Bibliomania: the strange history of compulsive book buying

From The Guardian:

When I was a young woman, I drew a sort of perverse pride from my willingness to skip a meal or two in order to afford books. Soon enough, with the ubiquity of credit card touts on campus, I could buy both books and meals. I justified my increasing debt as necessary for my education, and joked with friends that while others spent their money on cars and expensive clothes, anything of value that I owned was on my bookcases.

I realise now that my “jokes” were, in fact, humblebrags. I did love books, always had, but I also took a certain arrogant pleasure from owning so many. It was also when my first “To Be Read” (TBR) pile started – all those volumes I had bought with the intention of reading them. And while years later, adult economics has forced me to stop shopping every time I step into a bookstore, my work as a reviewer now means that an average of five new titles arrive on my doorstep each week. My TBR pile is ceiling-high, and while I’m not going into debt, the visceral pleasure that I get from being surrounded by books remains the same.

In the 19th century, book collecting became common among gentlemen, mostly in Britain, and grew into an obsession that one of its participants called “bibliomania”. Thomas Frognall Dibdin, an English cleric and bibliographer, wrote Bibliomania, or Book Madness: A Bibliographical Romance, which was a gentle satire of those he saw as afflicted with this “neurosis”. Dibdin medicalised the condition, going so far as to provide a list of symptoms manifested in the particular types of books that they obsessively sought: “First editions, true editions, black letter-printed books, large paper copies; uncut books with edges that are not sheared by binder’s tools; illustrated copies; unique copies with morocco binding or silk lining; and copies printed on vellum.”

. . . .

One of the concerns in the early 19th century regarding book collecting was the fear that by hoarding books, buyers were denying their fellow countrymen their patrimony. The image of the rich dilettante was one of the conspicuous consumer of books that would never be read – the old TBR pile – therefore keeping books out of an intellectual commons. The collector was often portrayed as having a kind of antisocial disease that kept him from contributing to the greater good by sharing his printed riches. But the origin for many literary anthologies lay in the libraries of these private collectors – who were, in their own way, establishing a national literary inheritance.

Link to the rest at The Guardian and thanks to DM for the tip.

5 thoughts on “Bibliomania: the strange history of compulsive book buying”

  1. See, the qig5 are trying to save you from yourselves (or trying to make more money off you, I keep getting those confused …)

  2. I am slowly transitioning to digital to save my space, and yes, I have bibliomania. I have to have a separate apartment for my books and my house is an obstacle course of book piles even with that separate library.

    People have come over to borrow books, browsing The Mir Libary. “The living room is theology, science, thrillers, bestsellers, literary novels, and vintage SF; the bedroom is SF, textbooks, history, poetry, literary criticism, health/dieting/cookbooks, and tech; and over in the dining section is an assortment of paperbacks, mostly romance, which also can be found in the walk-in closet (particularly historical romances). Magazines are piled by the front window, though I already tossed the ones from the 80s.”

    • You should visit a Smith Family bookstore in Eugene, Oregon. The Fire Marshall helped them with a similar problem.

      Tape on the floor indicating aisles where books can’t go. No books on stairs or near doors. Piles have to be several feet back from doors so they won’t block the door if they tip over.

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