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Bibliomania and the not-so-light side of book hoarding

Last week, the National Post‘s Mark Medley wrote a piece about his ever-expanding book collection and the difficulty he has lightening his load by even a single volume. “I am a book hoarder,” he says. “Help me, please.”

The same day the article was published, CBC Radio’s Metro Morning picked up the story and host Matt Galloway spent the rest of the week discussing the impulse on air, and over Twitter and Facebook. He even brought in Shelagh Rogers to talk about her own book-collecting habits. By the end of the weekend, the term “book hoarder” came up in national media a lot.

The piece caught the eye of one Jessie Sholl, author of Dirty Secret: A Daughter Comes Clean About Her Mother’s Compulsive Hoarding. In her view, the conversation around book hoarding overlooked an important fact: hoarding is more than a mild eccentricity, it’s an illness. (To be fair, Rogers avoided the word “hoarder” throughout her interview with Metro Morning, opting instead to call herself a “book lover.”) Sholl responded to Medley’s article on her blog at Psychology Today.

In her post, “You Are Not a Book Hoarder,” she attempts to set the record straight on bibliomania:

Just because you have a lot of books, that doesn’t mean you’re a bibliomaniac. Can you walk through the room in which your books are stored? Have you depleted any of your life savings on these books? Do you hide when the doorbell rings or not allow a plumber into your home when your sink is clogged?

[C]arelessly tossing the label of hoarder around, as the National Post essay does, is disrespectful to hoarders and those affected by the disorder…. [N]o one’s arguing that the term hoarding is off limits. Or that you can’t joke about hoarding, ever…. Maybe the line between harmless humor and disrespectful minimization of a mental illness is similar to what Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart said about pornography — you know it when you see it. Or maybe it’s simply keeping in mind that common expression: Language matters.

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