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RANSOM RIGGS
RANSOM RIGGS

The Future of Books Is Experimental: At Home with Tahereh Mafi and Ransom Riggs

RANSOM RIGGS
RANSOM RIGGS

All week long, Tahereh Mafi and Ransom Riggs sit side by side at a long workbench facing their Santa Monica backyard, writing. The couple, both bestselling young-adult novelists, got married last September (tweeting <3s to each other to the joy of their many fans). So that they don’t distract each other, they wear noise-canceling headphones. “The headphones are like saying, ‘I’m in my workspace now.’ When you take them off, you’ve exited that work space,” Mafi explains.

It may be an unconventional writing situation, but it makes sense for a twosome that defies conventionality. In their books, Mafi and Riggs employ multidimensional tactics—respectively, redacted text that reveals the psyche of the narrator and stories spun from found photos—to bring their words to life in new, utterly engaging ways. And the risks they’ve taken have paid off.

Riggs, 34, went to film school, freelanced for a number of sites (including mentalfloss.com), wrote a book about Sherlock Holmes, produced book trailers, and wrote screenplays before pitching a book idea inspired by his hobby of collecting old snapshots at flea markets. He’d envisioned an Edward Gorey–esque tome featuring couplets—“goofy-creepy,” as he describes it. But his editor at Quirk Books had another idea. Why not use the photos as the basis for a novel? Riggs eagerly agreed. “I let the photos tell me about what the story would be,” he says. “I’m trying to be careful to choose photos that will add a layer of detail and meaning that can’t be expressed in words. They do something that words can’t do.”

The result was the acclaimed Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, a novel combining fantasy, mystery, and deliciously weird vintage black-and-white photographs, an instant hit when it was published in 2011. Now, Tim Burton is “officially attached” as the director for the movie, with shooting slated for this year, and in January, Riggs released a hotly anticipated sequel, Hollow City.

If Riggs’s inspiration comes to him in photos, Mafi’s begins with words: “A lot of writers will tell you they’ve been writing their whole lives, but for me it wasn’t like that. I was always a lifelong reader,” she says. After graduating from college in 2009, she began to read Y.A., “everything I could get my hands on,” and then she started writing, penning five or six unpublished manuscripts in a year. Soon, she produced Shatter Me, a dystopian fantasy about an incarcerated teen, which she published in 2011, when she was 23. It became a bestseller.

The inception of the story was the idea of a terrified young girl that came into Mafi’s mind along with a sense of how that girl would use language and why. “When we meet her at the beginning, she’s been locked up for almost a year,” Mafi says. “She hasn’t talked, she hasn’t touched anyone, and she’s spent the majority of her life being treated like a monster. She writes things down and crosses them out and has obsessions with words and numbers and repetition.”

Mafi depicts the fraught psychological state of her protagonist, Juliette, not only through words but also through the absence of words. Juliette thinks and then redacts her own thoughts; Mafi uses strike-throughs to show her confusion and the complexity of her emotions. Throughout the series, as Juliette grows stronger, the strike-throughs evolve. By the third book, they’re gone. The technique offers a kind of interpretive puzzle for the reader, who must figure out the layered messages and, as is the case for Juliette, what exactly should be believed. It was a bold artistic choice, but it was one Mafi believed in. “I sat down to write a book, and I thought, ‘Screw convention. I’m going to write it the way it feels like it needs to be written,’” she says. The method was so successful that Shatter Me was sold as a trilogy. Ignite Me, the final book in the series (which, in addition to Unravel Me, also contains two digital novellas from the perspective of other characters), has just been released.

At a time when people communicate in ever-evolving ways and, increasingly, live in more than one space—online and in “real life”—this sort of experimentation seems especially appropriate. And as pessimists continue to sound a death knell for print, today’s young readers may respond best to narratives like these—ones that aren’t linear, that offer a variety of layered entry points, and that demand for a certain amount of participation. “There is no one way to tell a story,” says Mafi. “The one thing that sets books apart is when they are told with real, raw, honest emotion—if you just throw your heart in it. When that’s there, you can just feel it.” These two authors have figured out ways to marry their particular stories with unique styles that, as Riggs puts it, “keep the story moving forward and do it through the lens of a living, breathing 3-D character.”

This story originally appeared in mental_floss magazine. Subscribe to our print edition here, and our iPad edition here.

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15 Powerful Quotes From Margaret Atwood
MICHAL CIZEK/AFP/Getty Images
MICHAL CIZEK/AFP/Getty Images

It turns out the woman behind such eerily prescient novels as The Handmaid’s Tale and Oryx and Crake is just as wise as her tales are haunting. Here are 15 of the most profound quips from author, activist, and Twitter enthusiast Margaret Atwood, who was born on this day in 1939.

1. On her personal philosophy

 “Optimism means better than reality; pessimism means worse than reality. I’m a realist.”

— From a 2004 interview with The Guardian

2. On the reality of being female

“Men often ask me, Why are your female characters so paranoid? It’s not paranoia. It’s recognition of their situation.”

— From a 1990 interview with The Paris Review

3. On limiting how her politics influence her characters

“You know the myth: Everybody had to fit into Procrustes’ bed and if they didn’t, he either stretched them or cut off their feet. I’m not interested in cutting the feet off my characters or stretching them to make them fit my certain point of view.”

— From a 1997 interview with Mother Jones

4. On so-called “pretty” works of literature

“I don’t know whether there are any really pretty novels … All of the motives a human being may have, which are mixed, that’s the novelists’ material. … We like to think of ourselves as really, really good people. But look in the mirror. Really look. Look at your own mixed motives. And then multiply that.”

— From a 2010 interview with The Progressive

5. On the artist’s relationship with her fans

“The artist doesn’t necessarily communicate. The artist evokes … [It] actually doesn’t matter what I feel. What matters is how the art makes you feel.”

— From a 2004 interview with The Guardian

6. On the challenges of writing non-fiction

“When I was young I believed that ‘nonfiction’ meant ‘true.’ But you read a history written in, say, 1920 and a history of the same events written in 1995 and they’re very different. There may not be one Truth—there may be several truths—but saying that is not to say that reality doesn’t exist.”

— From a 1997 interview with Mother Jones

7. On poetry

“The genesis of a poem for me is usually a cluster of words. The only good metaphor I can think of is a scientific one: dipping a thread into a supersaturated solution to induce crystal formation.”

— From a 1990 interview with The Paris Review

8. On being labeled an icon

“All these things set a standard of behavior that you don’t necessarily wish to live up to. If you’re put on a pedestal you’re supposed to behave like a pedestal type of person. Pedestals actually have a limited circumference. Not much room to move around.”

— From a 2013 interview with The Telegraph

9. On how we’re all born writers

“[Everyone] ‘writes’ in a way; that is, each person has a ‘story’—a personal narrative—which is constantly being replayed, revised, taken apart and put together again. The significant points in this narrative change as a person ages—what may have been tragedy at 20 is seen as comedy or nostalgia at 40.”

— From a 1990 interview with The Paris Review

10. On the oppression at the center of The Handmaid's Tale

“Nothing makes me more nervous than people who say, ‘It can’t happen here. Anything can happen anywhere, given the right circumstances.” 

— From a 2015 lecture to West Point cadets

11. On the discord between men and women

“‘Why do men feel threatened by women?’ I asked a male friend of mine. … ‘They’re afraid women will laugh at them,’ he said. ‘Undercut their world view.’ … Then I asked some women students in a poetry seminar I was giving, ‘Why do women feel threatened by men?’ ‘They’re afraid of being killed,’ they said.”

— From Atwood’s Second Words: Selected Critical Prose, 1960-1982

12. On the challenges of expressing oneself

“All writers feel struck by the limitations of language. All serious writers.”

— From a 1990 interview with The Paris Review

13. On selfies

“I say they should enjoy it while they can. You’ll be happy later to have taken pictures of yourself when you looked good. It’s human nature. And it does no good to puritanically say, ‘Oh, you shouldn’t be doing that,’ because people do.”

— From a 2013 interview with The Telegraph

14. On the value of popular kids' series (à la Harry Potter and Percy Jackson)

"It put a lot of kids onto reading; it made reading cool. I’m sure a lot of later adult book clubs came out of that experience. Let people begin where they are rather than pretending that they’re something else, or feeling that they should be something else."

— From a 2014 interview with The Huffington Post

15. On why even the bleakest post-apocalyptic novels are, deep down, full of hope

“Any novel is hopeful in that it presupposes a reader. It is, actually, a hopeful act just to write anything, really, because you’re assuming that someone will be around to [read] it.”

— From a 2011 interview with The Atlantic 

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China's New Tianjin Binhai Library is Breathtaking—and Full of Fake Books
FRED DUFOUR/AFP/Getty Images
FRED DUFOUR/AFP/Getty Images

A massive new library in Tianjin, China, is gaining international fame among bibliophiles and design buffs alike. As Arch Daily reports, the five-story Tianjin Binhai Library has capacity for more than 1 million books, which visitors can read in a spiraling, modernist auditorium with floor-to-ceiling bookshelves.

Several years ago, municipal officials in Tianjin commissioned a team of Dutch and Japanese architects to design five new buildings, including the library, for a cultural center in the city’s Binhai district. A glass-covered public corridor connects these structures, but the Tianjin Binhai Library is still striking enough to stand out on its own.

The library’s main atrium could be compared to that of the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Guggenheim Museum in New York City. But there's a catch: Its swirling bookshelves don’t actually hold thousands of books. Look closer, and you’ll notice that the shelves are printed with digital book images. About 200,000 real books are available in other rooms of the library, but the jaw-dropping main room is primarily intended for socialization and reading, according to Mashable.

The “shelves”—some of which can also serve as steps or seating—ascend upward, curving around a giant mirrored sphere. Together, these elements resemble a giant eye, prompting visitors to nickname the attraction “The Eye of Binhai,” reports Newsweek. In addition to its dramatic main auditorium, the 36,000-square-foot library also contains reading rooms, lounge areas, offices, and meeting spaces, and has two rooftop patios.

Following a three-year construction period, the Tianjin Binhai Library opened on October 1, 2017. Want to visit, but can’t afford a trip to China? Take a virtual tour by checking out the photos below.

A general view of the Tianjin Binhai Library
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People visiting China's Tianjin Binhai Library.
FRED DUFOUR/AFP/Getty Images

A general view of China's Tianjin Binhai Library.
FRED DUFOUR/AFP/Getty Images

A woman taking pictures at China's Tianjin Binhai Library.
FRED DUFOUR/AFP/Getty Images

A man visiting China's Tianjin Binhai Library.
FRED DUFOUR/AFP/Getty Images

A woman looking at books at China's Tianjin Binhai Library.
FRED DUFOUR/AFP/Getty Images

A general view of China's Tianjin Binhai Library.
FRED DUFOUR/AFP/Getty Images

People visiting China's Tianjin Binhai Library.
FRED DUFOUR/AFP/Getty Images

[h/t Newsweek]

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