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You Can't Read These Books, But Your Great-Great-Grandchildren Can

Margaret Atwood, right, hands over her transcript for Future Library, a 100-year project by Scottish artist Katie Paterson, left. Credit: Katie Paterson

Margaret Atwood, right, hands over her transcript for Future Library, a 100-year project by Scottish artist Katie Paterson, left. Credit: Katie Paterson

This article and radio report by Susannah Roberson for The World originally appeared on PRI.org on July 16, 2015, and is republished here as part of a content-sharing agreement.

We've all heard of time capsules, but this one is a little bit different. It's called Future Library, and it's in the form of a forest in Norway.

Here's how it works: 1,000 trees have been planted in Nordmarka, a forest just outside Oslo, and these trees will provide paper for a special anthology of books to be printed a century from now. This project is the brainchild of Scottish artist Katie Paterson, and she says she got the idea while doodling.

“I was making a very simple sketch in a notebook of tree rings, and I quite quickly made a connection between tree rings and chapters in a book,” Paterson says.

Paterson plans to invite one author each year to contribute to the collection, for 100 years. Award-winning Canadian writer Margaret Atwood was the first to submit a manuscript in May.

“To have held in my hands a piece of her writing that I can't read and know that nobody else can read until this moment in the future is very tempting indeed,” Paterson says. “But of course I'm going to be so strict, so I will never open any of the pages.”

Paterson hopes her project will be a treat for future generations. She thinks it will be just like reading an undiscovered antique text.

“I imagine the writings will contain crystallized moments from each year, whether that's 2015 or 2055,” Paterson says. “So I like to imagine what that first reader might open the first page to.”

But that won't be until the year 2114. Meanwhile, Paterson has announced the second author for the project, British writer David Mitchell. And the forest in Norway keeps growing.

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