By MIKA ROSS-SOUTHALL
“A young soldier is being treated very harshly by his commanding lieutenant. He is accompanied the entire time by a naked or nearly-naked woman.”
This was a short story I digitally generated before breakfast this morning using The London Bookshop Map App, which has recently been launched. Part of the free iPhone app showcases compressed writing (not unlike our current TLS Twitter competition) collected by the artist Dora García for her on-going project, “Twenty-three million, five hundred and eighty-six thousand, four hundred and ninety stories”.
The app takes snippets of text from García’s previous work, “All the Stories” (in which participants wrote stories up to four-lines long) and then splices them together. Story number “2527” eloquently explains the development of this project: “An artist wants to write all the stories in the world. She meets a cartographer and an inventor. The inventor makes a machine to make old stories new. The new stories are stranger than the originals”.
Some of the resulting lines are disjointed – grammar and pronouns are often questionable – and they can sound like short summaries rather than stand-alone stories. But the idea is exuberant and fun, like a Dadaist or Surrealist experiment, a textual game at the push of a button (“Tell me a story”). You can then view your story in the “logbook” alongside others; each story gives the date and time of creation and a rough location (recent posts come from Vilnius, Zagreb and San Francisco).
Here are a few interesting cross-breeds:
“An employee kills his employer. Well, she didn’t dislike it.”
“In the beginning, men couldn’t talk. He decides to educate him and push him further than he himself was ever able to go.”
“A man decides to leave his wife to begin a new life. He then gets a hand transplant from a mysterious surgeon – and finds he has the impulse to kill.”
“A company develops a robotic sentry to guard the border between North and South Korea. An infinite walk, without purpose, without any sense of direction. But still she is not his wife, and her silence when they make love drives him crazy.”
According to the developers, the main point of the app, other than commissioning and distributing contemporary text-based art work, is to promote local independent bookshops that stock “thoughtful and idiosyncratic choices of books rather than market-driven selections . . . [and] are crucial platforms for alternative publishing”; with García’s project, the app itself serves as a new kind of publishing.
The physical edition of the map which you can pick up, also for free, at independent bookshops has a beautiful graphic design; like a finely inked ordnance survey map of London. But the advantage of the app is that it shows your location and suggests bookshops nearby. You can also filter your search by specialism, such as “Antiquarian”, “Cookery”, “Zines”, "Radical", "Specialist Bindery", "Middle Eastern" and “Magic”. My nearest suggestion for the latter was the Atlantis Bookshop on Museum Street: the app shows you how to get there, gives you the shop’s phone number, opening times and a small description (“Europe’s oldest independent Occult bookshop. Aleister Crowley, Austin Spare, Dion Fortune and W. B. Yeats shopped here. New and second hand books on all aspects of the esoteric sciences, Tarot cards, crystal balls, and regular events”).
It’s a wonderful sort of interactive mappa mundi for bookworms.