Writer’s Blog: Laurie Raye – How not to read a book

When approaching a book which contains stories it would be natural to assume that the purpose of the book is to read it. This is, after all, what most people do when faced with a book.

Edward Dimock, distinguished professor of South Asian languages, when his attempt to get access to an old and valuable Bengali text finally succeeded, discovered that all but one of the 360 pages were completely unreadable due to three centuries’ worth of worship with unguents and powders.

He only wanted to read it, but what a fool he was to think that all books were for reading.

So why ruin a good book? Because the texts themselves tell you to. Books can command their own destruction, and if you ignore their instructions you do so with the understanding that you have not experienced the book to its full potential.

“Before you read me, cover me in powder!” They say, and you do, because you want to do right by them.

When they can no longer be read, you pass it on by word of mouth. You tell your children what the book wants, long after it can tell you itself.

The oral tradition isn’t so far away from the written tradition after all. What could be more of a clear example of ergodic literature than a book that doesn’t want to be read.

Further reading on self-destructive books: Popular Buddhist Texts from Nepal: Narratives and Rituals of Newar Buddhism by Todd Lewis, The Role of Narrative in Nepalese Buddhist Vrata Literature by Laurie Raye.

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