Saturday, January 05, 2008
Ruminations of a Bibliophile
Here's a piece I wrote about a year ago for a Creative Writing class. If there are any fellow bibliophiles out there, I hope you enjoy it!
I am a self-confessed bibliophile.
I’m not in denial; I’m not ashamed of my condition. To put it simply, I love books. I cannot pinpoint the date that I contracted bibliophilia, but I have a strong suspicion that my older sister, a bibliophile herself, should be held responsible. My condition has worsened as I have gotten older and now threatens to consume my life. Sometimes I even fear becoming a bibliomaniac.
Unless you are a bibliophile yourself, you may experience extreme skepticism regarding this condition. The Webster’s New Students Dictionary describes a bibliophile as “a lover of books esp. for qualities of format.” This definition fits bibliophiles perfectly. You can find these people in bookstores across the world. If they’re not in bookstores, they’re in libraries; and if they’re not in libraries, they’re at home reading their books. If you ever hear someone raving about bindings or the texture of pages, you can be sure that you have run across a bibliophile.
Don’t think that bibliophilia only affects those who really need to get a life. One of the most educated and scholarly men of all time, Erasmus, was a self-avowed bibliophile. Erasmus eloquently summed up bibliophilism when he said, “When I get a little money, I buy books; and if any is left, I buy food and clothes.”
I believe there should be a subcategory of bibliophilia: Bibliophilia Antiquaria. This condition is distinguished by an obsession with old books. Many victims will spend hours in antique shops searching for “undiscovered treasures.” Bibliophilia Antiquaria usually involves sensory symptoms. The sweet, mildewy aroma of old books produces a euphoric sensation in these bibliophiles. Consequently, those who suffer from this condition can be easily recognized by their tendency to open old books and inhale deeply. Bibliophilia Antiquaria is an especially virulent form; victims have been known to pay exorbitant amounts of money to satisfy their cravings for old books.
Some people use the words “bibliophilism” and “bibliomania” interchangeably, but I believe there should be some slight distinction. While bibliophilism denotes true regard and love for books, bibliomania extends a bit further and enters the realm of obsession. People with this condition do not necessarily read the books they buy; they are only interested in accumulating large numbers of them. One famous bibliomaniac, a wealthy British noble, collected over 160,000 books. His books were still being auctioned off a hundred years after his death. If you are a bibliomaniac, you might want to consider a career as a librarian. Perhaps imagining that all the books in the library belong to you will help ease the symptoms of your condition.
If you find bibliophilia and bibliomania a little too tame, here are some other options: Bibliophagy, or book-eating; bibliokleptomania, or compulsive book stealing; and bibliocaust, or book burning (as a bibliophile, that last one sends shivers up and down my spine). Maybe you’ve never considered yourself a book-lover before. But as you can see, many book activities don’t even involve reading. I suggest trying them out until you find one you like—although bibliokleptomania does not seem like a good choice from a moral standpoint.
Bibliophilia is not recognized as a medical condition, but I think it has distinct symptoms. Some of these symptoms include (but are not limited to): frequent purchasing of books, inability to get rid of books once they have been purchased, reading outside on pleasant days, reading inside on unpleasant days, browsing book shops for hours, and marked anti-social behavior. If you experience most or all of these symptoms, you can be fairly certain that you’re a bibliophile. You’d better go buy a bookshelf. A really, really big bookshelf.
Bibliophilia has no known cure--probably because true bibliophiles don’t want to be cured. If possible, avoid contact with people suffering from extreme cases. Their reclusive lifestyle renders them poor companions. Don’t worry, bibliophiles will not be offended if you avoid them; they would probably rather be reading, anyway.