Category Archives: bibliophilia

Decay of the second-hand bookshop

screen-shot-2016-11-05-at-15-12-34Dalrymple writes that he has been

obsessed by books all my life,

and today he feels

the melancholy that I suppose old artisans must once have felt when their trade became industrialised. All these years I have been on the wrong, or at least losing, side of history.

In England, he points out, second-hand bookshops have been killed by

  • the internet
  • the odious soi-disant charity Oxfam
  • the loss of interest in browsing other than on a computer

Prazeres e surpresas da bibliofilia

Por que ditadores adoram histórias em quadrinhos? Como um pênalti pode causar uma guerra entre dois países? Os livros garimpados da biblioteca de Dalrymple contam casos curiosos não com as histórias dos textos originais que carregam, mas com a sua própria trajetória. São elas que fazem o pensamento do autor viajar e trazer à tona, em seu estilo instigante, memórias e observações críticas sobre literatura, história, política, filosofia, medicina, sociedade, viagens etc. Uma jornada pelos prazeres e surpresas da bibliofilia para curiosos incuráveis.

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Dalrymple’s Disease

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The disease, also known as Dalrymple Syndrome, is included in the manual

This crushing book-buying illness

Dalrymple has long been a victim of a malady that few observers have spoken of (possibly out of embarrassment, though the patient himself is often unaware of, or indifferent to, the condition), one that is far less common than it was but which is still occasionally diagnosed in not wholly statistically insignificant numbers, namely book-purchasing disorder.

The layman is all too apt to dismiss the illness as merely nauseating and hateful to the onlooker, but it is important to recognise that members of the book-buying disorder community are suffering from a severe, apparently intractable, condition or affliction that requires to be understood and treated non-judgmentally.

Sadly exhibiting one of the characteristic symptoms, Dalrymple openly tells an interviewer that he

cannot walk by a bookstore without buying a book.


Dalrymple's bedroom

Dalrymple’s bedroom

Dalrymple Disorder is included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, with the hoarding of second-hand or antiquarian books being recognised as a psychosis for which therapy is urgently needed. (Penetration disorder, impulse-control disorder, gambling disorder, racism, caffeine-induced sleep disorder, homophobia, occupational defiant disorder, mother-in-law relational disorder, hypoactive sexual desire disorder, Islamophobia, hyperactive sexual desire disorder, sexism, and alternating hypoactive-hyperactive sexual desire disorder, are also set out in the manual.)

Dalrymple is required to undergo lengthy treatment for his book-buying disorder and

must stay in therapy, so that the doctor keeps getting paid.

What is book-hoarding disorder? US medical authorities have described it as follows.

Dalrymple's garage

Dalrymple’s garage

Book-hoarding disorder is characterized by the persistent difficulty in discarding or parting with books, regardless of the value others, such as spouses or other family members, may attribute to them.

The book-hoarding behaviours (focal sepsis may be present), collectively known loosely as Dalrymple’s Disease,

usually have harmful effects—emotional, neurophysiological, social, political, gastrointestinal, ethical, dental (halitosis is often severe), environmental, financial, theological, paranormal and legal—for the person suffering from the disorder and their spouse (or spouses, up to four, if the sufferer is a male Muslim) or other family members.

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Dalrymple’s WC

For people who hoard books,

the quantity of their collected volumes (the quality will not be discussed here) sets them apart from people with normal book-collecting behaviors.

They obsessively accumulate a large number of books

that often fill up or clutter active living areas of the home or workplace to the extent that the active living areas’ intended use (dining, laundry, defæcation, gardening, table-tennis, bathing, baseball, DIY, micturition, off-road parking, television viewing, copulation, social gatherings, food preparation, etc.) becomes supererogatory and is severely constrained or precluded, with adverse effects for spouses, other family members, friends, work colleagues, visiting representatives of city and federal authorities, etc.

Dalrymple's dining-room

Corner of Dalrymple’s dining-room


Symptoms of the bibliomanic frenzy

cause clinically significant distress or impairment in social, technological, eschatological, educational, sexual, vocational, ecclesiastical, uro-genital, occupational, horticultural, supernatural, teleological or other important areas of functioning including maintaining a minimally adequate living environment for self, spouse and/or others.

While some people who hoard books, such as Dalrymple, may not appear particularly distressed by their behaviours,

their behaviors can be deeply distressing to large numbers of other people, such as spouses, other family members, mailmen, district attorneys, electricians, infantrymen, landlords, Black Panthers, fire-fighters, mom-and-pop store owners, Klansmen, bellhops, veterinary surgeons, burglars, used-automobile salespersons, leaders of the LGBT community, lumberjacks, Vietnam vets, railroad employees, ISIS soldiers, narcotics officers, plumbers, persons of color, Jehovah’s Witnesses, cleaners, sheriffs or their deputies, satanists, electrical contractors, professional gamblers, gardeners, racists, neighbors, intimate-apparel vendors, double-glazing salespersons, and city and federal authorities.

Book-hoarding compulsion

A section of Dalrymple's kitchen

Section of Dalrymple’s kitchen

can often be quite severe and even threatening.

Beyond the highly negative mental impact of BPD,

the accumulation of old, flaking, dirty, dusty, greasy, moldy and often frankly disgusting volumes creates a public safety and health issue by overwhelming people’s homes and giving rise to serious and potentially deadly fall and fire hazards, especially in the fall or winter, when the compulsion is at its most acute.


screen-shot-2016-11-06-at-14-12-45Indicated treatment modalities where mild to moderate Dalrymple’s Disease is diagnosed include:

  • frontal leucotomy: nerve pathways in bibliobrain lobes are severed — with dispatch and some force — from those in other regions
  • Metrazol-induced convulsion therapy: sharp anti-bibliomanic shocks are administered, giving rise to uncontrollable convulsions
  • insulin coma therapy (Insulinschockbehandlung): the patient is turned hypoglycemic with repeated injected insulin, causing repeated vomiting and loss of control of the bowels, also unbearable cramps, so that book-hoarding becomes not just unpleasant but painful in the extreme

    Staircase in the Dalrymple house

    Staircase in the Dalrymple house

Dalrymple's drawing-room

Part of Dalrymple’s drawing-room

Living with book-purchasing disorder

Screen Shot 2015-04-19 at 22.35.58Dalrymple, himself afflicted from a very young age with BPD — which is a serious condition, in isolated cases fatal — explains (from 45:01) the criteria for the disease.

He who suffers from book-purchasing disorder experiences at least three of the following:

  • He buys more books than 99 per cent of the population
  • Book purchases amount to a significant proportion of his discretionary income
  • He experiences difficulty in passing a bookstore without entering it
  • Screen Shot 2015-04-19 at 22.31.53There are frequent episodes of BPD-associated raised tension, which can be alleviated only by purchasing another book
  • He buys more books than he can possibly read
  • He has quarrelled with his wife about the number of books in the house
  • His wife has suggested a ‘one in, one out’ policy to help him — and her — come to terms with BPD and tackle it together
  • His wife has banned the presence of books from a number of the rooms in the house

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The Dalrympian vice

Rare books

Pathological, chronic compulsion to acquire certain rare books

Fatal illness

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Dalrymple provides a brief outline of the symptoms of the behavioural disorder, drawing attention to Dibdin’s 1809 work

I am the firste fole of all the hole nauy

To kepe the pompe, the helme and eke the sayle

For this is my mynde, this one pleasoure haue I

Of bokes to haue grete plenty and aparayle

I take no wysdome by them: nor yet auayle

Nor them preceyue nat: And then I them despyse

Thus am I a foole and all that sewe that guyse

That in this shyp the chefe place I gouerne

By this wyde see with folys wanderynge

The cause is playne, and easy to dyscerne

Styll am I besy bokes assemblynge

For to haue plenty it is a plesaunt thynge

In my conceyt and to haue them ay in honde

But what they mene do I nat vnderstonde

But yet I haue them in great reuerence

And honoure sauynge them from fylth and ordure

By often brusshynge, and moche dylygence

Full goodly bounde in pleasaunt couerture

Of domas, satyn, or els of veluet pure

I kepe them sure ferynge lyst they sholde be lost

For in them is the connynge wherin I me bost.

But if it fortune that any lernyd men

Within my house fall to disputacion

I drawe the curtyns to shewe my bokes then

That they of my cunnynge sholde make probacion

I kepe nat to fall in altercacion

And whyle they comon my bokes I turne and wynde

For all is in them, and no thynge in my mynde.

Tholomeus the riche causyd longe agone

Ouer all the worlde good bokes to be sought

Done was his commaundement anone

These bokes he had and in his stody brought

Whiche passyd all erthly treasoure as he thought

But neuertheles he dyd hym nat aply

Unto theyr doctryne, but lyued unhappely.

Lo in lyke wyse of bokys I haue store

But fewe I rede, and fewer understande

I folowe nat theyr doctryne nor theyr lore

It is ynoughe to bere a boke in hande

It were to moche to be it suche a bande

For to be bounde to loke within the boke

I am content on the fayre couerynge to loke.

(from Brant’s The Ship of Fools, Barclay trans.)

Dr Wadd on obesity

Screen Shot 2013-03-09 at 00.40.17Screen Shot 2013-03-09 at 00.38.47Dalrymple is one of the few modern writers who cares about old books. He writes very well indeed on the decay of the second-hand bookshop in England and the scandal of libraries disposing of magnificent old books in order to find space on the shelves for trash.

He gratefully returns often to a favourite volume, one which he says is among his cherished books. This is Comments on Corpulency: Lineaments of Leanness: Mems on Diet and Dietetics (1829) by William Wadd, Esq., F.L.S., Surgeon Extraordinary to the King, etc., etc., etc. Dalrymple says Wadd will delight

those who are not entirely po-faced

on the subject of obesity. Dalrymple points out that the connection between obesity and life expectancy was not especially obvious in Wadd’s time. He draws attention to this passage:

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Cherished volume

Dr. Clarke, alluding to the Pyramids, says: ‘The mind, elevated by wonder, feels at once the force of an axiom, which, however disputed, experience confirms, — that in Vastness, whatever be its nature, there dwells sublimity.’ Why, therefore may not mountains of fat, the human Appenines, have their dignity? Why may not the ambling Penmenamawers, the Olympi and Caucasi, be justly celebrated as great men in their day and generation? They fill their place in society, are great objects of interest. Rotundity forms a very considerable part of the line of beauty. Erasmus speaks of the Gordii, who preferred the fattest man to their throne. A very fat man is the glory of butchers.

Halcyon days of second-hand-bookshop-browsing

Screen Shot 2015-04-18 at 10.17.43Second-hand bookshops are almost extinct. Dalrymple says that

recently I was in a coastal town in England that a decade ago had ten of them, and now the last of them was about to close.

And that was written as long ago as 2008.

Looking back at the lost age of second-hand bookshops, Dalrymple explains that the pleasure lay

not only in finding what you sought: it was in leafing through many volumes and alighting upon something that you never knew existed, that fascinated you and therefore widened your horizons in a completely unanticipated way, helping you to make the most unexpected connections.

Mono no aware.

Elegy for the second-hand bookshop

Screen Shot 2015-04-18 at 10.14.48There is little that is truly charitable about the ‘charity’ shops that are driving out venerable old businesses on Britain’s high streets. The ‘charity’ shops, which, it is often not appreciated, benefit from large subventions from the British state, have been highly destructive both of enterprise and of culture.

Much of the income the ‘charity’ shops generate is funnelled circuitously but pretty consistently into the Swiss bank accounts of dictators and their henchmen around the world. Any cash left over tends to go on business-class air travel and plush hotel accommodation for priggish, overwhelmingly white, upper-middle-class Western European, North American and Australasian ‘aid workers’ and to anyone who has managed to clamber onto the UN gravy train. These aid-and-development racketeers, as they have been called, are really seeking paid-for outdoor relief; in an earlier age they might have been disporting themselves on the Northwest Frontier. They relish the chance to drive Toyota Land Cruisers at high speed through picturesquely poor countries. How convenient that all their fondest whims can be indulged courtesy of the humble bookbuyer! These young princes of poverty profess to care for the underprivileged and the wretched of the earth, but they make sure they lavishly reward themselves in salaries and perks.

The ‘charity’ shops receive their books free of charge, so there is a grotesquely unfair playing field. The shops, staffed by unpaid Mrs Jellyby amateurs (who have no idea of a book’s true monetary value and often overcharge), have done a great deal to kill off the country’s second-hand bookshops, a once-magnificent resource. The second-hand book dealers were never a very attractive group of people, in fact many were somewhat brusque and not over-fastidious in matters of personal hygiene, but they were professionals. Now amateurism has supervened. The internet has played the major part in the destruction of the second-hand bookshop, to be sure, but the internet has at least given something with one hand as it takes away with the other. The decay of the second-hand bookshop is one of the saddest things about modern Britain. Dalrymple writes:

How many hours, among the happiest of my life, have I spent in [these] dusty, damp or dismal purlieus? Second-hand bookshops are closing daily, driven out of business by a general decline in reading, the internet, and the charity shop. Booksellers tell me that 90% of their overheads arise from their shops, and 90% of their sales from the internet. Second-hand bookshops make less and less economic sense.

Browsing among the shelves

is rewarding in a way that the internet can never be. Serendipity is the greatest pleasure of browsing — the joy of finding something that one did not know existed.