I hated read magic when I was a kid. Read Magic was the first chink in the armor, the first time I doubted the infallibility of the The Dungeons and Dragons. I did not understand the rules of Dungeons and Dragons very well.
Before reading The Dying Earth all I thought about spells as just some special written words that you memorize and then repeat to cast the spell. Then you forgot them!? And also if the spell wasn’t in your spell book you couldn’t read it? And if you got a scroll you didn’t know what spell it was?!
Some people think of read magic as a spell that is essentially used to read sloppy handwriting. This was not satisfying to me when that was how I thought of the spell worked. Lamentations of the Flame Princess has made this interpretation explicit in its rules, which is disappointing.
I refused to think of it as anything other than a cheap way to gimp magic-users. It was the thing that sowed the seed of discontent in my young heart (even though I always ignored the spell I was still offended on some deep aesthetic level). Read magic is probably what drove me to experiment with GURPS.
Then I read The Dying Earth and started thinking of Spells as intricate devices you assemble in your mind. Now spells are hyperdimensional structures that a magic-user can unravel to produce a given effect when brought into the physical world. A scroll is created when a magic user instead of assembling the spell in his head creates the hyperdimensional structure within the two-dimensional plane of a piece of paper. This takes one week and costs 100 gold per spell level.
Read Magic creates a double artificial mind palace outside the magic-users mind. The first mind palace functions the same as the magic-user’s. Spells from spell books can be transferred there safely. Spells from scrolls can be copied without unraveling. The second mind palace is different. It provides a glimpse of a potential future in which the spell has been cast. The magic-user can observe the effects of the spell without triggering the original spell structure or affecting the prime material plane. At its heart read magic is a divination spell.
Sometimes when Vizirian came to this place he imagined he was in the mind of a dead god. It was formless and void as if someone had sat down to commit the moment before the birth of the universe to memory. There was no time dwell on the profound immensity however. His party was waiting back below the fallen tower of Zenopus and they needed to know what was written on the scroll.
The scroll hung before him in the air towering over him. Here it appeared as a giant twisting knot. Looking at it he perceived things he could neither articulate nor understand. Vizirian paused before he willed the structure into the other chamber the one that was less like his mind than even this one and somehow more like the external world yet wholly alien. Then he did it. It was indescribable and bizarre. But then it came to him, Ahh yes, Magic Mouth.