I’m afflicted with a condition known as bibliomania.
A syndicated book columnist, Nicholas A. Basbanes, describes a person who suffers from this curious malady as being “mad about books.”
Guilty as charged. Books are the bane of my existence. My home office, not to mention our house, both upstairs and downstairs, is awash in books. Those volumes that have been unable to find a resting place in shelves take up residence in almost every available nook and cranny.
My late father before me, himself a connoisseur of good books, left me his. I put his tomes on my bottom shelves. During Hurricane Katrina in 2005, when the water in our basement rose six inches, most of his books were damaged beyond repair. However, I didn’t break the news to him. He died in ignorance of the fate of his cherished books.
Others before my father and I have suffered from the same affliction, some worse than others.
Winston S. Churchill understood well the intimate attachment individuals have to books.
He suggests that, if you’re unable to read your books, “at any rate handle them and, as it were, fondle them. Peer into them. Let them fall open where they will. Read on from the first sentence that arrests the eye. Then turn to another.
“Make a voyage of discovery, taking soundings of uncharted seas. Set them back on their shelves with your own hands. Arrange them on your own plan, so that if you do not know what is in them, you at least know where they are.
“If they cannot be your friends, let them at any rate be your acquaintance. If they cannot enter the circle of your life, do not deny them at least a nod of recognition.”
My condition is less severe than Churchill’s.
Some books hold greater personal significance than others. High on the list are author-signed books, usually more valuable than unsigned copies.
Few of the books in my library hold author signatures.
However, I have a signed, first edition of I Chose Canada, the memories of Joey Smallwood. I also have a signed and numbered (#31) edition of 100 copies of a pre-publication press run of Harold Horwood’s Joey: The Life and Political Times of Joey Smallwood.
While I’m proud of those volumes, my greatest pride is reserved for inscription volumes. The author takes his time to inscribe his book to someone. In the wild and wacky world of used and rare books, such books are usually valuable.
One of the books my father gave me is Ten-Minute Talks on All Sorts of Topics, written by Elihu Burritt in 1874.
An American philanthropist and social activist, he was born in New Britain, Connecticut, in 1810. He died there 69 years later.
My copy of Burritt’s book holds a distinctive and intriguing inscription: “To Thomas Hardy Esq. A slight remembrance from America.”
Perhaps the English novelist and poet, Thomas Hardy (1840-1928), is better known than Burritt. Who can forget Hardy’s masterful Jude the Obscure, The Mayor of Casterbridge and Tess of the d’Urbervilles?
I desperately want to believe the inscription is directed at this Thomas Hardy, but I cannot be sure at this late remove.
There is in Great Britain a society devoted to Thomas Hardy. Its aim is to promote his works for both education and enjoyment. It even has its own scholarly publications, The Hardy Society Journal and The Thomas Hardy Journal.
I emailed the secretary, Mike Nixon, about any known connection between Burritt and Hardy.
To my disappointment, he responded, “Having consulted a number of colleagues, we all feel there was no connection between the author Thomas Hardy and Elihu Burritt.”
I then emailed Nixon a scan of the inscription. After showing it around to his Hardy Council colleagues, he responded again: “Sadly we are still of the same opinion. It does not relate to our Hardy.”
I suspect that only a bibliomaniac can enter into the feeling of disappointment such a response brings.
Today I discovered there’s actually a medical condition known as bibliomania. Treatment for this form of obsessive compulsive disorder includes, among other things, psychotherapy, meditation and relaxation, hypnotherapy, cingulotomy and deep brain stimulation.
Note to wife: In case you’re wondering about what to get me as a gift, why not buy me a book or two? There are still a few spots in our house devoid of books.