For years, I have owned a slim volume by Jorge Luis Borges which I’ve never opened. There are eleven stories in Doctor Brodie’s Report, and (unusually for me) I haven’t failed to read them because I shoved them on a shelf and then forgot about them. I have deliberately not read them because I can’t bear the thought of never having a new Borges story to read again. I’d rather be hit by a bus with the stories unread than have read them all and not have them to look forward to. Well, I suppose I’d rather not be hit by a bus at all, but some of that is down to the driver. And maybe I shouldn’t be reading as I’m walking along.
So, even though I’m a huge Margaret Atwood fan, I’m not at all sorry that I won’t be able to read whatever she has written for the Future Library, the brainchild of Scottish artist, Katie Paterson. One author will submit a work to the library each year for the next hundred years (Atwood is the first to contribute), until they are all published in 2114. The texts will remain in sealed boxes and kept in the Deichman Library in Oslo until then. Meanwhile, 1000 trees are to be planted nearby. These will provide the paper for the books.
Everything about this idea is romantic. As Atwood said, ‘Future Library is bound to attract a lot of attention over the decades, as people follow the progress of the trees, note what takes up residence in and around them, and try to guess what the writers have put into their sealed boxes.’ And how beautiful to own a book made from trees that you had watched grow around you.
Also, someone should surely be writing a literary heist story, in which demented book nerds attempt a library break-in, sometime over the next hundred years, just in order to read the words of their idols. George Clooney is probably halfway through the script already (I’m offering Grand Theft Author as the working title).
Atwood has a particular genius for creating extraordinarily detailed futures (though few of us would choose to live in the worlds of The Handmaid’s Tale, or Oryx and Crake), so no wonder she was top of Future Library’s list of contributors. The only question remaining is: will the real future of Future Library outstrip even Atwood’s imagination?
Authors have little say in how they are remembered: plenty of popular and critically-acclaimed writers have been forgotten because their work fell out of fashion, or was simply overlooked. Others are suddenly rediscovered when their books are re-evaluated: remember the unexpected hit, Stoner, a couple of summers ago? But Douglas Adams is remembered each year on May 25th, known as Towel Day – the one thing no good hitchhiker should be without – because his fans are (even by the standards of sci-fi) incredibly devoted.
Not only is Towel Day celebrated here on earth, it is even marked at the International Space Station. The European Space Agency yesterday released a video of Italian astronaut, Samantha Cristoforetti, upside down in a t-shirt which reads ‘Don’t Panic’, reading aloud from the first few pages of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. So Adams’ work will surely last. At least until someone builds a bypass through our galaxy and it’s all over for us.
The Iris Project, masterminded by Lorna Robinson, has for some years now been sending volunteer Classics students into state primary schools to help children with literacy through Latin. It started out as a small scheme in Oxford, and has now spread across the country. It’s also become an official part of one Classics degree course: The University of Glasgow has just announced that it will now offer its classics students an optional, one-year credit-bearing course as part of the project. They will teach primary school pupils for an hour a week to improve literacy rates.
I don’t think every student should have to learn ancient languages, but I do wish they all had the opportunity to do so. Latin shouldn’t be the preserve of those rich enough to pay for it. And in Glasgow, amongst many other places, it isn’t.