The book is heavy, bound with oxblood leather, thin pages the colour of clotted cream, letters remarkably black and crisp.
Let us consider that there are seven characteristics of life, easily remembered with the mnemonic MRS GREN. All must be present. The first, M, is movement.
The book does not move.
I could stop here, except, I feel the spine creak. I allow the pages to turn. On a short timescale, after all, one might imagine a plant does not move, and yet they gradually stretch to reach towards the sunlight.
So, let us continue along the list.
The second is respiration, which is not the same as breathing. Rather, it is the conversion of carbohydrates into energy. One could check for its occurrence by looking for carbon dioxide, but that gas is tasteless, colourless and odourless, and I certainly shall not be plunging the book into water to look for bubbles. This, we may have to put aside.
Sensitivity refers to environmental responses. Now, the book’s text does seem sharper when the light is brighter, but this only leads us to the perennial question of any good scientist: how does one distinguish changes in the observer from changes to the observation?
After MRS, we come to G, which stands for growth. I am certain the book has the same number of pages it had when I first found it, and is no thicker.
If it takes me longer to read now, well, it could be explained by my own reduced reading speed. The most obvious explanation is usually the correct one.
There may be more books on my shelves now than there were, but I very much doubt this constitutes reproduction, which is R. I daresay I have procured them.
Even if I don’t remember every acquisition.
Next is E for excretion… perhaps one might make a case for that. The scent of biblichor is certainly present, although, my memory flags and I forget: is that inherent to books, or caused by some sort of secondary organism?
Finally, N, for nutrition. Plants use energy from the sun to convert carbon dioxide and water into sugars which they both store and use themselves during respiration. Animals consume those sugars when they eat.
The book does not eat.
It is not as if it could take ideas from my mind, and consume them, and use them to power itself. To flick its pages. Sharpen its text. Grow. Make new books.
In the face of limited evidence, I must conclude that the book is not alive.
It is not alive, and thus it is safe to open it again. Smell its scent. Feel the spine creak. Allow its pages to turn.
There are seven characteristics of life.
A creepy little piece of science-themed flash fiction. You won’t forget MRS GREN now, will you?