Are You A Book Collector Or A Reader ?

I believe it was Diogenes who said “To own books without reading them is like having a painting of a bowl of fruit.” Philosophers say things like that. I would say it is like having a bowl of fruit on your dining room table, but not eating any. A book, after all, is there for you to read at any time, as the fruit is there should you get hungry. You can only eat a painting if you have a mental disorder.

I don’t have a bowl of fruit, but I do have about 300 unread books. I am working on it, however.

There are two types of bibliophiles, or so I have read. One is a collector of books, a mania really, where the hunt is the thing. Collectors like to create libraries, whether they are all first editions, or all editions of certain writers, or rare books of any genre or age; basically any idea for collecting that grabs you. Some collectors have over 10,000 books and manuscripts. But they do not read them all. Who has the time?

I have no true rare books, none worth more than $60-$70, but I do like to collect books that need homes, as well as books I want to read. If I live long enough I might get to 1,000 books, and would be there now, but somehow books have gotten lost during moves, or I gave some away, and some evaporate into thin air, going I know not where.

Then there are the bibliophiles who are inveterate readers, buying and reading with voracious, lustful appetites.  Both types of bibliophiles are compulsive, whether to collect or read, they both have a mania.

Jacques Bonnet, a French bibliophile, says, “An inextinguishable curiosity drove me to find out what lay behind the words and phrases, and the unknown reality on to which I had stumbled . . . the fanatical reader is not only anxious, he or she is curious.”

I think readers can identify with that statement. I recently read “To Fetch a Devil” about an unsolved 1938 murder of a socialite woman and her 23 year old daughter in a desert near El Paso. I was curious, not only because it was unsolved, but how the author, Clint Richmond, put all the clues together and came up with a plausible, though circumstantial solution. And the solution was fascinating. And believable, even with all the complications and people involved.

Words. Sentences. They are magic. And writers are magicians.

So we collect, we read.

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My lustful disease for books now has a name

In my July 6th post I told how I was buried under an avalanche of books, that my purchasing was outgaining my reading by 234 books. Five days later I shared what I purchased at a recent book sale and wondered what disease I had. I was not a compulsive buyer of books, though it seems that way, but I am not. Honest.

What I discovered subsequent to that post is that a bibliophile is  a lover of books. However, a bibliophile can quench his lust in a library without buying books. No what I am is a book collector. Some people bring home stray cats and give them a home. When you consider the cost of a litter box, bowls for food and water, shots, cat food and assorted accoutrements, you are better off bringing home stray books and give them a warm home.  

Years ago I read Bernard Malamud’s “The Natural” and that book has disappeared. It may have been a runaway. I hope it has found a nice home. But I now have two copies. One is a small 1952 Dell paperback purchased because of the cover, a painting by Bill George, on the left, and a 1966 edition from Time Life, cover art by Karl Stucklin on the right, purchased because of an introduction by Robert Angell, Hall of Fame baseball writer. 

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I collect fiction, non-fiction, whatever captures my eye and my lust.

In the book “The Man who Loved Books Two Much”  by Allison Hoover Bartlett, Walter Benjamin is quoted, “Ownership is the most intimate relationship that one can have to objects. Not that they come alive in him; it is he who comes alive in them.” I must admit when purchasing books I get a bit of a high, that coming alive feeling. I love reading the copyright page where you find what edition the book is, which printing it is. I love reading the first paragraph, flipping through the pages, and of course, the cover art.

Other books about the insanity are:

A Gentle Madness by Nicholas Basbanes

To Have and To Hold by Philipp Blom

Anatomy of Bibliomania by Holbrook Jackson

Collecting: An Unruly Passion by Werner Muensterberger

If there is a cure, I don’t want to know about it. I am content.

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