THE BLOG

Getting Excited for a Book You'll Never Read

06/04/2015 01:53 pm ET | Updated Jun 04, 2016

A century from now, when almost everyone currently alive will be dead, a book will be published. Not a book written by a resident of that unknown future, but by the authors of today - and of the next hundred years. One hundred writers, one for every year from 2014 to 2114, will produce a manuscript and squirrel it away in a Norwegian public library. The manuscripts will remain unread until they are unveiled and published in 2114.

Future Library, as this project is called, is the brainchild of artist Katie Paterson.

Margaret Atwood, a novelist best known for "The Handmaid's Tale", is Future Library's first contributor. In a video discussing the project, Atwood refused to give so much as a hint to her story's topic, explaining that "it's part of the deal, that you can't tell what you're writing."

Future Library has also planted 1000 trees to be used for the printing of the books in 2114. A printing press and instructions for its use will be stored with the manuscripts so that in case humanity has forgotten how to make physical books, they will still be able to publish them.

Paterson says that the project "is hopeful, in its essence." Indeed, Future Library depends on a rather heavy assumption: In a hundred years, there will still be humans, and those humans will still read.

David Mitchell, author of "Cloud Atlas" (from which the 2012 movie featuring Tom Hanks and Halle Berry was adapted) is the project's author for 2015. He added to the project's tone of optimism, claiming that, "The project is a vote of confidence that, despite the catastrophist shadows under which we live, the future will still be a brightish place willing and able to complete an artistic endeavor begun by long-dead people a century ago."

The only safe assumption to make about the future is that it will be drastically different from the present. Yet Future Library stakes its very existence on some things staying the same: People one hundred years from now will still be curious about the past, will still be willing to explore fictional possibilities, and will still be excited to crack open a paper book. According to Paterson, "We're going to do everything we can to ensure that this book is printed."

Another aspect of Future Library worth considering is that, unless medical technology advances drastically or someone invents immortality, most people reading this and excitedly watching Margaret Atwood hand over her manuscript will no longer be alive by the time the book is published. We will never have the opportunity to read it. Does that mean we shouldn't be excited?

My vote is a resounding "no." Through this project, we are investing in the future. We are planting trees, planting seeds of stories that will grow in a future that we can't even properly imagine. By the time these manuscripts are read, the world will probably be unrecognizable to us, the citizens of the early twenty-first century. But Future Library means that something from today will still exist tomorrow - and the day after that, and the nearly 36,500 days after that until it is exhumed.

Future Library is about the future, not about today. And yes, that means that we're all going to be eternally disappointed that we'll never read Margaret Atwood or David Mitchell's newest story. But this project is as close to a guarantee as we can get that someone, maybe our own children and grandchildren, will read a little piece of our present.