With our busy modern lives (and so much TV to watch), it can be hard to find the time to sit down with a good book. Hoping to make things easier for literary Londoners, a British property company is installing short-story-dispensing “vending machines” across Canary Wharf, a bustling district of the city. According to the Guardian’s Alison Flood, the free stories take either one, three or five minutes to read—short enough to finish during a commute, or even between Tube stations.
Made by the French company Short Édition, the “Short Story Stations” contain thousands of stories by both contemporary authors and the likes of Virginia Woolf, Lewis Carroll and Charles Dickens. The mini works represent a range of genres, among them sci-fi, crime and romance. Readers can choose how long they want their story to be, but the short fiction is generated randomly, so the selection comes as a surprise. The tiny tales are printed onto a strip of eco-friendly paper, which readers can grab and take with them as they go about their day.
For the stations’ launch in London this week, Canary Wharf commissioned British novelist Anthony Horowitz to write a “mini-thriller” that could be read in 60 seconds, reports the Telegraph’s Annabel Fenwick Elliott. Titled Mr. Robinson, the story is “complete with suspects and clues,” the author says in a statement from the Canary Wharf Group. But condensing the genre to such a distilled form was no easy task.
“It was the challenge of writing a story that could be read between two stations - not just a short story but a very short story,” Horowitz told the Guardian’s Flood. “Because I love mystery and whodunnits, the question of if it would it be possible to write a proper whodunnit with a solution which made you smile in such a short amount of space was irresistible. The whole notion amused me.”
This is the first time that Short Édition’s vending machines have been brought to the U.K., but the company has installed its short story dispensers at other locations across the world, from a university in Hong Kong, to an airport in Canada, to the city hall of Grenoble, France, where Short Édition got its start. The machines have also cropped up at numerous spots across the United States, including a hospital emergency room in Pennsylvania, a library in Colorado and Francis Ford Coppola’s San Francisco restaurant. The Godfather director liked Short Édition’s contraption so much that he invested in the company, according to Flood.
At a time when leisure reading is on the decline, the vending machines offer a nifty way to get a quick literature fix. And they feed into a resurging appetite for print literature, which may have benefits over reading on digital devices. A study published just last month, in fact, found that reading print books together encouraged better interactions between parents and children. Fortunately, the London Short Story Stations come equipped with kids’ literature, so little ones can also join in the fun.