By Maria Razzaq, Farooq Ali Khan, Abhishek Kumar, Raamesh Gowri Raghavan, and Sukant Khurana
Do you like to collect books? Or are you one of those people who are attracted to books not because of the genre or the author’s work but simply due to the fact that they are a neat stack of leather bound papyrus with letters embossed on the cover. It is the love of reading that differentiates between a bibliophile and a bibliomaniac.
Merriam Webster defines Bibliophilia as “the love of books” and the person as bibliophile. On the other hand bibliomania refers to a condition wherein a person starts collecting books with or without any intention of reading them, upto the level of hoarding.
Historical Background –
The first case was observed in the 1800s where Dr AloisPichler, the librarian of the Imperial Library of Russia was found in possession of over 450,000 books on subjects ranging from perfume making to Theology. It was believed that he suffered from a psychological illness wherein a passion took form of a violent, irresistible and unconquerable obsession.
The upper classes of Europe and England was gripped with this frenzy of collecting and hoarding books that hold little or no value to the owner. It was thought to be a defense mechanism in response to some emotional or psychological trauma suffered in the past. The scholars and librarians did everything they could to obtain and collect the books, even if it meant spending their entire fortune.
Bibliomania is not considered as a separate mental illness but a form of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder often associated with psychological and emotional trauma as the root cause. The obsession seems to set in early years but may turn problematic when the person reaches the age of forty and over. It is often thought to be a defense mechanism developed in response to some trauma or abuse endured in the past.
One of the most basic symptoms of bibliomania is the inherent desire to collect books irrespective of the genre, value, subject or the author. The person is filled with an overwhelming desire of possessing books and hoarding them irrespective of their worth.
Other symptoms include:
· Collecting multiple copies of the same book or title.
· The obsession interferes with the daily activities of the person.
· Anxiety and depression sets in due to constant worry about collection.
· The large collection turns the living space unhygienic.
· Instead of being neatly arranged, the books are hoarded and stuffed in every corner possible.
· It is often accompanied by a lack of interest in reading the books.
· The person is always preoccupied with the thoughts of his obsession which may result in social alienation and may hamper personal relationships inadvertently resulting in depression. This void is often filled with the thrill of collecting books.
· In his book “Bibliomania; or Book Madness”, Reverend Dibdin emphasizes on eight types of books, Bibliomaniacs especially obsessed over: ‘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.’
Although Bibliomania is not recognised as a psychological illness by the American Psychological Association in its DMS IV, a person is deemed a bibliomaniac if he presents the following symptoms:
· No other mental illness except compulsive hoarding of books.
· Obsession over possession of books irrespective of their worth.
· The patient has a strained personal and social relationship which often leads to social isolation.
However complete diagnosis can be carried out when factors like age, gender, complete signs and case history of the individual are known.
· The disorder itself does not poses immediate life threatening situations but the book collection may turn into a life hazard. Since the main objective of a bibliomaniac is to collect and possess books, the book themselves are hoarded in form of tall stacks that may present a dangerous situation and prove out to be a breeding ground for termites and ants.
· Sometimes bibliomaniacs have been associated with another disease ‘Bibliokleptomania’ in which the person resorts to the act of stealing the books in order to fulfil this obsession.
· The unhygienic living conditions may affect the health of an individual.
· Social Isolation often leads to depression and anxiety issues.
· The social, personal and work life of the individual is often affected.
Bibliomania is a recently recognized disorder hence the patient himself may be unaware that he is suffering from a mental illness. The symptoms may be recognized by some individual and they can be brought in for therapies or home visits. Since it is a type of OCD, there are mainly two approaches available that can be applied alternatively or together. These include:
· Therapy Sessions –The main line of treatment for Bibliomania is primarily psychotherapy. The patients are subjected to cognitive behavioral therapy wherein they are made aware of the fact that they are suffering from a mental illness and are guided on how to deal with it.
· Medication — In addition to the therapy sessions many doctors prescribe antidepressant drugs like Clomipramine, Tricyclic antidepressants, citalopram (Celexa), fluvoxamine (Luvox) which seem to benefit the patient immensely.
Some Famous Cases –
· A man named Stephen Blumberg was convicted of stealing books worth $5.3 million.
· Sir Thomas Phillips, 1st Baronet was secretly a bibliomaniac who had spent his entire fortune on vellum manuscripts and incurred a heavy debt in the process of amassing ‘the largest collection of manuscript material in the nineteenth century.’ His collection comprised of over 40,000 printed books and 60,000 manuscripts making him worthy of the title ‘vello-maniac’. It was auctioned off over 100 years after his death.
· A pastor in the nineteenth century, Reverend Whitcher suffered from Bibliokleptomania and attributed the stolen books and manuscripts to rare findings from local booksellers.
Other Book Related Diseases –
Bibliomania isn’t the only mental disorder associated with books. Other associated diseases include eating of books known as Bibliophagy; Compulsive book stealing called Bibliokleptomania and Bibliotaphy characterized by book burying.
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