Three pounds

A monk asked Tozan when he was weighing some flax: What is Buddha?

Tozan replied: This flax weighs three pounds.

Yesterday I received a package from the Esperanto League for North America: three pounds of books. Periodically ELNA reduces excess inventory by selling books by the pound, three pounds maximum, three pounds of books selected at random, a special treat! These books were usually donations, books left behind upon the death of an old Esperantist (Esperantists seem particularly longlived, despite the smoke), and are usually old and crumbly themselves.

La Majstro parolas (la parolo de la granda universala frataro), by Petro Danov, Sevlievo (Bulgaria), 1938. The Master, apparently, is Christ. Or maybe a plurality considered as incarnations of one. Or maybe not (though I think it is), maybe it's purely Christian, but Esperanto isn't my native language and I've only skimmed through the book a bit, as I've done with all three pounds, so I could be wrong.

When books are printed, I know that many pages are printed on each big sheet of paper, said pieces then being folded and cut and sewn together to make the book. Sometimes by accident, sometimes by intent, some folds are left uncut. This book, published so long ago so far away, still has some pages joined together at their upper and outer edges. Sixteen pages were printed on each sheet of paper, eight per side, four across, two down. As I readied my paperknife I thought, I'm the first to read these words, these particular words, on these particular pages, these words printed sixtythree years ago.

And that may be true but now I can't be certain, for as I positioned the pages for cutting I realized that the large folded sheets had been bound into the book only along one fold of one page in each sheet. The full sheet of sixteen pages, eight per side, four across, two down, opens upward and outward! Some of the sections I thought loosely bound soon to escape had never been bound at all, and the deterioration of the spine and looseness of the bound folds had fooled me.

Was it a publishing error? I don't know, but in a strange kind of way it works. Half the pages are upside down and they're out of order when read this way, but the hexadecimal groups themselves are ordered and all the pages are numbered, so the path isn't very difficult to follow. If those edges were separated it would have to be done carefully, only to a few, and some stitching would then be required, without which the final product would be in worse shape than the original. And I realized that the surprise was not that the pages had gone unread for six decades, but that six decades of readers had picked up their knives, been pleasantly enlightened, had put their knives back down again and read about the Master.

- William Walter PATTERSON, 2001.