You could get 'Booked!'

  • By Sanjay Akolkar

Books, well, what can one say about them! In whatever form, books have been informing, instructing, enthralling, enrapturing, and entertaining the world for millennia - right from the time humans learnt how to write intelligibly and found means to bind the written word in cohesive form. So, whether in the form of early papyrus scrolls to the modern day fine printed expensive publications - books continue to hold their sway and have their way with us humans!

They do come in various forms, shapes, and sizes, don’t they? Right from pocket book thrillers, sleek glossies, coffee table books, anthologies on anything from literature, spirituality, to rocket science - it is the book that chooses its reader, lends him/her character, and literally shapes his destiny. Such is the power of a written word.

Ask any avid book collector or bibliophile as to what deep seated urges compel him to go on a book buying spree and you will get a million answers. Some of us just like scouring through second hand book stores to just soak in the musty smell of yellowing dog eared pages. The sheer delight of going on a rampage through stacks and piles of old books - either at a library distress sale or second hand books stores equals none other.

The owner quite unobtrusively leaves you to your business - of rifling through the pages, going down memory lane to reacquaint oneself with authors now long dead, and then when nobody’s looking, quickly putting your nose to take in the scent or spirit of the book fairy! These books have changed hands over a hundred times possibly to be in your hands. Well, then there are some others who buy books purely for the snob value. So whatever be the subject, if it figures on the bestsellers list then it must be on the bookshelf or coffee table, no matter what the price!

Then there are still some others who cross that thin line between being book crazy and full-fledged book-o-mania or bibliomania. Whatever next! Can man’s ‘best friend’ really have the ability to turn on him and create a serious mental condition? Let’s turn the page to bibliomania!

What is bibliomania?

Bibliomania is an obsession with buying, collecting, and hoarding books. Book lovers are normally obsessed with buying and collecting books on their favorite themes, but when one buys multiple editions of the same book and feels great distress at not being able to procure a book on the wish list could well be said to have ‘bibliomania’. It is a type of obsessive-compulsive disorder.

It is in fact another form of hoarding of junk in the attic, albeit a little more respectable! A person’s bibliomania may go undiagnosed as he may appear to be just a voracious reader with a hobby for collecting books. The underlying distress and anxiety at not being able to get a particular book, or say a particular edition of a book, might be brushed off as mere eccentricity; and reporting a bibliophile would be bad for business, so doubt if any book store owner would want to see his client ‘booked.’

Symptoms of Bibliomania

You could be headed in that direction if you have sudden urges to make a beeline to the book store and exhaust your entire payroll for a treasure trove full of books which are of no use to you. Often bibliomaniacs don’t even bother to read their “must have collector items.” There is a significant change in mood and social relationships as a result. The instinct is just to hoard and stack, and at times, these people can be fiercely protective of their collection.

Bibliomania has not been accorded its rightful status as a full-blown mental condition by the American Psychiatric Association probably because it is difficult to arrive at a definite diagnosis.

Of course, in extreme cases the patient could well stack his entire house with books, books, and more books, thus opening his environment to pests, termites, and other hazards. In some cases, patients have meticulously arranged their collection even in the bathroom. That would then cause some domestic strife with books invading in on the family’s personal space.

Depending on the severity of the condition, medication and counseling are the popular lines of treatment. Bibliomania invariably has to do with some unaddressed issues in the patient’s personal life such as abuse or trauma and the depression that ensues from these unresolved conflicts could be one of the major reasons for the man turning his entire home into a library for solace!

In a lighter vein, one can say that bibliomaniacs could well be doing society a great service, if only they would throw open their collection to the public!