It is possible to have too many books. Sometimes we idly chat about opening a bookstore.
While light-heartedly organizing a bookcase the other day, I discovered we had two, sometimes three, even four, copies of each of Thomas Hardy’s novels. It seems excessive – but if you read and reread a dingy, dusty, coffee-stained library discard of Two on a Tower, you might replace it when it gently disintegrates. You might- but I might replace it with two Penguins with different covers! And why do I have two copies of The Well-Beloved, surely Hardy’s worst novel? Well, one of them is used to prop open a window. But why the other copy?
Oh, dear, I really am a bibliomane!
And after reading Marius Kociejowski’s charming, poignant memoir, A Factotum in the Book Trade, I had a wake-up call – not the point of the book, by the way. Kociejowski differentiates between bibliophiles – book lovers who buy books in moderation – and bibliomanes – book lovers who manically can’t stop buying.
Some of the collectors he describes really are mad – misers who have no furniture, just boxes of books, and dress in rags so they can spend all their money on first editions. They are obsessed with chasing down a book they really must have.
Am I so different? I fear not! I have a mad number of books. I wasn’t consciously collecting, but isn’t that collecting if you unwittingly collect multiple copies of Hardy’s books – I’ve even got The Dynasts!
I don’t buy rare books – I am a common reader – but I love 19th-century novels, and I do have multiple paperbacks of some of my favorite authors. I have at least six copies of War and Peace in different translations. Now I will hang onto these copies -Tolstoy is one of my favorite writers – and my husband pretends not to see the different editions, because he knows I’m obsessed with that book. One day when I put it in my bike pannier, he said I didn’t need to carry such a big book.. I pointed out that I was reading it and needed it for our coffee break.
“No wonder you have a bad back!” He offered to carry it in his pannier, but I refused.
I’m like my mother, who used to collect knick-knacks. She collected so many that she had to store boxes and boxes and boxes of them in the basement. And from time to time she would bring up favorites from the boxes and box up those she tired of.
Perhaps it is a genetic trait.