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I came across a term this morning that has captured my imagination. I found it on page 65 of “A Universal History of the Destruction of Books” by Fernando Báez. The term is bibliophage.

A bibliophage is someone who eats books. Yes, literally noshes on text-filled pages.

When I looked up “define: bibliophage” on Google, the definition that came back from Wiktionary was “a person who loves books.” While Wiktionary had the etymology right, the definition is wrong. A bibliophile is someone who loves books. Apparently, whoever wrote the definition couldn’t imagine a person physically eating a book, rather than metaphorically digesting one.

A bibliophage in this day and age has a diagnosable disorder. It’s called pica, which is the eating of normally inedible substances, such as paper, hair, clay, sand, paint, needles (egads!), chalk, animal feces (double egads!), coins, and etc. Typically, pica is caused when a body is missing nutrients, particularly iron and zinc, although people with developmental disabilities or psychiatric disorders can also have pica. (An article from Discover magazine documents the case of a paper-eating woman who had celiac disease, which caused a malabsorption of nutrients.)

While pica is an interesting disorder, I’m more intrigued by the suggestion made in Báez’s book about how eating a book gives special powers to the bibliphage:

Swallowing the book guarantees the transferral of properties, the transmitting of knowledge. Instead of reading it, the bibliophage receives teachings directly and becomes able to speak different languages or express himself more securely. (page 65)

Báez also indicates that people believed the divine power of God could be transferred to a bibliophage.

Wow! Divine power from eating a book! Now that’s heavy.

If this were true, if you could gain all the knowledge and divine power of a book by eating it, which book would you choose to eat and why?

(If you find yourself actually eating a book, I’d suggest scheduling an appointment with your doctor. Those hard covers are especially hard to swallow.)