Talking to the future

Through NetGalley and Edelweiss, I can read books from the future. If I’m lucky, I can read a book up to six months before it’s scheduled to appear in bookstores. I try not to gloat (too much) about this.

But there’s one book I can’t get…unless I learn how to become immortal. 
Getting a picture of actual Norwegian wood is
harder than you might think. You have to sift through
pictures of John Lennon, Haruki Murakami novels,
and, because it’s the Internet, cat pictures.
Katie Paterson, a Scottish artist, has bought a forest outside of Oslo. In 100 years, the trees will be used to create paper for books that have not yet been written. Except, one has been written. Margaret Atwood was asked to write a book that will be the first book in the Future Library. Even if the first book wasn’t by Atwood, I would still be pissed that I wouldn’t get to read it. 
The Future Library website explains its purpose:

Tending the forest and ensuring its preservation for the 100-year duration of the artwork finds a conceptual counterpoint in the invitation extended to each writer: to conceive and produce a work in the hopes of finding a receptive reader in an unknown future.

But aren’t authors already writing for the future? Their intended audience might be readers alive and buying books right now, but their books will still exist in the future. That’s why we still have Dickens and Austen and Shakespeare and Sophocles. I suppose the only writers that really need this kind of future insurance are the hack writers. (Even then, I suppose its possible that some future librarian will stumble across some ancestor’s copy of Fifty Shades of Grey and get sqwicked out.)

Atwood doesn’t need to worry about this. I’ve always ascribed to Italo Calvino’s definition of a classic as a book that “has never exhausted all it has to say to its reader.” (Okay, technically, there are 14 things Calvino used to define a classic.) I wonder how a writer goes about deliberately writing for a future audience, for readers who will have different cultural shibboleths and history and who might not understand the mindset of 2014? What a strange assignment to take on. 


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