Book burial, as practised by Johannes Speyer (see here and here) has an obvious precedent. Jews have been burying books for centuries, owing to the fact that a book with God’s name in it cannot be thrown away. Thus it must be buried. Rabbi Jason Rosenberg writes: ‘We don’t bury books because it’s respectful; we bury books because, symbolically, they’re people. We would no more throw out a sacred book than we would dispose of a loved one!’.
Speyer would have agreed. ‘All of my best friends are books,’ he once said to me. However, I’m not sure that Speyer buried books as an act of closure. I suspect, in fact, that he buried books with the intention of digging them up again. Of course I never saw him doing this directly, but I do own several books of his that look as if they have, at some point or another, been buried in the ground for several years.
Beyond the Jewish community, I have discovered yet more book burying. This writer suggests that ‘all good book collectors have a solid responsibility to start burying their books in air-tight containers to “hide” for the next generation’. In a similar vein, this artist believes that ‘as we move further into a digital age, we move away from the land and a physical connection to the resources that traditionally gave us our print information. Books seemed poised to become artefacts and the information seeded within them could be lost’. To which end she intends, as far as I can tell, to baptise books in wax and bury them in the dirty earth. I salute her spirit.