Monday, June 30th, 2008
Last fall, I was running out of money in Edinburgh, Scotland and looking for work. I applied for a temporary Christmas job at Waterstone’s, the U.K.’s largest mega-chain bookstore. I filled out a ten page application and didn’t hear a thing—until I checked my mail about a month later. Waterstone’s had sent me a rejection letter that was just about as detailed and self-important as the one Yale had sent me years earlier. Somehow, the letter made the whole thing more insulting, and I bitterly decided that Waterstone’s and I were through. That is, until I heard about their collective story project and fundraiser, What’s Your Story?
“With over 30,000 books, the average Waterstone’s has a lot of stories to tell,” their website proclaims. “But we want more. They say everyone has a story in them, so let it out!” Submissions had to fit on a postcard; many are handwritten and most have some kind of illustration. Think PostSecret meets SMITH—with a corporate backer. Waterstone’s received more than 4,500 entries before the contest closed: some fiction, some nonfiction, some cryptically hovering between the two. You can view all 4,500 of them online, and the best of the bunch will be published in Britain next month. The proceeds will go to a few different charities. Definitely check them out; if a few sentences at PostSecret have ever stuck with you for days (happens to me all the time), imagine what a few paragraphs will do.
And here’s the full disclosure: I found out about the competition on a Harry Potter fansite. We don’t need to go into my sad, sordid obsession with the series here, but it’s another reason to check out the submissions. Along with the populist angle, Waterstone’s convinced 13 big-name authors to pen their own postcards, including Margaret Atwood, Tom Stoppard, Neil Gaiman, and yes, J.K. Rowling. Nick Hornby’s postcard looks like an intense trip inside his mind; Doris Lessig’s looks like a note from an old friend. Be sure to check out the dark humor of Edinburgh’s favorite son, Irvine Welsh. And hurry, because they’re only available online for the next two weeks. They’ll then be published alongside the best of the general public. Sounds like another book we know and love…