Antimetabole (an’-ti-me-ta’-bo-lee): Repetition of words, in successive clauses, in reverse grammatical order.

I read the book and the book read me. This sounds pretty stupid, and maybe it is. The book has no consciousness, no agency, no nothing. It’s just a paper rectangle binding together other paper rectangles (called pages), covered with words constituting grammatically-coded sentences, paragraphs, and chapters.

Books are written to be read. That’s how they read you: with surprise and suspense and plots and all the other well-travelled literary forms that read you and seduce you—that capture and keep your interest. And, as they help the text “ring true” they have woven their way into the text’s fabric of plausibility—no matter where or when it unfurls: prose, poetry, fact, fiction, whatever.

So, you decide to read a treatise on symbolic logic. You don’t understand it. You don’t like it. You take it back to the bookstore for a refund. The bookstore doesn’t give refunds. You go ballistic and throw the book at the proprietor. It hits him in the head and knocks him unconscious. Somebody calls 911. The paramedics put the proprietor on a stretcher and carry him out of the bookstore shaking their heads. The police handcuff you. You are placed in a cell. You can’t be bailed out because of your violent demeanor. You are sharing the cell with a suspected serial killer. During the night he tries to pull out your intestines with his bare hands. The guard tells him to shut up and go back to bed. The next morning you are taken to the psychiatric hospital for evaluation. They determine you are suffering from PTSD from when you were a lifeguard in charge of the kiddie pool at a high-end country club in the Hamptons. You were prescribed medication that made you slur your words. You were released from jail. You sounded drunk. You lost your job. They didn’t even give you a breathalyzer test before they kicked you you the front door and threw the plant from your desk after you.. You stagger home and dig your grandfather’s shotgun out of the back of the front hall closet. You load it with .00 buckshot.

My God! What the hell happened?

You were not the intended reader—that’s what happened—the book hadn’t read you. It had read somebody else. Books should be required to provide a brief description of who is supposed to read them so this kind of literary tragedy can be avoided.

Definition courtesy of “Silva Rhetoricae” (

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