2:46: Aftershocks: Stories from the Japan Earthquake aka #Quakebook, which is a compilation of art, stories, and essays to raise money for Japan earthquake survivors, went on sale today. All revenues go to the Japan Red Cross. Contributors include many Japanese citizens, foreigners who stayed in Japan, those who had to leave, and science fiction luminary, William Gibson, singer-songwriter-artist, Yoko Ono, espionage novelist and former CIA employee, Barry Eisler, and investigative journalist, Jake Adelstein.
You’ll hear a lot about how Quakebook started on Twitter, a social media network, with a single tweet (blog entry), but like many great ideas, it started in the shower. After the Great Tohoku Pacific Earthquake and Tsunami, a British teacher who blogs under the name Our Man in Abiko was trying to find a way to help the suffering survivors and combat his own sense of helplessness. It finally came to him while he was washing up one evening a week after the quake. “It was a eureka moment,” he said. “I don’t have any medical skills, and I’m not a helicopter pilot, but I can edit. I can put together a book with voices from all over. I’m doing what I can do.” His wife suggested he get dressed first. First things first: he tweeted, “If everyone wrote one page…I could edit, publish it in days.”
He got his first submission two hours later and had most of the final eighty-nine essays, illustrations and photos within two days. Most submissions were accepted. Our Man said, “The editorial policy was: If you sent it and it was honest, it went in.” People in England, Canada and both coasts of the US answered calls on Twitter for editors and designers. This included science fiction writer William Gibson, who produced a 300-word essay in just three hours to meet Our Man’s half-joking deadline. Thriller writer Barry Eisler contributed a forward, in which he says “if my books have been love letters to Japan this is an SOS.” The final contributor to this edition was Yoko Ono. As the layout was being finalized, the artist submitted a piece she wrote on March 11.
The 98-page book itself was finished just nine days from the first proposal. It was finally given an official title, 2:46: Aftershocks: Stories from the Japan Earthquake. although it continues to be known simply as #Quakebook on Twitter. Then there was the small matter of getting it out into the world on a major platform with a donation model that had never been used before. From the start, Our Man insisted that no less than 100% of revenue from the book would go directly to the Japanese Red Cross Society. Trouble is, any service that hosts book sales takes a cut. In an unprecedented arrangement, Amazon has agreed to waive all of its fees and give 100% of revenue from the digital edition to the Japanese Red Cross. Amazon will also reimburse buyers the $2 international purchase surcharge.
At Friday’s press conference, the editor, who has asked to remain anonymous, talked about the way Twitter facilitated the process. “Anything we needed, we put it on Twitter and a person or company came forward, ready to put their resources behind it. Ninety-nine percent of the time, people did what they said they would do. If they couldn’t, someone else came forward.” Talking about finding people to help navigate the complex obstacles of publishing formats, donation schemes and tax considerations he said, “It’s like asking your neighbor to fix your bike: if he can’t do it, he knows someone who can. It was that, on a global scale.”
The title of the book comes from the 9.0 magnitude earthquake which struck Japan on March 11th at 2:46 pm. The book is sad, funny, moving, and tragic. It is not just a book about mourning those who have departed, it is also a celebration of the good will of those who remain. The $9.99 price tag is the cost of a stiff drink in Tokyo. Instead of downing a shot of whiskey, make a toast to the living and the dead and buy a copy. It’s your chance to contribute a little something to the world. It’s not often that we get that chance.
Sandra Barron who not only edited many of the pieces but also runs the Quakebook twitter account and myself put together this article. Please purchase a copy of Quakebook if you can and gift it to those who you know in Japan or love this country. 恩に着ます。