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Train Stations

A Machine to Tell Short Stories in Train Stations


New forms of reading are not just through machines, but ways of reimagining a reader’s context.

Information technology has changed the ways readers approach and take advantage of the publishing industry’s global reach. But let’s not just think of e-books readers, on-demand book printing nor even of downloading entire literary archives. Imagine, also, the places and ways in which 21st-century readers effectively read: on journeys, during their journeys, and from one point to the next.

A French company, Short Édition, has set up a vending machine for short-stories. It’s called (rather descriptively) Distributeur d’histoires courtes, and it offers just that: brief literary texts printed, on demand, onto a strip of paper no longer than a sales receipt.

Reader may choose a reading time, (1, 3 or 5 minutes), as well as a genre, from children’s literature to science fiction. A database is consulted, randomly, to choose from more than 5,000 available authors, so the reader doesn’t really know which story the machine may present.

There’s no limit on texts for readers, who may receive as many pages as they’d like with just the push of a button. What may seem like fiction worthy of Philip K. Dick or Juan Jose Arreola is already a reality for travelers at train station in France, where Distributeur d’histoires courtes are already in Grenoble, Monaco, Toulouse, Marseilles, Montpellier, Nantes, and Paris, among other cities.

Internationally, machines of this type have only been installed in San Francisco in the United States. The initiative undoubtedly draws attention by the novelty and practicality of the format and takes it a step beyond an attempt at vending machines for books installed in Japan, for example. The very brief publications of the Distributeur d’histoires courtes are worthy heirs to the spirit of the History of Portable Literature from the novelist, Enrique Vila-Matas.

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