April 1, 2008
A Gentle Madness
I met a pastor recently who introduced himself this way: “Hi, I’m John.” (Not his real name.)
“Hi, John,” I said.
“I buy books,” he replied. It was the beginning of a sad tale that sounds like fiction, except that it is true. John confessed that he didn’t just buy books. He was addicted to book buying. In fact, he had already bought over 850 of IVP's 1200 books in print and was closing in on the rest. That doesn't include Bible study guides or booklets, though he's sorely tempted to pick those up as well. "Just to complete the set, you know," he said. "Like Pokemon. Gotta catch 'em all."
John’s story is, unfortunately, just one among many. The National Association of Book Addiction reports that there are 1.1 million pathological book buyers in America, another 2.3 million who should be considered problem book buyers and 7 million at risk for problem book buying. What is more alarming is that these numbers are growing faster than the population at large.
Statistics show that more than 80 percent of American adults report having bought a book at some point in their lives. Book addiction statistics reveal that well over $85 billion is spent as annual wagers. Compulsive book buying is not the addict's problem but rather his solution for some serious underlying problem. One cannot blame a book buyer for an addiction because then the addict focuses only on the treatment rather than on personal change. Book addiction is associated with other mental health problems like depression, anti-social personality disorder and mood disorders in many cases. Most people with compulsive book problems also have obsessive magazine or newspaper problems.
John was foiled in his quest for the complete holy grail because he ran out of money. As a result of his bookaholism he lost his home, having refinanced to feed his addiction and then having been caught in the subprime mortgage crisis. His wife divorced him. His church fired him. His children’s college education fund was eaten up by his insatiable desire for books. For John, it was a not so gentle madness. He spoke to me as part of his recovery process. (Step 7: Make amends and confront your demons.)
It is time the book industry faced this problem squarely and did something about it rather than just ignore it and hope it will go away. We have to face the fact that we are part of the book buying problem. For centuries those of us in the book industry have given a wink and smile when we hear Erasmus quoted, “When I get a little money I buy books; and if any is left I buy food and clothes.” Those days are past. We are dealing with a serious social, cultural crisis.
InterVarsity Press has therefore committed itself to being a leader in the industry by voluntarily contributing two percent of its annual adjusted net operating surplus to organizations that assist book addicts such as Book Buyers Anonymous and the U.S. Center for Book Addiction. We call on other publishers to take this pledge and help people like John. It’s the right thing to do.