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Thursday, October 12, 2017


Ahhh -- books! Readers take for granted volumes of printed words. In return, books bring hours of musing, joy and fascination to readers.

Books offer more than entertainment and information. As readers interact with the written word, books impart understanding. I knew a man who talked to his books engaging them in “conversation.” After “conversing” with a book he not only knew the author’s point of view but he could explain the subject and why the author wrote what he did. The book imparted enlightenment and understanding.

Book lovers are in a class of their own. Bibliophiles, the technical term for these gentle folks of bookish behavior, have unbridled affection and unquenchable thirst for the printed word.

The history of books reveals some startling accounts of bizarre behavior exhibited by book lovers on the fringe. For some the love of books becomes addictive. Like other areas of human behavior, there is a dark side to bibliophilia. What happens when the desire to procure, own, store, and read books goes awry?

Biblioclepts, for example, are people who steal books. Book collections are sometimes assembled by stealing. Such an incident came to light in 1990 in Ottumwa, Iowa when the FBI arrested Stephen Blumberg. He had assembled a collection of books worth $20 million and stored them in a house he bought for that purpose in 1972. Over the years he stole valuable items from 268 libraries.

Biblioclasts destroy books. These people harbor an uncontrollable urge to destroy books with various motives in mind. Intolerance breeds this behavior, especially among those of differing political and religious persuasions.

Biblioclasts may have other motives, however. Some collectors destroy rare books just to make the remaining stock scarce and more valuable. Charles Darwin cut large books in half to make working with them easier. Thomas Jefferson cut and pasted selected portion from the New Testament to create a bible to his liking.

Bibliotaphs are those who love their books so much they bury them. Bibliotaphs are so intent on protecting their volumes they prepare special underground rooms to store their collections. This behavior is not nearly so strange when compared to bibliotaphs who want to be buried with their books. Eugene Field listed twenty-four books to be buried with him.

Bibliophagi, undoubtedly the most bizarre among book lovers, are people who virtually eat the printed word. This most often occurs under duress, usually when forced upon an author whose writing offended certain authorities. For example, a certain Scandinavian, when given the choice between being beheaded and eating his offensive manuscript, chose the manuscript boiled in a broth. Or, Philip Oldenburger had to eat some of his satire while being flogged. The flogging continued until he finished the last morsel. Seventeenth century writer Theodore Reinking was offered his freedom from prison only if he ate an entire book of his writing. This he did with the help of a special sauce.

Most book lovers of course, display no such deviant behavior. A more acceptable and less eccentric behavior involves book collecting. Rarity is a big factor in book collecting as is the condition of the books themselves. Autographed and inscribed copies increase the value of a volume. Books written by famous authors containing errors are highly prized.

Inherent in book collecting resides the danger of passionate extremes. Those afflicted with the uncontrollable urge to buy and store books are called bibliomaniacs or bibliomanes. While bibliophiles love books for what is inside them, bibliomanes love books for their looks or just the sheer desire to possess them. Bibliophiles gather books, like friends, to be enjoyed. Bibliomanes gather books as treasures to be protected like museum pieces.

For bibliomanes, quantity counts. This group may be divided into two subcatagories: Those who read what they collect and those who do not.

Richard Heber, a nineteenth century English bibliomane gathered his 200,000 to 300,000 volumes into eight houses. Amazingly, Heber read all his books!

For others, reading what they collect is irrelevant. In an earlier century, Count d’Estrees gathered 52,000 volumes into his library, none of which he ever read.

 One of the most notorious bibliomanes was the eighteenth century French lawyer Boulard. He had amassed 600,000 to 800,000 volumes stashed away in Six different houses. He never knew what he had. Within hours of adding a new book to his collection the book was lost forever. Boulard did not know what books he owned much less where specific titles were located. It took five years to auction his holdings.

Two books provide a complete discussion of bibliophilism. One is Biblioholism by Tom Raabe and the other is A Gentle Madness by Nicholas A. Basbanes.

In the face of the enormous challenge from technology and electronic devices the world of books is held at bay like aliens from another world. Families gather around the TV for an evening of non-interaction. Books collect dust as individuals peck away distractedly on their devices.

However, as long as people have ideas to share and there are readers who seek understanding, there will always be books.

Where books are found, so are literary addictions.


Dennis M. Patrick can be contacted at (JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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