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Day July 18, 2006

Bibliophilia and Bibliomania Redux

Will Baude has another post about book ownership and collecting today on Crescat Sententia, and since I’m in the process of moving 68+ boxes of books and 12 bookshelves to a new home, it seemed appropriate to reflect a little further on the psychology of my own book collecting.

Like Will, and unlike Amber Taylor, I’m an advocate of large, but well-chosen libraries.  I’ve definitely left many books unread in my library, having purchased them, however, with definite intent-to-read.  I agree with Rita that there’s something vaguely strange and pretentious about the acquisition of books just to display them, but this is a tactic that I don’t believe really crosses the mind of the true bibliophile.

If you smile to yourself whenever you walk into a bookstore, or love the slightly dry, dusty smell of masses of old books in close proximity, or if the first thing you do with the NYRB is go through all the publisher’s advertisements and list all the new books that look interesting, or heck, if you subscribe to the NYRB or LRB and actually read it on Sunday mornings, if you can pick up a book off your shelf — no matter when acquired — and instantly recall when you bought, why you think you bought it, and (if you’ve read it) what you thought of it, then you’re a bibliophile.  And as I’ve posted previously, you might even be a bibliomaniac.

How does one know whether simple bibliophilia has crossed the line into a full case of bibliomania? 

A clue from my own life:  I’m at the new house for a week, working with contractors to prep everything before I move the furniture, etc.  Obviously I’ll need reading material.   

A "normal" person might have brought a book or two.  Or maybe none, the way reading stats in our society are trending.

A bibliophile might have brought four, maybe six.   Borderline bibliomaniacs (like Will might be!), say 10, some of them "justified" as work-in-progress.

In my case, after packing the Land Rover with bedding, kitchen stuff, half a case of wine, and stuff needed for the house projects, I systematically packed books into all the empty nooks and crannies left by all the irregular shapes. 

I managed to get 35 books in the car for the trip up….because you never know what you’ll feel like reading right now

THAT is bibliomania, and I couldn’t be happier about it.   Books are one of our most incredible achievements as a species, and it completely mystifies me that we’re reading less and less as a society.