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The Book About Books: The Anatomy of Bibliomania

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I found the place by accident; I always do. It isn't as though I set out looking for them but they call out to me. I don't even have to see them. Sometimes I can simply sense their presence. The closer I draw, the greater their insistence, the more persuasive their arguments, and the stronger the attraction. A good bookstore is irresistible.

Some time ago, I was with some friends and we stopped in a café briefly. My bookstore indicator went through the roof and after very little looking, I discovered the Acorn bookstore in Grandview. I'll save the complete story for another time. Inside, I found a book of particular interest: one that might describe how I am able to discover such bookstores so easily and why I am so enamored of books. The volume was Holbrook Jackson's The Anatomy of Bibliomania, this 1981 edition being supertitled, The Book About Books.

“Bibliomania” sounded like a strong word to me—its meaning obviously being “book-madness.” Nevertheless, consideration of the possibility seemed wise, and likely a pleasurable task, as it would include an addition to my library and some hours spent in reading and introspection. After looking over the extensive table of contents, I turned to the opening and read, “The Author to the Reader.” Therein, it said:

Gentle Reader, I presume thou wilt be very inquisitive to know what antic or personate actor it is that so insolently intrudes upon this common theatre to the world's view, arrogating as you will soon find, another man's style and method: whence he is, why he does it, and what he has to say. 'Tis a proper attitude, and the questions clear and reasonable themselves, but I owe thee no answer, for if the contents please thee, 'tis well; if they be useful, 'tis an added value; if neither, pass on, nor, in the observation of what wise Glanvill, hath any one need to complain, since no one is concerned about what another Prints, further than himself pleaseth; and since Men have liberty to read our Books, or not, they should give us leave to write what we like, or forbear, which for the most part they do.
Yet in some sort to give thee satisfaction, which thou hast a right to demand, since I have caused my book to be printed and sold for money, I will show a reason both of this usurped title and style. And first for the name and form, which I hae so freely adapted from Robert Burton his Anatomy of Melancholy: lest any man by reason of it should be deceived, expecting a pasquil, a scherzo, a burlesque, a satire, some humorous or fantastic treatise (as I myself should have done, recalling that all parodies are jests), I may at once undeceive him, for my intent is serious; I have gleaned the crops of innumerable authorities scattered far and wide, winnowing the chaff from the grain, and setting out the various species in such an order that they may best contribute to our knowledge of books in general and of Bibliomania in particular.

I was hooked, and purchased the book. Its structure is thirty-two parts, covering such things as “Of Books in General,” “The Pleasure of Books,” “The Art of Reading,” “Study and Book-Learning,” “A Pageant of Bookmen,” “The Influence of Books,” “Borrowers, Biblioklepts and Bestowers,” “Of Bibliomania or Book-Madness,” and concludes with “Bibliophily Triumphant.”

A passage I found particularly noteworthy was “Men Who Become Books: Biblianthropus.”

If, as I have shown, pro captu lectoris habent sua fata libelli, [‘The reader's fancy makes the fate of books’] books, as I have also shown, make the fate of their readers; it is a quid pro quo, give and take.

As I read through the text, I found that the treatise became an increasingly plausible argument that I afflicted by bibliomania. I have long believed in this quid pro quo and indeed have proclaimed to the entire world time and again that lego, ergo sum. Even so, in the sections where Jackson discusses the hunters and collectors of books, he shows that bibliomanes often do not read their books. Their love of books is often superficial, appreciating much about them but ultimately being driven by such things as greed, or at the very least profit. I found myself disconnected from the subjects of the discussion.

The opening of the conclusion, entitled “Wedded to Books,” I found myself once again connected with the subject. Jackson advises:

Let us love books as we love, dum vires annique sinunt, while we are in the flower of years, fit for love, and while time serves,
Gather ye rose-buds while ye may,
  Old Time is still a-flying:
And this same flower that smiles to-day
  To-morrow will be dying.

Bibliophily is a natural and even healthful state, for books are the most timeless way for us to proclaim who we are and to find out who our ancestors were. I suggest that there is no better way to find one's place in the world than first to survey the world. I hold that there is no better way to survey the world and human experience than through books. With this knowledge of the world, one has a frame of reference for one's own experiences and can see one's own life in perspective. This understanding will not only enhance one's own experiences, but through discernment leads to wisdom: knowing what to do when confronted with decision, how to promote what is ultimately good. Or, as Johann Kaspar admonished:

Act well at the moment, and you have performed a good action to all eternity.

So this is the crux of bibliophily for me, even if I do enjoy such simple pleasures as seeing, smelling, and touching books. Nevertheless, the world of books is large enough to allow for reading that is less purposeful in nature, even allowing for the pointless. Other bookmen, whether bibliomanes or bibliophiles, may well take liberty of disagreement with me; and I have no interest in preventing them in any case. Having taken Jackson's tour of bibliomania, I am well satisfied with both the content and presentation. And I'm delighted to have another volume to add to my library.

Created by cmcurtin
Last modified 2005-05-10 05:38 PM
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