The other day, as a colleague and I wandered back to the office from a much too brief lunchbreak, a flash of neon yellow caught my eye. At ankle-level, propped against a grubby, grey wall, set back from the pavement, was a bright book. It looked brand new, and carefully positioned against the wall, rather than tossed there. Printed across the top were thick black letters: "FREE BOOK Pick Me Up". And underneath a ball of black scrawl, over which was written "potential energy" and a web address. Being of a curious nature, how could I resist? We picked up the book and bore it back to the office, where we discovered that this was in fact, much more than a book. What we had found was a part of an experiment in publishing and promotion, a city-wide book-group project.
Turning the book over, as one usually does to determine a plot, we found an outline of the story within, and also a direction to the first few pages of the book, wherein there lay a story of a different kind.
Schist, the author of this book, entitled "Potential Energy", was unable, as so many budding novelists are, to find a publisher to give his oeuvre a chance. Having produced the full manuscript however he was reluctant to let this prevent people from reading it, so he devised a scheme to disseminate his work, through a sort of viral publishing method. He had 1000 copies printed and started to leave them at random points across London, and other cities. Obviously at least one was left outside university buildings on Fitzroy Street where I found a copy, and other Londoners have reported copies dropped in SoHo, Brick Lane, just off Oxford Street, as well as in the town of Marlow, outside the city.
The author encourages interaction between those who find, read and diseminate his work, which can be discussed on his blog, tracking the drop-offs and pick-ups. A reader register page at the front of the book lists the history of each individual copy, mapping the story beyond the book, as well as within it.
Now that the books are beginning to be found however, the real experiment begins. Will the city's keen-eyed book-enthusiasts do as the scheme demands and pass the book on? I already have a successor for mine, now all I have to do is finish reading it. I am currently a few chapters from the end of this tale of a 30 year old Londoner called Jon. Jon lives a very London-y life in the city, grappling with relationships and a job where he works hard all the while bound by a feeling that he's compromising his ideals, and even experiencing the frustrations of house-hunting in the city. The story itself is less remarkable however than the experiment surrounding its promotion and circulation; an inspired enterprise as the financially gloomy grip on our city continues. It is a scheme which serves as a hope within the city, reliant on the people of London to make something extraordinary happen. And who knows, they just might.
So keep your eyes peeled, and if you find a copy, read it and appreciate the imagination behind not only its story but the manner in which you come to hold it in your hand. Just remember to pass it on.
Visit www.potential-energy.us to find out more.