The Strange History of Bibliomania, the Compulsive Buying of Books
Even though your grandmother probably enjoys her Kindle as much as you do now, the world is still bountiful with paper-bound originals. Just taking a quick look at my own stacks, I’ve got Charles Shields’ biography of Kurt Vonnegut, And So It Goes; Philip Roth’s Letting Go; and Robert Greene’s The 48 Laws of Power (Jay-Z is apparently a fan). There are a lot more where those came from. But if a doctor were to look at my library, he would likely not diagnose me with bibliomania.
What is bibliomania? According to Merriam-Webster’s dictionary, it is the “extreme preoccupation with collecting books.” It can even spill over into obsessive-compulsive behavior—and even hoarding. Apparently, it has its origins in 19th century England. Per The Guardian, Thomas Frognall Dibdin wrote Bibliomania, or Book Madness: A Biographical Romance to satirize what he saw as the growing issue of gentlemen obsessed with buying books. He, too, had been stricken with the disease.
Late psychologist Werner Muensterberger’s Collecting: An Unruly Passion tells of one Sir Thomas Phillips, who in the late 19th century set out to own (in his words, written in caps, to a friend) “… ONE COPY OF EVERY BOOK IN THE WORLD!!!” His collection included not only books and manuscripts, but also deeds, seals, charts, autographed letters, and a range of other ephemera.
It was viewed as a problem, an addiction—even something close to an affliction. But by the turn of the next century, bibliomania had become closer to what we now see at rare books dealers’ shops: stacks of valuable gems only an expert (not a crazed obsessive) could separate from all the rest of the dreck out there.
For more on bibliomania, read The Guardian‘s full feature here.
—Will Levith for RealClearLife