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Have you ever faced a bibliohazard?

Is there a word for that sense of panic you feel when you find yourself without a book? That time when you lie down on the beach and realise that you’ve left your novel at home. Or the moment you settle into your seat for your daily commute and reach into your bag, only to pull out a book that you finished yesterday. And god forbid you board a long haul flight, only to remember packing your book into your checked in luggage.

The realisation comes with a sense of panic, followed by denial – someone on this goddamned plane must have a spare book – then comes the bargaining over the said book, and finally some semblance of acceptance as you resign yourself to watching Midsomer Murders for the rest of the journey in an attempt to find calm in a scenic but murderous English village.

If there was a term, perhaps it would be ‘novel panic’ or you could be encountering a ‘bibliohazard’? It would certainly be a ‘deboocle’ and a ‘bookastrophe’? Or could the experience be better described as the four stages of booklessness?

In an interview with the Australian Book Review, Helen Garner revealed that her idea of hell was: “Not being able to read for ten days after cataract surgery.”

You and me both, Helen. While I haven’t experienced cataract surgery, I can well imagine the torment of ten days without reading.

For some people, hell might be the idea of dining alone, but for the obsessive reader, it is the prospect of dining alone without a book that brings on palpitations. All those who forget to bring their book to a solo dinner can hope for is a VERY long menu, where they can peruse the specials at length. Many a battle has ensued when the waiter has tried to wrench a menu from the grips of a hungry bibliophile with no other reading material.

My reading tastes aren’t confined to books and menus; there are also the weekend newspapers and their accompanying magazines that I can’t bear to throw away in case I ever find myself without one to read at breakfast time. I remember a particularly sad time when newspaper deliveries took a break over the holidays and this very situation unfolded. Never again. Shortly afterwards, I bought a magazine rack where I stack my unread newspaper pullouts. And then I bought another. Now I have two racks straining with magazines, just in case.

However, despite my appreciation of reading in any form, on the whole it is booklessness that instils the deepest panic in me. I’ve never understood why they called it Sleepless in Seattle, rather than Bookless in Seattle if they wanted a tearjerker. I feel a little bereft just thinking about it.

To ensure I am never visited by Garner’s particular vision of hell, I have books planted everywhere. Not for me the hidden wine bottle or stash of chocolate. Instead, there are books in my overnight bag, in the wardrobe, in my desk drawer and in the boot of my car.

And I have come to realise that, when American novelist Daniel Handler (aka Lemony Snicket) advised “Never trust anyone who has not brought a book with them”, he was not suggesting a fear of ignorance, but of the wrath of someone who has nothing to read.


Have you ever found yourself desperately bookless?





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