The Wisdom of Things Found 1: The Pageless Book

May 2010, Alnmouth beach, UK

The Word Is ... Flat

The word is ...

The emptied cover of a book has been brought in on the tide and left on the beach. This is all that is left after the ocean has digested it, page by page.

As I look at this, I realise that there is really only one right way to read a book and that is to devour it as thoroughly as the sea has done this one – to assimilate the ink and paper into the salt of experience and the spume of memory … until I own its words, dispersed in every corner of myself, and it is no longer possible to say, “this is ‘I’ and that is ‘Book'”.

If only we could take each book we read, and leave it like this when we are done with it, then we’d be wiser than the magi. What if we were to tear out each page as we read, confident that the words on it had done all they needed to do and had become part of us? There would be no need to hoard it on the shelf. I don’t say we have to agree with everything we read or to adopt it as truth; but every line can be digested, questioned, and allowed to work. It is too easy to hold ideas in the abstract, to “like” the thoughts of an author without being changed by them. Books on shelves are like un-lived ideas. Empty covers on a beach are the dried pod of a seed that has been planted inside the reader.

It also has not escaped me that this looks suspiciously like the cover of a Gideon’s edition of The New Testament and Psalms, very much like the one I was given at school when I was 11 years old. On the first page, it said something like “this is yours to keep, we only ask that you read a portion of it every day”. Well … I did, and I have done (nearly) every day for the last 24 years; but that’s another story …

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