Many librarians, like me, are also members of LibraryThing.com. Other members of LibraryThing.com, like librarians, acquire many books. Done well and done rationally, this is called “book collecting,” and many of these people are also esteemed as “bibliophiles” or “book lovers.” These people usually have a hobby of books, and they may collect different types of books, such as first editions, autographed copies, or books in a particular genre. Disciplined, rational and purposeful, they are an interesting group of people to talk to and to visit with.
Bibliomaniacs are deranged people. These are the people who steal books because they are afraid that the books would be lost if they weren’t preserved in their care. Sometimes they steal copies of books they don’t want other people to read for various reasons, most often for sex, religion or politics. Often these people don’t ever read the books they steal, and they just fill storage spaces with their ill-gotten loot. They are a terror to librarians and library users, since they don’t trust libraries, and they often steal from libraries because they want to get the books for themselves before other people can steal them or read them.
But some people, especially in LibraryThing.com, also love books, and also fall somewhere in between the bibliophiles and bibliomaniacs. These people are what I call “bookaholics” or “biblioholics.” To them, books are a necessary part of their lives, and they have large personal libraries in their homes and their offices. Unlike disciplined book collectors, they don’t collect specific kinds of books, rare books or incunabula; bookaholics collect all kinds of books. Like bibliophiles, their books are paid for, but bookaholics usually don’t pay large sums for their books, since they know they can buy more books with a lot of money rather than just one measly old title. Used paperbacks at $0.50 each are just as valued as other books, if they like the author or story. Indeed, many bookaholics hold on to their titles for so long that a cheap book purchased years ago often turns out to be quite valuable when and if it is ever sold.
Unlike bibliomaniacs, the bookaholics’ titles are usually obtained legally, although the cheaper the better. Also unlike bibliomaniacs, bookaholics actually read and enjoy the books they own. Since bibliomaniacs hoard their books and try to keep their book stash secret, and bibliophiles often keep their collections secret for fear of theft of their valuable treasures, bookaholics are different from both in that they are usually quite willing to lend them out to friends and others. We regret when they don’t come back, but know that one day or another we will either re-purchase that title, get it on inter-library loan form the local public library, or get it borrowed from another bookaholic when we want it. Bookaholics treasure books, not for their value as books themselves, but for what they contain inside. Bookaholics are readers first, and collectors second.
You know you are a bookaholic when:
You can tell the true bookaholic, because they are the ones who only write their name in the book when they have completely finished it, thus showing they have been there before if they should ever pick up the book again.
We are the ones who send used books to our relatives, who then send them on to other relatives, each one writing their initials and dates to show who has already read the book.
It's an either/or thing. Either you have an extraordinarily fine bookplate, or you don't use bookplates at all.
Bookaholics are the ones who go to bed early because there's nothing else around the house to read.
Bookaholics are the ones who start to feel uncomfortable and uneasy in another person's house, and suddenly realize there are no bookshelves or magazines lying around. People who only own a telephone book and their high school yearbooks scare us.
Illiteracy is a nightmare to us. When I was in the Middle East, I found myself once trying to read the label on a ketchup bottle, sounding out to myself the letters in Arabic, when I didn't even know the words the letters made up. I was so desperate to be able to read something, and so frustrated because I was illiterate in the language around me.
Do you visit a museum and spend more time in the bookstore browsing the tomes than you do viewing the masterpieces?
We bookaholics often put the date we have read the book under our signature, simply because we have pretensions that we really won't re-read it until five years have passed. Or ten. Or one. Whatever.
Does your significant other make sarcastic remarks about your book collection and floor load weight, the fire hazards of paper or their mass causing the house to tilt a little to one side?
A rebellious teen to a bookaholic parent is a child who can read but won’t. Words a bookaholic most wants to hear from their child: “Gee, Dad, I’m bored. Is there anything around here worth reading?”
As a bookaholic, I went into librarianship to be around books, but now find I have little time to read. I have heard a statistic that the reference librarian should spend about 30% of their day reading just to keep up in their work, profession and academic fields, but there is no way I can come even close to this standard. It is like being an alcoholic who is also a barkeeper, and can't drink any of the potions that he makes for other people.
A real bookaholic is told to write their name at the bottom of the route list at the office so other people will have a chance to read the new things, too.
A bookaholic’s nightmare: a messy bookaholic and a neat spouse who isn’t also a bookaholic.
When you want to put a book down and you have no other bookmark to use, have you ever used a dollar bill from your wallet? Have you ever opened an older book in your collection, and found either a dollar bill of yours still stuck between the pages, an unpaid electric bill, a winning lottery ticket, or some other item of value? A true bookaholic’s brag- I once found a $0.25 bill from 1863 still marking a page in a 19th century book. For me, this was a metaphysical contact with another bookaholic from over a hundred years ago, and this also shows how few other people had ever read that book between then and now.
Speaking of bookmarks, you're the only one you know who actually uses a bookmark with a tassel on the end, because you remember reading somewhere that demons and ifrits are fascinated by tassels and will not enter the book if they have a plaything to work on instead, and so you decided to...
(I have often been asked about this. Tassels, fringes and dangily things are very common in Middle Eastern (not necessarily Moslem) societies. The tassels are on hats (the fez), clothing, pillows, Arabic "worry beads," knife handles, saddle blankets for camels (tassels also keep away the flies), and tassels are even made of silver and placed on rings and other forms of jewelry. Many Arab men and women close their robes with strings ending in tassels. The story I have been told is that demons, genies, book reviewers and other evil spirits are fascinated by such items, and will stop to play with them rather than commit their evil deeds. And if I remember my undergraduate folklore a-right, the mortarboard hats used in academic graduation ceremonies are descendents of the student boards used in traditional Arabic schools. The students would write their verses and lessons on a small wooden board similar to the school slate or chalk board used in the west. To test their skills in memorization, they would place the boards on top of their heads to show they weren't cheating (I saw that this is still done in Koranic schools today in Africa and the Middle East). The symbolic change of the dangling tassel from one side to the other means something important, but I forget which. Perhaps something to do with debts owed to college bursars or to passing evil spirits, or perhaps not. 8-)
In oriental societies, the tassel is, if anything, even more used than in the Middle East. However, I don't know of an association with evil spirits connected to tassels in the Far East. Maybe the influence came from Arab countries, or vice versa. But I saw almost as many tassels on things and people in Korea than I did in Saudi Arabia.
Anybody want to tussle over tassels?)
It's an either/or thing. Either you make notes, underline passages or highlight sections of the books as you read them, or you consider this an evil blasphemy and refuse to profane the printed page. Ditto for dog-earing a page to mark your spot. Either you do it, or you recoil in horror at the very idea.
Bookaholics think that it is a small mind who can only read one book at a time. Real bookaholics have a partly read book in each room of the house, plus office, car, etc.
Books on tape go too slow.
When you arrive in a new town and the family doesn't know what to do, you know what and where everything is because you have also read the roadside signs and advertisements while speeding down the highway.
You return for your 25th high school reunion and visit the library. Sure enough, one of the books you take off the shelf still has your name inside when you first or last checked it out.
It’s an either/or thing. Either you religiously keep the dust jackets on the hardbound books you buy, or you throw them away as a thundering nuisance, and you think the dust jacket is only piece of paper between you and the words in the text, much like a shrink-wrap cellophane sheet over a box of chocolates.
Speaking of dust jackets, you are often annoyed when the dust jacket in a bookstore has the cheap cover illustration preserved by placing the price sticker over the blurb. Yes, most people buy a book because of its cover and clever illustration. But you want to know what’s inside the book, and it’s annoying to live in a world with these other people and the bookstores that pander to them.
Bibliophiles have “cabinets” for their rare and valuable books. Bookaholics are familiar with homemade bookshelves, or planks stretched across cinder blocks, or various piles of books in the kitchen and bedroom.
You know what ISBN means, and you recognize some of the publishers' numbers.
The smell of a new book on a cool, humid day.
At one time or another in your life, you have sat down to seriously and finally make a catalog or list of all the book titles you own. However, after about ten minutes of efficient work, you find that you have abandoned the list to read one or more of the books that you are handling.
Real bookaholics give out bookmarks along with the Halloween candy. Hopelessly committed bookaholics give out some books, too. “Something for the mind as well as for the tummy,” you say cheerfully. Normal people look at you strangely.
Not only do you know the reference librarians and staff at the local library by their first names, they also know you by your first name. They think of you, sometimes in exasperation, when they are ordering new titles for the library’s collection. Or they call your home to let you know a new title has come in that you might be interested in checking out. Your spouse even recognizes their voice on the answering machine.
We bookaholics are familiar with the differences in books. There are ones you read over and over again. There are the ones you read as mind candy, just to be reading. There are bad books. There are good books. There are books that change the way you think or books that stretch your mind. There are books that should never have been published. A bookaholic can usually tell the different kinds of book, and won’t read one type when another type is called for. Non-bookaholics think all books are good and that they are all equal in value. Bookaholics know this isn’t true.
You know you are a bookaholic when you see the children’s book titles in your collection, and you don’t have any children. This is because you know that many good children’s books are ripping good stories; you saw some favorites from your own childhood at a used bookstore and couldn’t resist re-reading them; or you know that reading books written and published for adolescents will improve your adult reading speed and comprehension.
You might be a bookaholic if, as a child, were you ever told to put down your book and go outside and play instead? Ever been punished by having a book taken away from you, but not television? Do you have a frequent buyer’s card at a bookstore, but not at a video store? Ever been startled or confused when your best friend doesn’t like your new favorite book, or says they don’t even like to read?
It’s an either/or thing. Either you know exactly how many books you have, similar to a miser who constantly count his gold coins. Or you don't have a clue or a care as to how many books you have, except in both cases it is certainly a lot more than normal people have. One ofthe reasons for joining LibraryThing.comwas to find out how many books I have when I finally finish adding all my titles. Yesterday, I bought a new book that hasn't been entered yet, and gave one away to another bookaholic. so it goes.
A true bookaholic “reads between the lions.” This is a pun on “read between the lines,” and shows that bookaholics most often “get” things in books that other readers miss. However, you also know that the lions mentioned are placed in front of the New York Public Library, where if you haven’t ever been you one day aspire to see; it is also the name of a children’s show that discusses books. You are hopeless as a bookaholic if you know the two NY Public Library lion sculptures are named “Patience” and “Fortitude.” You are an incurable bookaholic if you know which lion is on the right hand side as you exit the library.
Visiting the in-laws can be excruciating, especially when they expect you to spend the whole day in front of the TV watching professional sports, when you would rather be alone on the porch swing with an iced tea and feeding your bookaholic addiction by reading. Pretending to be normal and to pretend to like the banal chat while watching millionaire athletes get hot and sweaty is difficult, but is usually achieved through much practice. And your spouse appreciates your sacrifice. Sometimes.
Priorities in life are important. They are: Reading, breathing, drinking, eating, shelter, warmth, companionship, making some money to buy more books, household chores. Everything else in their appropriate time and place.
Sex is not mentioned above, because of course, it is always done between the sheets. Do you refer to your bedspread as your dust cover, and thus do it under the covers? Bookaholics are novel lovers. Librarians do it quietly. Real readers learn about sex by Braille, etc., etc., ad nauseam.
When you meet someone new who might be a new Significant Other, do you make an excuse to visit their house so you can scan the titles in their bookshelf? Astrologers and computer matchmakers who waste hours trying to find compatible pals have nothing on bookaholics who try to find common titles and favorite authors.
It’s and either/or thing. Either because of your bookaholic facility with words, you are excellent at game shows such as “Wheel of Fortune,” Scrabble, crossword puzzles and that sort of thing; or because of your facility with words you are not.
Because of the range of books that you have read over time, you have accumulated a trashcan full of miscellaneous facts, much like a whale gathers barnacles as she swims through the seas. So the same is true with trivia games, Jeopardy and car travel games such as “Twenty Questions.” Either you are good in this sort of thing, or you aren’t.
Real bookaholics come from many generations of bookaholics. Boys say with authority, "My father told me...." Real readaholic boys say, "My grandfather read somewhere..."
Suitcase heavy because of too many paperbacks? Got a small tome stashed away somewhere for an emergency? Buy a new PDA in part because you can download books on to it and read them on the crowded bus or subway, and with the backlight feature, even read in the dark?
A bathroom without a library is like a library without a bathroom.
Speaking of bathrooms, bookaholics have special relationships with the little room which has no window. Routinely, you can gauge a normal persons’ educational level by whether or not they read in the john. More that two-thirds of people with master’s degrees or beyond read in the can. About 56 per cent of all college grads do, and only fifty per cent of high school grads read on the ceramic throne. However, almost all real bookaholics read in the bathroom.
True bookaholics have also ruined at least one or more good books by dropping them in the water when reading in the bathtub. Reading a good book in a hot bubble bath by candlelight is what will happen when you die and go to heaven.
Lists of books amuse bookaholics. Every so often you will see a list of recommended books for college students, the ten most banned books, or twenty most read books of the last century, or whatever. Glancing over them, you realize that you have already read them, or that you have a nodding acquaintance with most of the books listed.
Ever get caught for ditching gym class to read a new book instead? Did you ever find yourself teaching the dirty-minded kids at school the truth about sex that you learned from books instead of experience? Were you ever late for class or an appointment because you couldn’t put a good book down? Ever find the books on limericks on the poetry shelf in the school library, and amuse your friends with the off color ones? Did you ever write literate graffiti in the school bathroom, such as “I crap therefore I am” in Latin or writing in very small letters at the bottom of the stall door, “If you can read this, congratulations, you are now crapping at a 45° angle”? By the way, did you ever learn to read things upside down while in the teacher’s or principal’s office in school?
One or more of the books in your personal library is in a foreign language. Either they are holdovers from a school language course, something you bought cheap somewhere, or you had ambitions (when you have the time) to try to study and understand it. Most often it is something in Latin, but in many homes can be found the odd texts on how to read Egyptian hieroglyphics or directions on how to use a Chinese dictionary (ever try to look up a Chinese ideogram in a dictionary?).
Speaking of dictionaries, they are usually covered in dust in the homes of real biblioholics. Most common dictionaries aren’t used, since the bookaholic is already familiar with most of the words they run up against while reading. Instead, our dictionaries are of the unusual sort, such as slang, special terms or literate works such as “The Devil’s Dictionary” type. Also, you have probably picked up at least one dictionary in an area you are unfamiliar with, such as one on shipbuilding and nautical terms, medieval mining terms or polyglot terms in the hydrological sciences. Alternately, dictionaries are used for etymological curiosity and for other reasons. Can you say, “Oxford English Dictionary?” By they way, no one can claim to be a real bookaholic unless they have read at least one letter’s full of a dictionary at sometime or the other in their life, usually when in high school. Most people seem to choose “L”, because it is close to the center or the dictionary, and also because they know that’s where the lascivious, leering and lustful words are hidden.
My name is R. Lee, and I'm a bookaholic. Read 'em and weep.
An earlier copy of this article was printed in the librarian’s STUMPERS-L@cuis.edu discussion list on May 22, 2001.
Another one was printed in Mensa’s Capital-M in 2004.