Am I A Book Hoarder?

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The books we sold yesterday

If Wikipedia is to be believed, the answer is “no.”

The technical term is bibliomania, which Wikipedia defines as follows:

Bibliomania can be a symptom of obsessive–compulsive disorder which involves the collecting or even hoarding of books to the point where social relations or health are damaged.

My enjoyment of books may mean I have bookish friends, but my wife has no plans to leave me. I’ve not squandered the family savings nor is it impossible to walk through the rooms of my house because of my books. I can part with books, lending or gifting them (often the same thing!) to friends, or giving them to charity or selling them, as I did yesterday with a box of books. The one danger to my health is I, like many, have to guard against a sedentary life, but I do not sacrifice food, other activity or sleep for books. I don’t buy books simply for how they look. Nor do I commit crimes to obtain books (bibliokleptomania).

The general term for a person like me is a bibliophile. What I wonder is if we need another term for those who might love books a bit more than might be good, yet in ways that fall short of hoarding. I propose the term bibliohyperphilia or “the excessive love of books.” Here might be some of the signs of bibliohyperphilia (or BHP since that is a mouthful):

  • Very simply, we acquire more books than we read.
  • Our TBR stacks keep growing, perhaps into different parts of our living space.
  • We have more books than shelves to hold them.
  • We find other bibliohyperphiliacs and enable each other.
  • Cruising bookstores becomes a primary form of recreation.
  • We are tempted to read in a more driven, frantic way because of our unread books.
  • We have no hope in our lifetime of reading our unread books let alone re-reading books we’ve read and kept.
  • We do book blogs which serve as a form of justification for our reading habits! Look at how we are helping others connect with good literature!

I find that among others of similar ilk, we laugh about and pass off this behavior as our own brand of eccentricity. But to see this list in print, each item of which I have to confess as being true of me, sends up red flags that tells me I have a problem. But what is that, exactly? I think for me, the real issue can be a love for accumulating knowledge, particularly about dimensions of life I cannot directly experience. If I see a book on something that has piqued my interest, or a work of fiction I’ve heard to be good, and it can be had at an inexpensive price, I want to snap it up, even if I can’t read it for the next five years–I want to be able to sometime!

As a person of faith, to admit an inordinate love of books can be troubling. It’s not just about being a little bit weird. It raises a question for me about whether I love and trust books more than God. Convictionally, I would say an absolute “no!” But in practice…? Hmm, let’s change the subject!

Actually, let’s not. One thing worse than confessing our sins is ignoring them or being blind to them. One thing about bringing this inordinate love to God is to be reminded that not only does God forgive, God will love me back! That’s something no book can do. And that knowledge thing? A few years ago, it was pointed out to me that Colossians 2:3 says that all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden in Christ. No library, let alone an individual book can make that promise.

I know that not all who read this buy the God part, but for me this seems part of getting any inordinate love back in order. There are so many things, from sex to food and drink, to clothing and books that are good in themselves, but can be taken to excess. The reading of books can help me grow in love for God and God’s world, when part of a life ordered by and offered wholeheartedly to God.

For those looking for practicalities, my reflections have led me to these steps:

  • To freely lend or give books to those who ask or when the subject matter would be helpful–even if I haven’t read the book.
  • To either dispose of a book I’ve read or if I shelve it, make space by getting rid of another book.
  • I’ve begun going through unread books stored away and getting rid of those I know I won’t read but could benefit others. At first this was hard but I find myself getting more ruthless over time, and more realistic about saying “I’ll never read that.” It also helps me be more selective about the books I acquire.
  • I’ve thought of adding more bookshelves but perhaps the decision is simply less books, only those I really need for reference or those special books that I have come back to and re-read. We have enough shelf space for the books I really “need.”
  • My wife has pointed out that we don’t want our son and daughter-in-law to be looking around our home and thinking, “are we going to have to get rid of all that?” That has motivated a good amount of getting rid of books and lots of other stuff.
  • To not enable others or rationalize my own BHP.

I’ve written pretty honestly about my own BHP in the hopes that it will be helpful to others. I’d invite my friends to help me as well. Remind me to slow down and savor books. Encourage me to pursue other forms of recreation besides cruising bookstores. Relieve me of my books as long as this doesn’t feed a BHP problem of your own! And for those who share my faith, please keep encouraging me in the pursuit of the love and wisdom that may be found in God alone.

 

4 thoughts on “Am I A Book Hoarder?

  1. According to C. S. Lewis (“God in the Dock” (Eerdman, 1970), p. 216), you’re on the right track:

    ‘Yes,’ my friend said. ‘I don’t see why there shouldn’t be books in Heaven. But you will find that your library in Heaven contains only some of the books you had on earth.’ ‘Which?’ I asked. ‘The ones you gave away or lent.’

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