Confessions of a Bibliophile

“There is no friend as loyal as a book”

Ernest Hemingway

I am an only child. From time to time people ask whether I missed having brothers or sisters. This is rather a peculiar question. It’s like asking someone who has never tasted eggs whether they miss quiche. In short, no. I did not miss having brothers or sisters. I am sure siblings are a marvellous treat for those who possess them, but I didn’t, and so I never missed them the slightest. How can you miss annoying homo sapiens that you have to share things with? Imagine if I had to share my books?!


My obsession with books started at an early age. Amongst my collection of childhood books I specifically remember an ancient edition of Grimm’s Fairytales that sat on my bedside table. It was printed in Old German Fraktur font. Both my Omas could read the book at lightning speed. My book collection grew as my reading skills developed; from books on animals to old castles, fairy tales, poetry, children’s novels, and, of course, the whole collection of Asterix & Obelix. When we migrated to South Africa I learnt English and Afrikaans. This opened up a whole new set of books! I distinctly recall the first time I read Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain, and bawling my way through Uncle Tom’s Cabin, by Harriet Beecher Stowe. There are some books that haunt us for a lifetime.


Providence would have it that my path would cross with a rather tall redhead, whose love for books matched mine. He considered browsing through encyclopedias a favourite pastime in his childhood. It was a match made in heaven. The lack of a shared ‘book love’ would have most certainly been a deal breaker. So between us, we started collecting a humungous amount of books. All sorts of books. “Read all sorts of books that wound and stab us,” advises Franz Kafka (The Metamorphosis). This is good advice. Books open our thoughts and hearts. They take us to a different world and for a moment we can become part of a fantastic adventure. “A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies,” said Jojen. “The man who never reads lives only one.” (A Dance with DragonsGeorge R.R. Martin).


It would be extremely difficult for me to list the most important books to read or my most favourite books. That would feel like I am selling out on old friends by comparing their worthiness or value. I have, however, thrown out a bunch of stupid books. Most often, modern-day schmuck about how to be better in leading, speaking, praying, or peeing – yeah, the self-help genre is my least favourite. *Rant Alert*: self-help books remind me of people who have discovered some gold (to their credit), but now they are convinced that the whole frigging world will discover gold in the same place, at the same time, with the same set of tools if they dig in just the right way, whilst chanting mantras. Yes, I know, it’s an awful generalisation and I probably just managed to offend some of my blog readers … but it is a pet peeve.

Now if you are a bibliophile, or more importantly, if you have a bibliophile living under your roof, the following observations may be very helpful:

  1. Bibliophiles feel lost without books. The Apostle Paul is in a dark, damp Roman prison, writing a letter to Timothy. “Bring my cloak,” he says (ver5127556-ancient-map-scroll-Stock-Photo-map-pirate-parchmenty important), “and my scrolls, especially the parchments” (most important). Who would have thought that Paul was a bibliophile? He was having massive withdrawals from his ‘books’ (2 Tim. 4:13).
  2. Bibliophiles will take great joy in ‘cleaning’ their bookshelves. Think it nothing strange if your book addict declares they will sort their books and then spend hours taking every book off the shelf, gazing lovingly at it, cleaning the shelves, and then putting them all back in a different order. If you are lucky, they emerge with one or two books that can be given away … you never really throw away books, unless they are extremely stupid books (please refer to ‘rant’ section above).
  3. You will often lose bibliophiles when you shop – they can be retrieved from the nearest book320px-Carl_Spitzweg_021shop. If, however, that bookshop is a second-hand bookshop, you have zero chance of getting them out of there in less than three hours.
  4. Bibliophiles will judge you. They will not judge you on your clothes, looks, education, house, food or pet. They will judge you on your bookshelf and on the books you are reading. Prepare for judgment.
  5. They press rewind every time the Beast unveils the library in Beauty and the Beast.
  6. Most often introverted, bibliophiles are happy for you to jabber on about all things regarding ‘normal’ life until it comes to books. God help you if you misquote a book. God help you if you make a derogative comment about a classic novel. God help you if you do not ask them at that time what they are reading and why. To be forewarned is to live in harmony.
  7. Bibliophiles will have certain books they read repeatedly. This is a most bizarre behaviour for anyone who is not a book addict. It’s really hard to explain why we do this. Perhaps it has to do with relieving the experience or the feeling we received from reading the book, or simply to make triply sure that we did not miss a minute detail of the story. My repeat reads include Brennan Manning’s The Ragamuffin GospelRichard Rohr’s, Breathing Underwater, and, of course, Tolkien’s, Lord of the Rings.

book-61So, mugwumps, who of you want to raise your hands and join me in my book addiction confession moment? What books are you reading right now? Oh, and is this a good time for me to tell you what I am reading? I thought you’d never ask! On the novel side I am ploughing my way through Philippa Gregory’s excellent historical novel series, The Cousins’ WarI love historical novels and Gregory is an outstanding writer as she sheds light on the three important women of the Wars of the Roses. I am also re-reading David Gushee’s book, Changing our Mind. Gushee is the Distinguished University Professor of Christian Ethics and Director of the Center for Theology and Public Life at Mercer University. Widely regarded as one of the leading moral voices in American Christianity, he is the author or editor of 20 books and hundreds of articles in his field, including Righteous Gentiles of the HolocaustKingdom EthicsThe Sacredness of Human Life, and, most recently, Changing Our Mind. What a read! Here’s a quote: “Better is one day in the company of those bullied by Christians but loved by Jesus than thousands in the company of those wielding scripture to harm the weak and defenceless.” (Review)

Yes, I am afraid I am a bibliophile. I love big books and I cannot lie. But now it’s your turn – what books are you reading and what do you love/hate about them?

“When I get a little money I buy books; and if any is left I buy food and clothes.” 

Desiderius Erasmus



11 thoughts on “Confessions of a Bibliophile

  1. Right now I am reading the third book in what is called “The Space Trilogy”. The author is C. S. Lewis. That’s right, the man who gave us The Chronicles of Narnia also wrote science fiction. (This last sentence is as much an expression of my surprise and delight as it is a sign-post to those enjoy this type of thriller.) As always, a fantastic construction of imagination invoking thought on our physical and spiritual realities.

  2. I love this post thnx Nicole!
    I’m most definitely a book lover but a strange one (that is possibly not a secret to many:) )

    I love smelling books – yep – smelling books! I will walk into a bookshop, find a book and just fan the pages so I can smell the newness! Peter of course thinks I’m crazy but alas I’ve continued this strange behaviour for 20plus years:)

    So what am I reading – well I picked up a copy of the pilgrims progress from Hay-on-Wye a few years ago – I’m reading it again because the book is hundreds of years old in a leather jacket, the size of a laptop! It’s a beautiful presentation with leather torn and overall decaying! Just the look of it brings me joy.

    Going off to smell it again now!

  3. My bibliophile mother instilled a love of books and reading into my sister and me. Lovely childhood memories of her reading to us Treasure Island, Swiss Family Robinson, The Secret Garden, Little Women and Little Lord Fauntleroy. And of course Seven Little Australians with the three of us sobbing uncontrollably when Judy was killed by a falling tree! Just last week I passed on my collection of childhood books to my eldest daughter with the injunction that she is to read them to her children.
    Currently on my bedside table…the delightful novel by Jonas Jonasson, ‘The 100 Year Old Man Who Climbed Out The Window and Disappeared’, Gushee’s ‘Changing Our Mind’, and ‘Requiem Healing’ by Michael Mitton. And also my ‘other bible’… ‘Running Until You’re 100’ by Jeff Galloway!
    Loving your posts Nicole…keep them coming xx

  4. Ooh I love this post! Captures the wondrous inner world of the serial (serious? cereal??) reader so well.

    I’m definitely down as a bibliophile. Having a small person in one’s life has somewhat hampered this addiction.. but when I’m not too tired of nights (when is that??) and during Small Person’s nap time, I read.

    Currently I am doing a super-nerd reading course in Second Temple Judaism. So quite literally I am reading:

    – Lester Grabbe, An Introduction to Second Temple Judaism
    – NT Wright, Surprised by Hope (has been on “the pile” for a couple of years)

    And I just last week finished the marvelous sci-fi (but really it’s an anthropological, ethical treatise on sexuality, xenophobia and otherness) novel, The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula Le Guin, and I expect to read her Earthsea series next.

    I also intend very soon to read Brad Jersak’s, A More Christlike God, as it is sitting temptingly at the top of my Kindle titles.

    1. I am reading your comment and ‘oooooing’ – Ursula Le Guin’s books going on the wishlist. How good is Surprised by Hope? I actually was… surprised by hope reading it.

  5. Beautifully written Nicole! I too am a lover of books and literature! I’m currently reading the poems of Emily Dickinson, and the poet certainly understands!! 🙂

    A precious, mouldering pleasure
    ‘t is To meet an antique book,
    In just the dress his century wore;
    A privilege, I think,
    His venerable hand to take,
    And warming in our own,
    A passage back, or two, to make
    To times when he was young.

    His quaint opinions to inspect,
    His knowledge to unfold
    On what concerns our mutual mind,
    The literature of old;
    What interested scholars most,
    What competitions ran
    When Plato was a certainty.
    And Sophocles a man;
    When Sappho was a living girl,
    And Beatrice wore
    The gown that Dante deified.

    Facts, centuries before,
    He traverses familiar,
    As one should come to town
    And tell you all your dreams were true;
    He lived where dreams were sown.
    His presence is enchantment,
    You beg him not to go;
    Old volumes shake their vellum heads
    And tantalize, just so.

    -Emily Dickinson

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