie Paterson. This started in the summer with the planting of 1,000 trees in Nordmarka, just outside Oslo.

Not content with stealing Atwood from us, the artist intends to pillage another 100 authors up until 2114, when the trees will be cut down to provide the paper for the texts to be printed on. Of the artwork, Atwood said: “I think it goes right back to that phase of our childhood when we used to bury little things in the backyard, hoping that someone would dig them up, long in the future, and say, ‘How interesting, this rusty old piece of tin, this little sack of marbles is. I wonder who put it there?'”

That may be the case but who is to say that physical books will even be around in one hundred years? As the population expands it might very well be a criminal act to use finite resources on something as decadent as a book. And what will the reader of 2114 be like? As we become increasingly addicted to digital technology, who is to say that people will even know how to engage with a physical book. They’ll be swiping pages and pressing on text hoping that a video pops up. And will we even be around then? The way things seem to be going it might very well be that humans are the rare artefacts. Not books.

Yes, I know I’m being dramatic but this is because I love books and being denied one hundred of them due to an art project is frustrating. Even if I secretly like the concept. (Shh) I just hope Atwood writes something deliberately provocative to infuriate readers. Or perhaps by then we will be able to do a Jurassic Park and resurrect Atwood through her DNA.

The artist had this to say: “I imagine her words growing through the trees, an unseen energy, activated and materialised, the tree rings becoming chapters in a book.” That’s a lovely image and very abstract. But what I see is thousands of beautiful words imprisoned and denied from the very people who made the author worthy of being considered for such a commission: The bleedin’ readers!


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