Burn Before Reading by Christopher Fletcher

Christopher Fletcher

Burn Before Reading


Even by the standards of my ten-year-old daughter, I thought that ripping up a book was a little outré. But on closer inspection, it turned out she was only fulfilling the instructions of its author. ‘Crack the spine’, ‘poke holes in this page using a pencil’ and ‘make a sudden, destructive, unpredictable movement with the journal’, the jauntily calligraphic text of Keri Smith’s Wreck This Journal urges its readers.

Drawing attention to its own material qualities is nothing new for the book. Medieval illuminators of manuscripts made fun incursions through their margins, hung creatures from historiated capitals and incorporated the natural flaws of vellum into their designs. Laurence Sterne subverted the idea of a standard, uniform edition by using unique marbling in copies of Tristram Shandy. Pop-ups have provided a welcome excuse for generations of children to interact with books without actually having to read them, while The Very Hungry Caterpillar… Well, you remember peeping through the technicolour deliciousness of that one.

Bibliographic attention-seeking through acts of violence or even self-immolation takes things a little further, however. Mary Agnes Hamilton’s Murder in the House of Commons (1931), a copy of which was recently found in the Bodleian, my place of work, lays down this challenge to the reader: ‘if you can

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