Bookish Thoughts: “Bibliomania: the strange history of compulsive book buying”

The other day, I came across a recent article that I believe any booklover will appreciate and relate to. Bibliomania: the strange history of compulsive book buying is an examination into the beginnings of bibliomania, this compulsive need to purchase and collect books. Lorraine Berry, an essayist, researches where this term and fascination route from – a question I’ve often pondered myself. I’m not going to give a word-by-word tale of this article, for I truly believe you should read it yourself. There some things I’d definitely like to highlight, bringing my own experiences and thoughts to the table.

Berry begins by her own experiences in with bibliomania, emphasizing how this form of compulsion literally changes your life style and choices. Skipping meals, buying less expensive clothing, having a bland or no car at all – these are all things Berry did simply in order to buy books. Consequently, she managed to create her very first To Be Read (TBR) list…the thing that haunts us book readers in our sleep when we’ve neglected it for too long.

I laughed so hard at this since I did LITERALLY the same thing the other day. I may not be a student anymore, but I definitely have enough debt that I have to live like one. It was between a new bookshelf or a few new clothes and earrings – I recently got my ears pierced, so this was supposed to be a priority. I hummed and hawed all day…until I saw that the books piled on the floor were beginning to ruin.


Decision made! Personally, book buying is almost a form of addiction – I actually become agitated when I can’t purchase a book I’ve been eyeing for so long or items to help preserve and organize my book life. This links to the list we all know and love…the TBR list. Oh yes folks, you know who you are. Bibliomania comes with a price, and I’m not simply referring to your wallet. The To Be Read booklist NEVER ENDS! Honestly, you think I would learn by now that I don’t need to buy books when I have a minimum of 15+ books on my shelves that haven’t been read yet…it’s a love-hate relationship I have with book buying and collecting.

Berry associated bibliomania with this sort of arrogant pleasure in owning books; the more books you own compared to others, the more accomplished you feel. It’s like a high, feeling so light you soar above others due to your majestic collection. Until you have that sinking realization that you haven’t accomplished anything since you haven’t read the bloody things yet…unless that’s only me, then ignore that.

With this, Berry ties us into the history behind bibliomania. The tale begins in the 19th Century, when book collecting was rather popular with young British gentlemen. One man in particular that was rather active in the early phases of bibliomania was Thomas Frognall Dibdin. According to Berry’s research:

Thomas Frognall Dibdin, an English cleric and bibliographer, wrote Bibliomania, or Book Madness: A Bibliographical Romance, which was a gentle satire of those he saw as afflicted with this “neurosis”. Dibdin medicalised the condition, going so far as to provide a list of symptoms manifested in the particular types of books that they obsessively sought: “First editions, true editions, black letter-printed books, large paper copies; uncut books with edges that are not sheared by binder’s tools; illustrated copies; unique copies with morocco binding or silk lining; and copies printed on vellum.”

Isn’t is a rather insane thought that there’s a medicalised list of conditions for bibliomania? Even scarier is the fact that this was seen as a “dark pseudo-psychological illness” in the 1800s, according to Lauren Young’s article. Thomas De Quincy, an essayist at the time, stated that literary addicts were rather obsessive, irrational individuals over their compulsive needs for books. Of course, the gay culture was attacked during this time. Berry highlights on how men who were coined as bibliophiles were feminine by nature, which automatically deemed them as part of the gay culture due to our constant need to stereotype groups of people (…yes, frustration rising as I type this). It didn’t help that many of Dibdin’s writings and use of language were rather sexualized in that sort of way, to the point that it was rather questionable if the sexual innuendos could still be deemed as innuendos. Whether this was supposed to be intentional or satirical, I cannot say. Either way, I find the language grand.

One thing our good ol’ friend Dibdin theorized was that the commercialization of books would cure bibliomania. Funny enough, he was right. By the 20th century, book collecting wasn’t seen in a negative light. Rather, there was a science behind book collecting. As we see in book auctions today, there is a skill needed to know the aspects and elements of the book you intend to purchase. When collecting first editions, there is a rather large analysis taken into consideration. When you are one of the lucky people to acquire this skill and build your book collection repertoire in a desirable fashion, you get to automatically have bragging rights…and honestly, what bibliophile doesn’t want the opportunity to gloat about their amazing collection.

Berry ends her discussion by bringing readers back to the current day, reminiscing on her education years. Cool story – she chose the school she wanted to attend by the library. I don’t think many people can compare to this level of commitment to be quite frank. I went to Western University for my graduate education; one thing I can say is the libraries on campus are absolutely amazing and stunning. The music library is well-known for its collection of works. It’s a wonderful thing, being able to be surrounded by a wealth of knowledge every day.

Her final thoughts are remembering the time she was able to physically touch a book that was published before 1500. Having been able to have the same experience, I can tell you it really is a magical feeling. I was able to hold a few very old books and manuscripts during my archiving course, in addition to mending and organizing maps on campus as my part-time job. You feel as though your heart could rip from your rib-cage, the butterflies in your stomach are constantly fluttering, and you are trying not to be afraid that you will ruin this book as you are holding it. Sounds like love, eh? Exaggeration? Not in my opinion. It’s a wonderful feeling, as though you get to grasp onto a part of history – a period long gone that we have no ability to travel to other than through our imaginations and the tales written in novels.

Am I a bibliophile? I would like to think so, especially since it has a nicer connotation to it nowadays. I try to be a nice and honest person, attempting to always being considerate and aware of my actions. But I am human. The only time I have to really watch it is when I talk about books. I don’t mean to, but I totally understand what Berry means when she talks about this arrogant pride. I take great pleasure in my book collection, bragging about the few first editions I have or multiple copies of some classics. I don’t think it’s necessarily an arrogant pride though, but rather an extreme excitement. Being a bibliophile is not a bad thing – it’s being part of a community of people who love books and collecting literature. I feel proud of my collection and love to share it with others. I’ll admit though…it’s sometimes nice to brag!

Always remember to Bookmark Your Thoughts ❤

Reference List

Berry, L. (2017, January 26). Bibliomania: the strange history of compulsive book buying. The Guardian. Retrieved from

Young, L. (2016, December 2). Bibliomania, the Dark Desire For Books That Infected Europe in the 1800s. Atlas Obscura. Retrieved from

3 thoughts on “Bookish Thoughts: “Bibliomania: the strange history of compulsive book buying”

  1. Well, this is timely. My incoming review pile has just grown to a proportion not previously seen in my house (which is saying something). I would never skip meals but I haven’t bought any new clothes or shoes in three years, so…. yeah I think I qualify as a bibliomaniac. On the plus side, I did do a major book purge a couple of months ago. I got rid of almost 100 books, freeing up a little more space for all those books I still want to buy.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Almost 100 books?! I think you have beaten me. I do need to do a book purge soon…but it’s so difficult. The article was extremely fascinating and it definitely answered some questions on bibliomania.


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