Margaret Atwood, Han Kang, and more will bury their new novels for 100 years. What do you think about the Future Library Project?

Yesterday I was reading the Literary Hub newsletter (ever a goldmine) and ran across the news that a new novel by Han Kang, along with work by Margaret Atwood, David Mitchell, Elif Shafak, and Sjón, will be part of an art project called “Future Library.” Scottish artist Katie Paterson has asked that no one see the new books except for the authors themselves. The new novels won’t be read for 100 years, when a grove of Norwegian spruce trees planted in 2014 will mature and be cut down in order to print them.

nature forest trees fog
Photo by Jaymantri on Pexels.com

My first reaction is…what?! This seems terribly gimmicky to me, like most time capsule projects do. Who will be in charge of making sure this actually happens in 100 years? Will these authors even be remembered? Will anyone care? (Even remarkably popular, talented, and prolific authors aren’t guaranteed to age well in people’s memories.)

But maybe that’s a selfish reaction, and one that Paterson is deliberately trying to provoke. I can’t help but feel like something is being stolen from me. I especially don’t like the idea of missing out on new Han Kang, who wrote one of my favorite novels, The Vegetarianas well as Human Acts.

What say you, readers? Will this art project be an aching testament to the power of time and imagination? Or is it a waste of perfectly good words from some of the greatest novelists working today?

You can read more about the Future Library Project over at The GuardianHan Kang had some especially lovely comments about why she’s excited about the project–even if I’m still feeling grouchy about not getting to read this newest novel of hers.

5 thoughts on “Margaret Atwood, Han Kang, and more will bury their new novels for 100 years. What do you think about the Future Library Project?”

  1. The project itself feels gimmicky to me as well, but there’s something sort of moving about the idea that people would care enough to complete this a century from now, if indeed they do. The sample of writers also seems scattered and sparse, but I can see why not many authors would want to participate in this.

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    1. Yes! For me there’s an interesting conversation to be had about the kind of stability (financially and career-wise) you’d have to have as an author to commit to this. Publishing’s a fast-moving field and losing out on a whole novel’s worth of sales, reviews, and publicity would really damage a lot of writers. On the other hand, I do agree that it’s moving! I’ve got a whole tangle of feelings. 🙂

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  2. I think the idea is intriguing. Re: having something “stolen,” I get the feeling, but in the end authors aren’t obligated to share their work with us. That’s an attitude I’ve had to develop when reading fanfiction — there are so many unfinished stories — and it’s spilled into the way I look at published novelists.

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    1. Oooh, the fanfiction angle is so interesting! I’d never even considered that (I don’t read fanfiction, which I know is my loss) but now that you say that, I think it’s really apt. You’d have to really love writing to commit to something like this, knowing that it won’t be read by anyone in your lifetime. If there’s one thing I know about fanfic authors, it’s that they’re doing it for the love of it. Food for thought!

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      1. Lol, I wasn’t even thinking of it from that angle either! I was thinking more like, some fanfiction writers get a strong following on a particular story, but then they decide not to finish it, and followers get really mad and act entitled to an ending. In this case it’s a little different, where established authors are writing whole novels without releasing them, but basically my reaction to that is “well, a book is an author’s creation, so they should be able to choose how/when/if they share it.”

        But I agree with what you said too– really not just fanfiction authors, but any author has no guarantee that people will be interested in their work. It’s really a labor of love to write a book. But if you’re posting online for free, it can seem especially thankless.

        With this project, I guess there’s still no guarantee that the books will be well-received in 100 years, but considering the scope of the project, I think the authors are almost certain to secure some kind of long-term notoriety through this. Even if some of them are temporarily forgotten, the release of the books after 100 years will spark a rediscovery of their works. It happens all the time with old authors, although not in such a manufactured way.

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