As every year for the past three years, bookworms around the world celebrate August 9: it’s National Book Lovers Day. It is not entirely clear who started this 24-hour homage to the printed word but since August 9, 2017, bibliophiles have honored the book on this day.
Interestingly enough, something that actually is an analogue medium is being honored almost exclusively digitally, including on Twitter with hashtags including #bookloversday, #díamundialamantesdeloslibros (Spanish) and #BuchlieberTag (German).
Bibliophile: an admirer or collector of books
The foreign word for book lovers includes the terms “biblion” and “philia,” the Greek words for “book” and “love.” Bibliophiles, however, do not desire books as such, and certainly not their contents.
Usually, they are after elaborately produced, unusual books. This passion has existed for as long as books have been around. “If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need,” said the Roman politician and philosopher Cicero — a passionate writer and collector of books.
Only two things mattered to Cicero: having a garden and books
A bit of that ancient Roman enthusiasm for books can still be found in Germany today: When archaeologists discovered massive wall remains during construction work in Cologne a couple of years ago, they wondered about strange niches in the walls. It turned out they had unexpectedly come across an ancient library.
According to the archaeologists, this once was a two-story building, probably about seven to nine meters tall (23 to 30 feet).
They also suspected that a statue of Minerva, the goddess of wisdom and guardian of knowledge, once stood in the apse of the building, a semicircular domed room. Who would be better suited to guarding all the wisdom and knowledge found in books?
This is where once the largest library in Germany during Roman times stood
Bookworms throughout history
Fast forward a millennium and a bit: In about 1344, the English bishop and author Richard Aungerville wrote a kind of founding charter of book veneration, called the Philobiblon. In it, he said: “A library of wisdom, then, is more precious than all wealth, and all things that are desirable cannot be compared to it.” Some people would heartily agree with that even today.
John Q. Benham from Avoca, Indiana, might be one of them; according to the Guinness Book of Records, Benham owns the world’s largest private book collection with more than 1.5 million volumes, which are stored in his two-floor garage as well as under tarpaulins in his garden.
The largest collection of signed books belongs to Richard Warren, a Californian pastor who owns 2,381 editions signed by the respective authors of the works, according to the Guinness Book.
Don’t judge a book by its cover
But even back in the 19th century, some people knew how to take book-hoarding to the next level: in France, Count Raoul Leonor Lignerolles withdrew almost completely from social life after the 1848 February revolution to devote himself to his book collection. One of his Parisian apartments only served as a library.
What was special about Lignerolles was that he hid his interest in books: he collected only to hoard and hide. When asked about certain works, he even denied that he owned them. When offered two million francs for his printed treasures he allegedly turned down the deal.
After his death in 1893, the books were sold for 1.1 million francs.
Who needs a beautiful library like the one at the Academie Francaise in Paris, when you’re Count Lignerolles?
There have been others, who used different methods to stock up their private libraries: Instead of buying books at a store or online, the chief custodian of the Biblioteca dei Girolamini in Naples, Director Marino Massimo de Caro, apparently couldn’t help but steal books all over Italy in 2011 and 2012 — even from his own library.
He illegally sold works written by Galileo, Copernicus, Kepler and Newton worth €3 million in total ($3.5 million). When he was finally caught, de Caro was lucky not to be sentenced to prison, but to seven years of house arrest. That should leave him plenty of time to read.
Read more: Dutch man returns library book nearly 40 years overdue
These books were among de Caro’s stash of ancient works purloined from libraries around the world
But not everyone shares such criminal passion for books. Some people have the opposite problem — they hate the printed word so much that they develop bibliophobia, the fear or hatred of books. This might — in some cases — lead to biblioclasm, the pathological destruction of books.
And in a day and age where Japanese organizing consultant Marie Kondo would ideally like to have everyone only one a few dozen books, the future of pathological behavior related to the printed word could bring about all kinds of other symptoms and diseases:
Bibliophiles must look up to fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld, who managed to collect 300,000 books during his life
Fashion icon Karl Lagerfeld, who died in 2019, said he would buy 30 to 40 books a day — almost compulsively. The Chanel luxury fashion label head designer reportedly he had collected 300,000 books in his lifetime.
His personal library was spread out over seven apartments, which begs the question how Lagerfeld spent February 20, “Clean Out Your Bookcase Day.” The origins of this day are also unknown.
Read more: Author Bernard Schlink on goodbyes and his new book
‘Book’ your celebrations
The Börsenverein des Deutschen Buchhandels, an association of the German book trade that represents the interests of publishers and booksellers, says it is not focused on celebrating Book Lovers Day. Instead, it prefers to highlight UNESCO’s World Book Day, which was moved this year from April 23 to September 20 due to the coronavirus pandemic.
However, the association says that it does welcome any such occasions that remind people of the importance of the printed word “where people can share their enthusiasm for books,” Börsenverein spokesman Thomas Koch told DW.