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‘Book Monk’ to ‘Book Obsessive’: you can never have enough books in your life

Penguin recently released an article attempting to describe people by the size of their book collection. But what are books to people? Books can be a hobby, they can be an item to collect, and they can even become a lifetime obsession. They are portals to a new world and gateways to new ideas and aesthetic wonders. 

Books are not just there to read but also display. They are an object of beauty in many ways; just google Trinity College Dublin’s library or browse Pinterest for libraries or book collections to see what I mean. The amount you have is only as important as how you cherish them in your own way.

The thought of throwing away books makes me recoil in pain

Penguin’s groupings range from the ‘book monk’ owning zero to five books, to the ‘tsundoku master’ owning over 500. I cannot see a world where someone can go through life evading books to the extent of the book monk – books are everywhere. In my family you would be hard-pressed to find a room without a book somewhere lurking in a corner. Having between 50 to 150 makes you a ‘shelf-sharer’, while having between five and 50 makes you a ‘read-and-chucker’. The thought of throwing away books makes me recoil in pain. 

Above 150 makes you a ‘lay librarian’ and above 500 makes you a ‘tsundoku master’. This may seem like a huge gap, but I assure you, one blink and your collection has multiplied. Penguin hits on the main allure of books: they shape you as a person, however this is surely the case when you own any number of books. Personally, once you start to get above 100 you will find it hard to stop; books become indispensable to your life, sometimes they will even become your life. 

In reality, the amount of books you own means little, however novel it is to categorise people this way. Some people like to pass on books, but if you are anything like me the thought of parting with any book induces feelings of physical pain. I invite you before I reach the end to guess the size of my own collection given this.

The feeling of mystery and opportunity of having books hidden away to find again one day is part of the allure of collecting them

What really matters is that these groupings start a conversation: a reflection upon what books mean to you, what books you own, what books may be hiding somewhere. There are many types of books you can own, from non-fiction, to epic high fantasy, to dry academic tomes, or that weird book you took pity on at the back of a second-hand bookshop. It matters little if you have read them all, you have time ahead to read what you wish. The feeling of mystery and opportunity of having books hidden away to find again one day is part of the allure of collecting them. But, some people can get the same thing from having no books and relying on libraries and the internet. Your interaction with books is fundamentally personal.

Personally, I love the endless nature of books – even 500 feels like just the preface to your adventures – so for Penguin to cap the groupings there feels premature, or maybe I just have a ridiculous amount. A few years ago, I was intrigued by how many books I owned so I made, and regularly update, a spreadsheet of books and track those I have read. I have not even finished cataloguing them all and yet I am about to hit 800. Feel free to call me an obsessive if you wish. 

I was once told the story of one of my professors who apparently left almost the total amount of my collection at their old university when they moved to another, but still retained most of their collection. I expect 800 sounds ridiculous to some, arguing having thousands is a waste of money and space. I disagree: books are part of who we are, no matter how many we own or how many we have read cover to cover. What you get from books is up to you.

I encourage all of you to reflect on your relationship with books, find an interesting read, and curl up over Christmas and escape the sad state of the current world. Books in any form, no matter how many you own, are a route to a new world, real or not. In the meantime, I will probably break the 1000 barrier soon, so I would be intrigued to know what anyone reading this, or Penguin, would classify that as.

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