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What do English speakers call a person who loves to buy and collect a lot of books, but does not often read them?

When purchasing the books, the person might hope to learn new things from the book after reading it in a good opportunity. But they end up leaving the book alone after some reading and probably going for new books. In fact, they seem to be more interested in collecting books than reading them.

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    If they specifically collect books and don't necessarily read them, they are a book collector. If they buy books and neglect to read them, they are a procrastinator! – rybo111 Dec 28 '15 at 21:23
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    An article in our local paper today about a guy who gave a library of 9,000 medical texts (including an original Darwin Origin of The Species) to Mayo Clinic. He was referred to as a "bibliomaniac". – Hot Licks Dec 28 '15 at 22:19
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    (This was out of a collection of around 30,000 books total. The guy is obviously a bit of a (wealthy) nut. (And his wife, too -- she is a quilter, if any of you there know what that means.)) – Hot Licks Dec 28 '15 at 22:34
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    I read a lot, but I find that I buy books faster than I Read them. But I buy them for interest in the content, not just to have them. So I am neither a collector nor a procrastinator. Well, I am a procrastinator in that I put off things in order to read. :-) – WGroleau Dec 29 '15 at 5:31
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    How about a librarian? ;) – Paul Evans Dec 29 '15 at 22:36

10 Answers 10

24

Consider, bibliomaniac/bibliomane

bibliomania: excessive fondness for acquiring and possessing books Random House

bibliomane: one who passionately collects books Classic Used Books

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    I like 'bibliomaniac' better than 'bibliophile' since the suffix '-mania' carries connotations of irrational obsession which might drive someone to possess, but not read, books. – GoldenGremlin Dec 28 '15 at 20:16
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    @Silenus There's also "bibliolater," one extremely devoted to books. merriam-webster.com/dictionary/bibliolater Not sure they don't read he books they possess, though... – Elian Dec 28 '15 at 20:43
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    Book collector. Simple. – Drew Dec 29 '15 at 2:01
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    Excessive fondness for books? Surely a contradiction in terms. – Tim Lymington supports Monica Dec 29 '15 at 11:00
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    @talrnu, he means that it's impossible to be overly fond of books, because they're the best things on Earth. :) – Marthaª Dec 30 '15 at 6:55
18

You may be interested in the Japanese word tsundoku 積ん読:

(informal) the act of leaving a book unread after buying it, typically piled up together with other such unread books

13

One Word

One thing or the other, either a book collector or somebody who doesn't read often, can be found...but both those denotations in one word is a taller order. The closest I could come was

bibliotaph, n.
One who buries books by keeping them under lock and key.

["bibliotaph, n.". OED Online. December 2015. Oxford University Press. http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/18650?rskey=NbAjB9&result=65&isAdvanced=false (accessed December 28, 2015).]

One must have books in order to bury them by locking them away, of course, but that's not to say the bibliotaph loves to buy and collect books.

Two or More Words

Although the OP is a single word request, perhaps a well-formed noun phrase would do. Given the lack of a single word that covers the desired sense, perhaps a noun phrase is necessary. So, I'll suggest a

somewhat aliterate bibliotaph.

'Aliterate' is not a rare adjective. It is found in, among others, American Heritage, Collins, Random House Kernerman Websters, and the OED Online, as well as garnering about 24,000 hits on Google. The OED Online defines the adjective as

  1. Of a person or group: unwilling to read, although able to do so; disinclined to read.

["aliterate, adj. and n.". OED Online. December 2015. Oxford University Press. http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/240391?redirectedFrom=aliterate (accessed December 30, 2015).]

As shown, I would use 'somewhat aliterate', because the sense I understand from the description of the intended use by the OP is less extreme than entirely disinclined, and the book collector described is not unwilling (other than circumstantially) to read.

'Aliterate' or 'somewhat aliterate' could also be used to good effect with words suggested in other answers than this. For example,

  • a somewhat aliterate bibliophile, or
  • a somewhat aliterate bibliomane.

Obsolete and Obscure Words

An obsolete sense of bookkeeper perhaps comes closer:

†2. A person who hoards books. Obs. rare.
....
1788 F. Grose Classical Dict. Vulgar Tongue (ed. 2) Book-keeper, one who never returns borrowed books. 1833 Humourist's Own Bk. 46 Sir Walter, in lending a book one day to a friend, cautioned him to be punctual in returning it... ‘For though many of my friends are bad arithmeticians, I observe almost all of them to be good book-keepers.’
1884 Harper's Mag. Nov. 828/1 The old-fashioned book-keeper, who fears his precious books will be hurt by using.

For the sense you requested, see especially the 1884 quote regarding the bookkeeper

... who fears his precious books will be hurt by using.

["bookkeeper, n.". OED Online. December 2015. Oxford University Press. http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/21437 (accessed December 28, 2015).]

In the region of the entirely obscure, although not obsolete, there is the uncut man:

c. transf. Given to collecting ‘uncut’ books.
1862 J. H. Burton Bk.-hunter (1882) 19 He was not a black letter man or a tall copyist or an uncut man.

This adjective applied to persons by way of the transferred sense draws on the sense of uncut applied to books:

a. Of books: Not having the leaves cut open.

Two camps or schools of thought on the 'cutting' of book leaves exist, though: one maintains an 'uncut' book does not have its leaves cut open; the other maintains an 'uncut' book does not have its margins reduced.

b. Not having the margins cut down.

In that sense (sense b), how easily the book may be read is irrelevant; in the other sense (sense a, shown above, manifest in persons as sense c, also shown above), while it is possible to peer down between the uncut leaves, it is quite difficult to read an uncut book.

["unˈcut, adj.". OED Online. December 2015. Oxford University Press. http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/211145 (accessed December 28, 2015).]

  • I wish this answer was split up. I like bookkeeper quite a bit, but much dislike the other options presented. – agweber Dec 30 '15 at 16:50
6

Bibliophile carries that connotation:

  • A person who collects or has a great love of books.

(ODO)

4

Book hoarder. It implies the person has too many of them, and derives pleasure out of mere possession. "Bibliomaniac" sounds like a maniac, going around stabbing random strangers.

  • My thoughts exactly – "hoarder" is a general term understood by many. – Micah Walter Dec 30 '15 at 5:46
  • The term "book hoarder" could just as well apply to someone who just can't let go of the books she or he has read, whereas the challenge here is to find a term or phrase that emphasizes acquisition for its own sake. – peak Dec 31 '15 at 19:48
  • Well, the general connotation is there. It's irrational. "Bibiiomaniac" sounds like they like to read them. "Hoarding" is a negative epithet, and that's what is wanted. – SojourneringStudent Jan 1 '16 at 0:33
2

I agree that "bibliomaniac" has some of the right connotations. But the words we have that are about books specifically don't address the lack of commitment to the books.

I think that lack of commitment is better described by the word dilettante (the modern American English definition, not the older aristocratic one) or the word dabbler.

Originally, the word dilettante was used to describe members of the aristocracy who took up arts or sciences. Since they presumably had a lot of spare time for these pursuits, the word connoted some expertise. Currently, most people understand the word to mean something like "dabbler," where a person seems to have a wide range of interests, or an interest in a very deep subject, but lacks the commitment to read the literature or do meaningful work related to their interest. If you look at several dictionary and thesaurus entries, you'll see that two conflicting definitions still exist in many of them. For example, Merriam Webster online uses two definitions:

  1. an admirer or lover of the arts
  2. a person having a superficial interest in an art or a branch of knowledge : dabbler

So I think there are words that define part of what you're trying to say, but you may have to come up with a multi-word description or a portmanteau to get the whole definition. Maybe something like:

Bibliottante: One who collects many books but only dabbles in their content.

It's also worth noting that the thing you're talking about is a known phenomenon, and the subject of some cultural criticism. I've heard and read descriptions of people who keep lots of books for the appearance of sophistication or knowledge. A humorous example that has been passed around among Literature and Creative Writing folks I know is this Onion article.

2

bookaholic conveys the sense of addiction to possession.

In fact, the highest-ranked Urban Dictionary definition is as follows:

someone who keeps buying books to add to a stack of unread books

  • Welcome to EL&U. We discourage users to post an answer without any research/reference/link that can support it. Please edit your answer after taking the tour and visiting our help center for additional guidance. – user140086 Dec 30 '15 at 15:45
  • Google provides loads of examples: google.co.uk/#q=%22a+bookaholic%22&start=10 – Mari-Lou A Dec 31 '15 at 19:38
  • I think it is a great answer. +1) – user140086 Jan 1 '16 at 9:21
1

pompous or grandiose implies behavior like having a bookcase of unread books they are for demonstration purposes only, actual intelligence may vary.

1

Once it gets to the point that one's children are drowning in a sea of books, the neologism “bibliophibian” may be appropriate.

1

Since bibliokleptomania is a recognized word ("a morbid tendency to steal books"), one could perhaps be forgiven for speaking of oniobibliomania rather than the more awkward biblio-oniomania.

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