Sunday, April 22, 2012

Bibliophilia or bibliomania?

I love books.  There, I’ve said it--more or less in public.  The question is whether I suffer from bibliophilia or bibliomania.  The former is just a love of books while the latter is a book obsession that leads to the destruction of relationships and health.  I've been aware of my problem for awhile and I’m taking steps to keep on the right side of the bibliophilia/bibliomania line.  

One way of knowing I have a book problem is that I never have enough bookshelves.  I’ve included a couple pictures of my main built-in bookshelves.  I have other smaller ones scattered throughout the house as well as some piles and I'm looking to build another wall of bookshelves.  Even those will not be enough to house all of the books I have boxed up in the basement.  Though I have friends with even more books and bookshelves (ahem, Mark), I really do have a problem.  

Part of my solution has been to switch to ebooks.   I love the experience of reading a real book, of turning the pages.  Switching to ebooks was hard.  On the other hand, ebooks give me the benefits of always having a pile of books with me when I travel, of not having to keep building more bookshelves, and of being better environmentally. 

Another book problem I have is that I often forget what I’ve read.  To counteract that, I started a few years ago to force myself to write at least a paragraph about each book when I finish it.  

I used the Library Thing Web site.  It is a site for book lovers that allows you to catalog your books, give them ratings, and review them.  The ratings and reviews are then available for others to see and use in evaluating what books to read.  I was pretty good about entering my books there for a couple years.  One unfortunate consequence of switching to ebooks is that I stopped entering my reviews and ratings over a year ago.  The reason?  My system relied on a pile of books to remind me.  With ebooks, of course, there is no pile.  So, I've switched to an electronic mechanism and also will start putting some of my reviews in my blog. 

To give you some idea about how I read books, here are the books I currently am reading.  My definition of “currently reading” is that I have read at least one chapter of the book in the last two weeks.  This list is directly from my Kindle (well, the Kindle app on my iPad): 
  • Imagine: How Creativity Works by Jonah Lehrer
  • The Ascent of Money: A Financial History of the World by Niall Ferguson
  • Everyday Missions: How Ordinary People Change the World by Leroy Barber
  • Almost Amish by Nancy Sleeth 
  • The No-Drop Zone: Everything You Need to Know about the Peloton, Your Gear, and Riding Strong by Patrick Brady
  • Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxas
  • Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other by Sherry Turkle
  • The Optimism Bias: A Tour of the Irrationally Positive Brain by Tali Sharot
  • 1491 (Second Edition): New Revelations of the Americas before Columbus by Charles C. Mann
  • Quiet by Susan Cain
  • Narcissism Epidemic by Jean M. Twenge
  • It Happened on the Way to War by Rye Barcott
  • The Philosophical Breakfast Club: Four Remarkable Friends Who Transformed Science by Laura J. Snyder
Putting that list up (and forcing myself to not edit it) was an interesting exercise.  Showing what I’m reading is rather revealing.  At the same time, I realize it is also a way to show off.  That is another part of the reason I have moved to ebooks—I came to understand that my love of bookshelves and books was, at least partially, a way to show off.  That is one of the areas that as a Christian I need to move beyond.  

One thing to note about the list above is the lack of any fiction on that list.  That was the first step which I took years ago to curb my bibliomania.  If I read fiction, I can’t stop.  I will give up sleep and pretty much anything else until I finish the book.  My solution has been to only allow myself a few fiction books a year.  I’ve read Mark Van Name’s Jon and Lobo books over the last few years.  In some years, that was the only fiction I read.  This year, I permitted myself to read the Hunger Games series.  A few years ago, I read the Harry Potter books.  In each case, the better word would be devoured.  

All kidding about bibliomania aside, is this really a problem I need to solve?  For me, the answer is yes.  I see any part of my life that is out of control or all-consuming as something that competes with putting Christ first in my life.  Obviously, books and reading are not the only place I need to work on.  But, it is a place to start.   

I finished this blog entry early.  Think it would be OK if I got in some reading before going to sleep?  On my Kindle, of course! 


  1. Interested in a review of Almost Amish and Quiet...Davey and I were just talking yesterday about how truly intentional one has to be to save that #1 spot for Christ--totally goes against or base nature sadly.

    1. I will review them when I finish them. If you are curious about Quiet, you can look at TED video ( which is based on the book. I've read another book by the author of Almost Amish (or by her husband as they seem to write together). It is about the importance of living a simple life with plenty of margin.

  2. It's interesting that you can read several concurrently. I can't do that. If I allowed myself to start more than one at a time, I'd never get through them because each time I went back to one, I'd have to go back a chapter or two to get back up to speed. ;-)

    But more to the point, I LOVE looking through your bookshelves. Maybe because I think we like many of the same subjects, I know I'd have a heck of a time getting anything done if I had that library at my disposal.

    1. Yeah, the way I read is rather odd, but it works for me. It works much better with non-fiction than with fiction. Fiction I just tear through.

      As to looking at my bookshelves, you are welcome to do so. I'm working on turning the room upstairs into more of a library. Maybe I'll have to make you a library card!

  3. Bill, I appreciate your willingness to grapple publicly with these areas of temptation, such as pride and being mastered by something other than Christ. The books and bookshelves
    are just the outside, while "God looks at the heart", right? May this kind of walking in the light become the norm among believers!

    1. Thanks. I can't say as that doing so is fun, but I felt it was important. And, an important part of writing this blog. I think, however, that I will put off doing an analysis of my electronic gadget issues for a while!

  4. Bill, how might I contact you? If I can not. I want to say thanks for this post. I found this blog by searching " is Bibliophilia a real problem". This is the only result that caught my attention. I am also a Christian. This has helped me to consider that my issue may not be bibliophilia. As you stated. It's a way to show off. Perhaps I still suffer from pride more than I realized. My books do not leave my hands without being displayed in an attractive manner, throughout my home. I love the feel of a book in my hand, I love to read. Yet I feel compelled to display these little badges of knowledge so others can see what I've read and what I know. Bragging without saying a word. On the positive side, my books help me a lot. I broke my back a few years ago. Reading helps me to forget my situation. It gets my mind off the pain and solitude that come with being disabled. Reading and collecting books is also
    a hobby for me. I never have a hard time finding my next book. As my time between reading breaks is filled by searching new books. As you can imagine. I have several book wish lists on amazon, Barnes and noble and Ebay. Thanks again for your transparency. I've always strived to be transparent with others. It make the world a better and easier place to live.

  5. Ps. I have also discovered audiobooks. Ebooks, I find to be very irritating. The words on the screen, feel dead and Impersonal. Where a book feels like a conversation with the author. Audiobooks are great for bedtime as I occasionally find myself dreaming of the adventure in which I was just listening. I do agree that books do have there place. I do not intend to offend book readers. Ebooks just are not for me.