Librocubicularist, dog-earing and bibliclasm: Which type of book reader are you?

Many a book-lover considers dog-earing a book to be a barbaric practice, though, and would consider you guilty of the sin of bibliclasm, the act of spoiling a book knowingly

By Shashi Tharoor

Published: Thu 3 Mar 2022, 8:18 PM

I’ve often been accused of epeolatry, the worship of words. I usually plead that I am not guilty as charged, since I adore words not for their own sake but because of the uses to which they can be put. True, I’m a logophile, a lover of words, but the best reason to know words is to read books — and the more books you read, the more words you’ll know! So this column delves into words that are associated with books.

My favourite is a word that English has borrowed from Japanese, because there is no English word for this familiar sight. Tsundoku means the pile of unread books that every reader accumulates, for our greed for books is always greater than the time available to devour them. Whether on a crowded bedside table, an office desk or alongside an easy chair, inveterate readers have tsundokus of varying dimensions. Sometimes the books in it have been purchased with great enthusiasm and then not opened even once. “What did you think of that book you bought last week?” well-meaning friends ask, and you guiltily reply: “It’s in my tsundoku pile”.

My hand-luggage on flights consists mainly of books, which makes me book-bosomed, a term invented by Sir Walter Scott to describe people who cannot stay a moment without books. If you travel less than me and your tsundoku pile is on your bedside table, chances are that you are a librocubicularist — someone who likes to read in bed. There’s something particularly relaxing about being horizontal with a book propped up in your hands, whether or not your health confines you to bed. And unlike the screen of a mobile phone, books don’t send blue light to you brain, waking you up and disturbing your sleep. It’s the best way to manage a gentle transition from wakefulness to sleep.

Just before you fall asleep, if you are not a sensible soul who keeps a ready supply of bookmarks handy, you might fold over the corner of the page you were reading, so that you can find your place more easily when you return to the book. This is known as a Dog’s Ear. Many a book-lover considers dog-earing a book to be a barbaric practice, though, and would consider you guilty of the sin of bibliclasm, the act of spoiling a book knowingly. So do go for the bookmark! If you have half-dozen half-read books lying around with dog’s ears, though, then each is known as ballycumber, after an Irish town whose residents clearly enjoy bibliosmia, the smell of old books. (The smell of a newly purchased book, on the other hand, is known as delitrium.) This can happen when you begin reading a book and after some time decide you would rather resume another book you were reading, a condition known as swapshame. But if you don’t stop at all, and read your book the whole night long, you are bound to feel a special kind of exhaustion the morning after, that is called chaptigue.

The problem with having too many dog-eared ballycumbers in your tsundoku is that you might end up returning so late to one of them that you forget what you had already read and have to start all over again, an affliction known as mehnertia. It’s still preferable to madgedy, repeatedly reading a sad story in the vain hope that the end will be different next time, or feeling bookklempt — finishing the last volume of a series, realising there is no more to come but being utterly unable to accept that reality.

Of course, readers like that might aspire to being omnilegent — reading or having read everything. I’d like to think that when I research my books, I read everything I can lay my hands on about the subject so that with my encyclopaedic reading, no other writer on the same theme can be said to have been more omnilegent. Of course, this leads some friends to describe me as a bibliobibuli, someone who reads too much. Since I don’t agree that there’s anything like “too much” when it comes to books, I prefer confessing to being a bibliophagist, a person who loves to read books (literally, one who devours books!). I hope that makes me, dear reader, your scrollmate — an author with whom you feel a deep connection…

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