Quiet City by Connor O’Brien

Quiet City, a wonderfully designed collection of stories by Connor O’Brien, is available for purchase, or, provocatively, pay-by-tweet or -facebook, where the PDF is made available after tweeting/facebooking it. O’Brien, in our correspondence, says:

The book is a bit of an experiment in selling literature online (it actually doubles as a test case for my PhD thesis on publishing) […] the online editions use social networking as currency: you pay with a tweet or facebook post. As a happy coincidence, the title story imagines a world in which social networking stats have superseded cash, so there’s a bit of an interesting tension there — the fiction creating the reality.

It’s an interesting idea. What has more value? $12 (the price of 1 book), or the relatively exponential readership which may result from an audience-yielding tweet or facebook post — which gets into the implicit “currency” of accounts with high numbers of followers and friends. And yet, after the digits and widgets and midgets, all the author and his readership have are words, that nakedness of language. The slow yet bountiful imagination of our oldest, and strongest, medium. Here’s an excerpt from the title story:

Quiet City is slow and it is beautiful. There are rules here, but they are only soft rules, without hard consequences. We are provided with a daily ration of a half-thousand words, which can be forfeited for access to the Very Silent Place at the peak of the mountains overlooking the city. I traveled there yesterday. When you turn to face the forests, it’s the most alone you can ever hope to be.

There’s no way to track word count exactly, but that’s not the point – the ration system is symbolic. Every word spoken here cuts through the silence like pyrotechnics. There is no waste, no small talk, no speaking for the sake of speaking, no shouting just to turn heads. Most people, I have found, don’t use their five hundred. Around these particular people, every muted utterance is a thunder. An elderly man speaks only in haiku. He’s probably spoken a hundred words this month. Some people don’t speak at all.