Q&A: Respecting Books

Below is part 1 of my reply to an open question posted on Leave a Message

1) My dad says that we must respect books because some divine beings might be living inside it, if we disrespect the book( e.g stepping on them, putting them in an untidy manner etc.), we will not get good results in examinations and will not gaining enough knowledge. Is that true?

So there are two parts to your father’s claim:
1. That there are some divine beings living inside books, and
2. By disrepecting them, there will be some consequences, such as poor exam results and being knowledgeable.

First off, there sure are beings living in books, but divine or not, I know silver fishes lives in books, especially the old ones.  There are some legends that some spiritual beings or guardians protects books, and that they may get pretty angry if anyone mistreat the books they protect.  Such legends probably evolve or develop from earlier legends about guardians of knowledge or wisdom, which books are the physical representation of.  These latter legends may themselves have been derived from the view that knowledge or wisdom is sacred and thus should be respected and held in high esteem.

Knowing this probable origin of such claims can help us relate to books in a proper manner.  Consider how paper, printing and publishing were pretty scarce in the past.  An attempt to preserve the books and inculcate a healthy attitude towards books may spin off into legends and myths quite easily.  Such development of legends can be found not just in Asian societies but in almost all countries that exist long enough for folklore to develop.  So we should perhaps see and understand this claim just as other claims from other culture or religions in a similar light, and understand the original
intention when the legend began.

The second part of the claim is that there are consequences to showing disrespect to books.  I have to agree that there are consequences here, although the consequences may not a) be due to divine being’s retribution on us and b) be the same as claimed.

To get good results, one just have to do one thing: get the right answers to the examination questions.  Even if one were to put the books on an altar and perform all the world’s religious rituals and treat it with the most respect, one will not be any better off at answering the examination questions.

Gaining knowledge from a book is done by reading, analyzing, contemplating and reflecting over the content, the meaning of the book.  To me, that is the right way to “respect” books.  Conversely, the way to show “disrespect” for books is to neglect them, and not read them.  That is one sure way to be closed to whatever the book may offer, and would thus make oneself ignorant (as far as the book’s content is concerned), and in the case of school textbooks, a potentially poorer examination result.

Just a casual note, “stepping on books, and putting them in an untidy manner” … why would anyone be stepping on books, never mind whether you respect them or not?  As for tidiness, I for one will attest to having had an untidy “organised mess” of computing reference books and yet, I say without boasting, that I excelled in programming nonetheless.  My seemingly untidiness definitely did not hinder my learning.  (ok, maybe I may become the president scholar I never was, but there is no way to find out, is there?)

I am not encouraging anyone to be untidy, but to me, it is a matter of preference.  As long as such preference do not hinder the goal of learning or result in hygiene issues, then I’m pretty ok with it.  Whether your parents are ok with it, is a different story altogether!