The Norwegian library with unreadable books

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Ultimately, the future library is an expression of hope – a statement of confidence in the possibilities that may be available to our children in the long term.

When I spoke with Paterson, she pointed out that while she herself would never read the books, there was at least one ceremony attendee who could – her son, who would be in his 90s in the 22nd century. During the weekend, he did not hesitate to go see famous authors and ask them questions. During a moment of silent solemnity, watching the writers enter the silent room to deposit their manuscripts in the drawers, he shouted, “WHAT’S INSIDE?” (That’s actually what everyone thought.) Mitchell – still in socks after taking off his shoes to enter the room – sat next to him on the floor of the library and told him what he had seen. I like to imagine that he also revealed some details about his secret history, but of course that would be forbidden.

Then Paterson took his son’s hand and led him inside to take a closer look. He didn’t know it yet, but this place, the forest, and the community that gathered there once a year would be part of his life and that of his mother for decades to come – a thread that ran through both their life and perhaps far beyond.

*Richard Fisher is a senior reporter for BBC Future and tweets @rifish. He writes The Long-termist’s Field Guide newsletter and is the author of an upcoming book, The Long View (Wildfire/Headline).

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