Where do I begin?
So much has happened.
I want to tell you everything.
The convenience store attendant calling me “sweetie” with platonic affection. The way he lit up when I asked him how his night was going. His spotted skin and the way he swallowed his words when he mentioned doctor’s orders.
The old man in athletic shorts who looked like he’d just come back from a run. The way his legs trembled as he climbed the stairs. The way his hands flaired out as they hung down by his sides: a quiet balancing act.
—Ben Chestnut’s advice to startup founders. Via DoesWhat
—Carl Friedrich Gauss in a letter to Farkas Bolyai (1808)
24-Hour Bookclub is a reading flashmob. Every once and a while, we pick a book, read it in one day, and discuss it on the internet.
Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore is about many things, and pours over with ideas, but most striking is its sense of deep, infectious wonder. To quote George Saunders:
Robin Sloan comes across as so bighearted, so in love with the world—the ancient world, the contemporary world—so in love with love, in love with friendship, in love with the idea that our technical abilities can serve as conduits for beauty, that the reader is swept along by his enthusiasm. It’s a lot of fun—but it’s also a powerful reading experience with a wonderful undeniability.
This is not a book you can read without falling in love: with the Internet (again), with people, with the world. It bottles the sense of epic possibility; It makes you feel as if there is a secret world out there, waiting for you to notice its strangeness and vastness and potential, hoping you’ll come find it; It makes you feel that there are friends who are (algorithmically) perfect for you if only you’d search for them (You don’t even have to find them, they’ll find you; The mere act of searching is some cosmic trigger that sends them spinning your way).; This book leaves you with the feeling that you (and all people who make the Internet) have inherited the earth, and like wizards who call upon elemental forces, you and your friends wield the skills (coding know-how, imagination, curiosity and a sense of benevolent mischief) necessary to make the world more like you imagine it.
The major fun factor with 24-Hour Bookclub (aside from laying around with bedhead, eating snacks) turns out to be live tweeting discoveries and reactions with a group of people who are at that very moment devouring the very same pages. You may be a few hours ahead or behind, but you’re all still essentially in the same place, and this makes reading, normally a solitary affair, into a social event and a shared experience.
When reading is live, we get to watch others experience the same thing we’re experiencing in different ways: they may have epiphanies we didn’t have, share revelations, articulate moments of resonance, but because we are (virtually) with them in the same time and place, we get to engage with them. And unexpectedly, something magical happens in the time between these connected moments…we are changed by them; Then we plunge back into the story.
Even on the Internet, with all of its wonderful connectedness, how often do we get to hang around a playground of mutual interest together? Most of the time we only get to say in passing, “Yea, I’ve been there. It’s great,” or “No, I’ve been meaning to go.” 24-Hour Bookclub let us hang out and play together in Mr. Penumbra’s (impractical, unwieldily, utterly and hopelessly over the top) Bookstore. In that sense, reading live turns a book into a community space.
To The Future
When I think about the future of stories, I can’t help but think of them as collaborative environments, which like the Internet, exist as shared experience of virtual space. 24-Hour Bookclub makes the future of the book feel more present. And honestly, it makes it more fun. I’ve always loved books, but I’ve never laid in bed excitedly clutching a book, waiting for midnight to strike so I can dive into a secret world with a band of virtual adventurers.