Abibliophobia: I Got It Bad and That Ain’t Good

Lemma: abibliophobia. Noun.

Definition: The morbid fear of running out of reading material.

Etymology: Probably a nonce word created more for amusement than linguistic use, though it is constructed better than most nonce words and has survived and is flourishing in Cyberia. Greek a “not” + bibli-(on) “book” + o, a connector + phob(os) “fear” + ia, a nominal suffix. –Dr. Language, YourDictionary.com

(To which I would add that the OED lists “bibliophobia,” dated to 1832, and defines it as “the dread of, or aversion to, books.” The proper opposite, then, should be “bibliophily” which, happily, exists: “[F. bibliophilie], love of books, taste for books.”)

Usage: It is quite interesting that this word has popped up on the Web, the greatest source of reading material the world has ever known. Irony will never cease. Words containing “phobia” originally referred to psychotic conditions but now we have extracted a word, “phobia,” from the suffix and add it wherever we please: “Wylie is such an abibliophobe that he never leaves the house without several magazines under his arm.”


And Wendell never leaves on vacation without at least eight books — under his arm, in his checked baggage, in his carry-on. Meanwhile, who you callin’ psychotic?

Just think: Anything could happen. What if the plane is late and you wind up cooling your heels in the airport lounge? There’s only so much Orange Julius you can drink. And how do you plan to kill time during those long hours on the train or bus? Suppose it rains one day and you can’t leave the hotel. You could either murder your traveling companion — or you could take refuge in a good book. Or ten.

Aye, and there’s the rub. How am I supposed to know ahead of time what I’m going to feel like reading? And in what order? I might be in a fiction mood — but suppose it’s short fiction, not a novel. Or I might want nonfiction — essays or else some closely researched study devoted to the diffusion of the brick in the 4th millennium BC or the jaunty autobiography of the tea-cozy knitter to the seventh Earl of Bhutan. I might want “trash” reading that goes down like tater chips, or I might want something I can’t actually read while simultaneously calculating pi. And especially worrying: what if I actually finish everything I’ve brought?

Thing is, you never know ahead of time, and the wise traveler plans for every contingency. I mean, you’re bringing a sweater and a long-sleeved shirt and an umbrella and your bikini and the sun-tan lotion, aren’t you? Well, aren’t you?

In anticipation of The Morocco Trip, I placed an order with Amazon.com, which, for slightly less than it would cost you to educate your child at Yale, will ship books all the way to Italy. Hard to describe the sensation when the box finally arrived – and I’d paid the postman his extortionate little ransom. (Even though the sender pays customs duties, if there are any, the PosteItaliane have found a way to jip you out of five or ten extra euros for the “dogana” every time you get a box in Italy. Another of the country’s irrefragable charms.)

It’s like Christmas, except for I hate Christmas, so belay that. It’s like how you wish your birthday always was. Yeah, that’s it. Books are the best gift. They smell right, they’ve got literal and metaphorical gravitas, and you’re never poorly dressed if you’ve got a book in hand. Excellent for turning away would-be chatters, they also make the ideal temporary receptacle for your train ticket or boarding pass.

This vacation’s reading selections:

  • Chris McKinney. The Tattoo
  • Douglas Preston. Tyrannosaur Canyon
  • James Michener. Hawaii
  • John Weir. What I Did Wrong
  • Paul Rusesabagina. An Ordinary Man: An Autobiography
  • Simon Winchester. A Crack in the Edge of the World: America and the Great California Earthquake of 1906
  • Simon Winchester. The Meaning of Everything: The Story of the Oxford English Dictionary
  • Walter J. Williams. The Rift

Plus a few things we’ll pick up at the library, just in case. Yeah, that ought to about cover it.


Posted on 21 July 2007, in Book Reviews & Literaria. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. >OMG, we ARE kindred spirits! I do the same thing with books and vacations!!! You’re 110% right — what if I don’t feel like reading the only 2-3 books I brought? What if I finish them quickly due to inclement weather that keeps me indoors for days? What if I start what I *think* will be a good book, and it sucks? What’s a girl to do other than take 8 books for a 10-day trip???

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