Saturday, August 07, 2010

Watch Those Light Fingers, Friends

As a book lover, it’s hard to resist this recent article in Britain’s Daily Telegraph, written by prison doctor Theodore Dalrymple. It begins:
Books have long been the object of desire, a desire that in intensity (among the susceptible) is stronger than for sex. Bibliomania, the obsession to possess books, was first recognised as a disease by doctors at the end of the Eighteenth Century, and many learned tomes--themselves now the object of bibliomanes’ desires--have been written on it.

Not long ago I bought a small volume, Book-lovers and Book-thieves, that suggested that the two types of person were very similar, and often one and the same, covetousness easily defeating honesty. Everyone knows that to lend a book, even to someone whom you know well, is to risk losing it. People who are scrupulously honest in all their other dealings don’t think that failure to return a book to its owner is theft in the usual sense of the term.

Perhaps it is the cultural importance of books that allows us to think this and to exculpate ourselves: that by appropriating a book that is not ours we are somehow serving the cause of culture, our own at any rate. By retaining such a book, do we not demonstrate that we appreciate it more than its owner, who hasn’t looked at it for years?
You’ll find the full piece here.

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