Bibliomania is a pathological and irrational desire to collect books, not to be mistaken with bibliophilia, a healthy love for books.

I was rereading Ben Okri’s Famished Road recently and came across this bit on Azaro’s father exhibiting full blown bibliomania, a strange, feverish desire for book he couldn’t read, books about things he could not possibly understand. 

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“Dad began to spend a lot of the money he had won in buying books. He couldn’t read but he bought them.

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I had to read them to him.

He bought books on philosophy, politics, anatomy, science, astrology, Chinese medicine. He bought the Greek and Roman classics. He became fascinated by the Bible. Books on the cabbala intrigued him.

He fell in love with the stories of the Arabian Nights. He listened with eyes shut to the strange words of classical Spanish love poetry and retellings of the lives of Shaka the Zulu and Sundiata the Great.

He insisted that I read something to him all the time. He forced me to have a double education.

In the evenings he would sit on his chair, feet on the table, cigarette in his mouth, eyes misty, paper and pencil beside him, and he would make me read out loud.

Occasionally he would interrupt me for an explanation.

Most of what I read made no sense to me.

So he bought a large dictionary which must have cost him at least ten mighty punches from the fists of the Green Leopard.

Dad’s bloated eye twitched when he opened it out on our table, releasing into the air of our room the aroma of words and fresh wood.

Like a battered but optimistic salesman, he said:

‘This book explains books.’

His passion began to drive us slightly mad.

The room became cluttered with books of all sizes, ugly books with pictureless covers and tiny letters as if intended only for the ants to read, large books that broke your back to carry them, books with such sloped lettering that they strained the neck, books which smelt like cobwebs and barks of medicinal trees and old sawdust after rain.

Mum complained and sometimes made piles of the books and balanced her basins and cooking pots on them.

Dad got furious at her disrespect and they argued bitterly.”

The Famished Road, By Ben Okri

 

Feature image via Deo Photography