Post #022: Bibliophilia, bibliomania, tsundoku

Glasgow, August 31, 2018

The ongoing debate on whether books as physical objects will become obsolete in the near or in the not-so-near future, is an intriguing matter for bibliophiles like me. The digital era offers the ability for someone to not only own thousands of books, but to be able to store them in a drive or keep them on the “cloud”. This, admittedly, makes book ownership and accessibility far more practical than the physical, bookcase-related alternative: an almost unlimited collection of books could be owned by anyone, could be scanned for keywords in seconds, and could be accessible anywhere and anytime by the end-user and/or owner. Many bibliophiles claim that there are certain qualities of physical book ownership that cannot be met by the digital alternative, the most important being security and a sense of pleasure deriving from the handling of the physical object.

One must admit that physical books contain art in their design and making: the paper quality, the binding, the cover design and the book typesetting are some of the features that feed a unique sense of pleasure to someone holding a well-designed and printed book. These features add a character to the physical book that cannot be otherwise appreciated, and they are a main reason for the passionate collecting installed in book collectors and bibliomaniacs; two minorities within the bibliophilic community. In contrast to book collecting, bibliomania is often considered to be a clinical disorder [1] in cases where the individual’s clinical and social health are compromised in order to satisfy the desire of book ownership and “hoarding”. Although difficult to discriminate from passionate book collectors, bibliomaniacs supposedly demonstrate excessive zeal in collecting printed matter, and it is this zeal that is often presented as a symptom of an obsessive-compulsive disorder. More recently, a foreign word has been associated with bibliomania in order to describe the habit of acquiring printed matter (such as books), but allowing them to pile up in one’s home without reading them: it is the Japanese slang word “tsundoku” [2].

Bibliophilia, bibliomania and tsundoku are terms used to describe one’s relationship with physical books, depending on the perspective of those who claim to be in position to rightfully assign the term. I have the feeling that although there are cases where the appropriate term assignment might be obvious and truly-relevant to an underlying psychopathology, in most cases of physical book collectors like me, this classification might prove to be a far more complex task, as our purpose, passion and file cabinet drawers of drafts might justify some of our “hoarding” habits as “provision” and “necessity”, fed by our illusion of future time availability.


Notes: [1]: the term was coined by the Scottish physician and poet John Ferriar (1761-1815), in order to describe a case of obsessive book collecting; [2]: the origin of this word can be tracked back to Japan’s Meiji era (1868-1912).

Citation: Zarros A. Post #022: Bibliophilia, bibliomania, tsundoku. 2018; 31-Aug.