Jessica Leigh Hester is a former senior associate editor at CityLab, covering environment and culture. Her work also appears in the New Yorker, The Atlantic, New York Times, Modern Farmer, Village Voice, Slate, BBC, NPR, and other outlets.
And they’re free.
Grenoble, a city at the foot of the French Alps, has eight new ATMs propped up around town—outside of the town hall, libraries, and tourist center. Instead of dispensing cash, though, the machines spit out short stories.
The tales unspool on sheets of paper measuring 8 by 60 centimeters—about the size of a receipt you can fold and tuck into your wallet.
The storytelling machines are a collaboration between the city and Short Édition, a French publisher that specializes in content optimized for mobile screens. The stories—which are designed to be read in about three minutes—are a way to pass the time waiting for a tardy friend.
Short Édition founder Christophe Sibieude explained to the news agency Agence France-Presse:
“The idea came to us in front of a vending machine containing chocolate bars and drinks. We said to ourselves that we could do the same thing with good quality popular literature to occupy these little unproductive moments.”
Other cities are also experimenting with ways to make reading accessible to residents on the move. The Toronto Public Library, for instance, is rolling out lending kiosks in the city’s busiest commuter train station. And homemade “Little Free Libraries,” which run on the give-a-book, take-a-book concept, continue to pop up all over—even though they sometimes run afoul of city zoning restrictions.
Sometimes literary free-for-alls assume a grander scale. This past June, a Bay Area park mounted Lacuna, a walk-in structure built from 50,000 books wedged into alcoves. Visitors could select tomes to take with them; by the end of the installation, the “temple of books” was nearly bare.
Grenoble’s project seems modest in comparison to a complex assembled from hardbacks. But the slim stories are easy to carry around—hopefully, kindling residents’ love of the written word.