I’ve noticed before – and have no doubt written before – I can’t remember what I have written, to be honest, there’s so much of it – about synchronicity; the way things and people tend to mysteriously come together, jump out of books, out of Twitter, allow you to overhear them being spoken about on the bus, even find their way into those weird pamphlets the Jehovah’s Witnesses insist on giving you. It’s as if the universe wants you to think about something and therefore starts summoning stuff, coalescing it around you like… growing crystals or something. No one believes me of course.
So it has been with David Mitchell. I read Cloud Atlas ages ago and marvelled. I read it again, and still marvelled. That must be the best idea ever for a book and he had it, not me. Curses!
Recently I caught the end of a Meet the Writer with him, on the news channel. He didn’t look like I’d imagined him to look, even from the photos, and I found him extraordinarily difficult to listen to. It wasn’t what he was saying, it was the way he spoke – something about the hesitancy and the broken rhythm of his speech just worried me. I found myself getting anxious for him, like you do when someone has a stammer. I had to turn it over.
Then I gave Twitter a bit of a spin on the old Kindle. It still makes me seasick, to be honest, all that scrolling and scrolling and endless stuff I’m never going to have time to read. I was only really looking for my post (vain, I know) and there was David Mitchell again and something about a tree project and books buried for a hundred years. Well, not exactly buried – they’re going to be kept in a special tree-decorated room in the new library in Oslo.
Mitchell’s book is called From Me Flows What You Call Time. They left off the ‘From’ in the article I was reading, which threw me a bit. I know he’s a bit Japanese-y and all that, having lived and worked in Japan, but Me Flows What You Call Time seemed unnecessarily inscrutable. Then I found a piece of music on You Tube called – you guessed it – From Me Flows What You Call Time, by a composer called Takemitsu. Interesting piece of music – flute-y and atmospheric:
The project, then is an artwork from Scottish artist Katie Paterson. It started in 2014 and involves a forest of 1,000 trees planted outside Oslo. In a hundred years’ time (so 2114) the trees will be cut down to provide paper for an anthology of one hundred texts. It’s a time capsule – similar to those things they used to do in my youth involving biscuit tins buried in the back garden for the little green men to dig up when they invaded us in the fingers-crossed-far-distant-future, except this is more interesting. Each year one novelist contributes one novel. The novel will be displayed in the Future Library or Framtidsbiblioteket but no one will be allowed to read it and the author will not not allowed to talk about it. The first one was Canadian author Margaret Atwood, who provided a manuscript called Scribbler Moon and the second is David Mitchell.
The artwork is meant to be a statement of faith in the future, ie that there will still be people around in one hundred years time, still a Norway, still an Earth, still a Universe… and that people will still be reading in dead tree format. Can’t decide whether this idea is more fascinating than annoying or annoying than fascinating. I want to read all those books NOW, even though only two of them have even been written yet. I won’t be here in a hundred years. On the other hand, of course, there’s reincarnation…
So, this is David Mitchell handing over his secret manuscript, and above Margaret Atwood (who looks remarkably like I imagine my sister will look in thirty years time, only cheerier) doing the same thing in 2015.
I wonder what reading will be like in a hundred years? Maybe people will have forgotten how to read altogether? It won’t be necessary. Stories and information will exist on memory sticks, dongles or whatever; the whole story to be downloaded into the reader’s brain in seconds via a port on their neck. No need to digest: it comes pre-digested with its own instantly accessible dictionary to supply the meanings of those unfamiliar, hundred year old words. Oat-So-Simple for the literary mind, as it were.