Tuesday 20 December 2011

Not a Bibliophile

In Evelyn Waugh's Vile Bodies the hero, Adam, is stopped at customs and books are discovered in his luggage. An official tells him:

'Particularly against books the Home Secretary is. If we can't stamp out literature in the country, we can at least stop its being brought in from outside. That's what he said the other day in Parliament, and I says "Hear, hear...."'

I thought of this because I awoke this morning to an anxious e-mail from a friend of mine asking what the opposite of a bibliophile is. Is there any succinct and recondite term for a book-hater? (It turns out that the poor fellow is related to one, and would feel better if he could put a posh name to this oddity).

There is bibliophobia, a dread of books, but that's not quite right as dread differs from dislike. A close dictionary neighbour of bibliophobe is biblioclast, which is somebody who destroys books (particularly the Bible). And then there's the even odder Skoob. This was a tower of books that was burnt in the sixties by a fellow called John Latham. In the sixties this constituted art. Skoob is, of course, just books backwards (and is therefore related to yob and wonk). It's also, oddly, the name of a very good second hand bookshop that lurks under the Waitrose in the Brunswick Centre.

But a book-disliker? Perhaps I could name it after somebody. A great literary character who dislikes books. It may be merely lack of coffee, but I can't think of one off hand.

I might be inclined to coin the term a Callimachus. Callimachus was an Alexandrian poet whose most famous line was 'a great book is a great evil'. However, that's probably just that he liked short books, as do I, so it doesn't really work.

Or maybe a Larkin who once wrote that "Books are a load of crap." Or Bulwer Lytton "We may live without friends, we may live without books;/But civilised man cannot live without cooks."

Or... The problem is that those who don't like books, rarely write down their opinions.

So I'm stuck with Callimachus as my best offer. If anyone can better that (and I'm sure somebody can) put it in the comments, please.

A Skoob tower in Bloomsbury in 1966, photo nabbed from this article.


  1. You can always try moulding an adjective with Qin Shi Huang (Chinese Emperor who burnt books) but I guess that doesn't trip off the tongue quite as easily. Otherwise, in keeping with political correctness, there's always a Bound-Printed-Matter-Non-Chooser. Or is even this too judgemental?

  2. Whose, mark, not who's. Too much champagne at lunch?

  3. On the contrary, much too little. Tis corrected.

  4. What about 'bibliofunk' or 'biblioflunk'?
    The poor deluded fool about about whom the question is being asked doesn't seem (yet!) motivated enough to BURN books...it's just a mindless opposition to what books are for and what they mean, individually and universally... On second thoughts maybe it should just be 'homo anti-sapiens'...?!

  5. ...or is it just that the poor relative prefers the Kindle or iPad?

  6. Biblioflout has some resonance.--dls

  7. ...as does Kindle, in a Skoobish kind of way.

  8. The Antipodean coughed politely and20 December 2011 at 21:27

    I should just like to point out that most, if not all, Kindle (and other e-reader) owners rather like books; it's almost a requirement. Bibliomania is an economic pre-requisite to purchasing such a thing.

  9. I can't think of many bibliophobes, but "the preacher" of Ecclesiastes said "Of making many books there is no end, and much study wearies the body" (Ecc 12:!2)

    Great to hear the Etymologicon read aloud on R4 Book of the Week this week - it works really well. Hugh Dennis is doing a good job of it, and I like the theme music - I heard it through the grapevine!

  10. Let us see what the Rocci Greek-Italian dictionary tells us about hatred.
    For a love of symmetry, if you have a word that is derived from the ancient Greek like bibliophile, I would stick to the Greek in shaping its opposite.
    Hatred is "misos" (like in "misanthrope", as of course you already know), but also kòtos and ekhtra. So you could go with any of these. Bibliokote, perhaps? Or misobibliac?

  11. Mark...It strikes me that, in pursuit of 'le mot juste', (and a very enjoyable pursuit it is proving to be!), we need more clarification from your friend. [Digression: I wrote 'clarifiction' and then, in correcting it, thought there should be a definition for 'clarifiction': a taradiddle dressed up to sound true, perhaps? Is the relative a book-hater? A book-fearer? Or a book-disliker? And please can your friend supply any further detail? Dislikes getting them as presents at Christmas? Breaks out in an allergic rash if s/he sees one? Can't walk past a bookshop without having a panic attack? More precision please(and special thanks for setting this hare running).

  12. What about a 451'er, along the lines of 49'ers but after the Fahrenheit?

  13. taglet: a clarifiction is an explanation that's meant to clarify things, but actually makes them more complicated.

  14. Brilliant, nemryn ! I love learning new words...should have thought to look if a definition already existed, of course...many thanks.
    Andrea, on the 451ers: could lead to confusion between the book-embody-ers and the book-burners on this one maybe? Rabbit's friend and relation clearly isn't an embody-er...but a burner ?

  15. Although attached to my own modest biblioflout, 451'er, bibliokote, and odiolibri each strike me as inspired. Perhaps we need a range of subtly variant words to heap upon the graded ranks of the bibliophobic--like the apocryphal range of Innuit words for snow.--dls

  16. Ok, taglet here is more, straight from the foal's mouth:

    Regarding the truth of the matter, it came out as follows: my mother wailing over piles of books in my father's study, the sight of which caused her disgust and misery, and calling down a moratorium on him buying any more. Her reasons were:

    1. The books he bought were rubbish.

    2. He didn't read them.

    3. (The kicker) There was no space left on any of the existing shelves, resulting in the books forming towers on the floor which interfered with her ongoing war against moth in the carpet.

    So really no new story. A leader in pursuit of war despising the books that stand in their way.

    [end] Rather poetical, don't you think. My corespondent continues:

    It's not as though there aren't enough out there now, or haven't been plenty throughout history. Is it vanity on behalf of the book? Or is this the book defending itself, using the most devastating weapon it has against its enemies: the act of denying them a name?

    And then:

    There should be - and probably is - a word for this kind of strategy: trying to ward off / defuse the power of / deny the existence of something hostile by refusing to acknowledge or name it.

    [end] Which only seems to deepen the dark linguistic conundrum.

  17. Aha !! That's so illuminating as well as poetical, Mark. Now I'm getting a feel for the context...not about books per se at all then, I'd say? If he was a collector of china ornaments, the railer-against-clutter-that-is-preventing-me-from-achieving-my-goal would be a china ornament disliker...
    In our household, my father was a 'piler' and my mother a 'filer'. Never the twain would meet. She was at war with his 'little piles' throughout our childhoods. 'Our' childhoods? Their six daughters - spilt, as genes/memes would have it - between pilers (4) and filers (2)...with me as the eldest and a piler.
    As for book dislikers...nothing has quite gone 'Yes, that's THE one' yet...so I had been exploring adjectives: 'biblioaverse' / 'book-intolerant'...however, in a last pre-Christmas imaginative fling - 'bibliosnob' and 'bibliosnub' came to me - hence why the marriage of one of each to each other has all the intensity of a warzone...
    Thanks for a really splendid thread.

  18. Biblioflunk has a good ring to it .... even if it's not exactly a book hater, sounds more like someone who's rubbish at reading. Thanks, Taglet, I feel sure I'll use that one.