Last week in a local charity shop I bought a copy of ABC for Book Collectors by John Carter (revised by Nicolas Barker). This edition was published by Oak Knoll Books, Delaware in 1992.
The book is an A to Z of book related terms, mostly concerning older books, which I would class as antiquarian books, which are mostly out of my price range. What really appealed to me were the definitions of the words that are used to describe the physical aspects of a book, such as its binding, stitching and size.
Many of these terms are ones that I see in archive catalogues when describing bound volumes of material, so it will be good to have a reference book on my shelf that explains what some of these terms mean.
Whilst looking through I came across two terms which made me stop and think. They describe the relationship between the reader (or collector) and the books. This made me think about my relationship with books, both now and in the past. I have come to the conclusion that I was once suffering from bibliomania, but now I would describe myself as a bibliophile.
When I read the definition of bibliomania on Wikipedia, it reminded me of the trips I used to make up to London (perhaps once a month) to visit various bookshops (both new and second-hand) to buy books. At that time I was still living at home, had very few outgoings and lots of space for books. I still have, or rather my parents still have in their loft, more books than I could ever hope to read in my lifetime.
My favourite new bookshop was Dillions in Gower Street, London. It is now a branch of Waterstone’s and I haven’t visited for many years, but I still remember with fondness taking the lift to the top of the building and working my way back down through the many floors browsing.
The sentence about the “purchase of multiple copies of the same book and edition and the accumulation of books beyond possible capacity of use or enjoyment are frequent symptoms of bibliomania“ really did describe my behaviour. I did have several copies of some books, although these were usually only cheap second-hand copies, and of course it was quite normal to want both hardback and paperback copies of the same book.
I remember one holiday in South Devon with a friend I was forced to by a new holdall, just to take home the books I had bought during the week. This was when we were on a camping holiday and living out of our rucksacks in a tent!
I was forced to curb my book hoarding by a lack of space and lack of money, brought about by a mortgage when my future wife and I bought a place together. It didn’t stop instantly, but the compulsion to buy books has gradually faded.
That’s not to say that I don’t indulge every now and then, because I do, but it tends to be more selective and more controlled. I still find it impossible to pass a second-hand bookshop without popping in, but nine times out ten I come out empty-handed.