The 5 Stages of Grief for Bibliophiles

The original version of this article was published in the Manila Bulletin on October 10, 2008.

2006-06-30 Denial2006-06-30 Denial

It’s the hard truth that we’re faced with every time we enter a book store (or, in light of the up and coming Manila International Book Fair next week), when we swap notes on authors loved or hated, or when we find ourselves talking about our latest reads with our friends:

We will never be able to read all the good books in the world.

Now some of you must be wondering at this point if this article even applies to you. Let’s check, shall we?

When one reads the word ‘bibliophile’, one gets images of a dusty-looking scholar type with her glasses pushed far up on the bridge of her nose and her eyes zipping left to right then left again with a speed that’s bound to make you dizzy if you watch her for too long. Her nose, I might add, is quite liberally buried in the book on her hands, and she’s probably holding that thing the same way your mother held you when you were a baby (read: with Extra Tender Loving Care).

Attempt to talk to her while she’s in the Zone, and you’ll get a noncommittal grunt. Attempt to take her book from her, and you’re likely to lose a limb. Whether you’ll really lose a limb or if that’s just a figure of speech for whatever she’ll do to you for trying to steal her baby varies on an individual level.

If you’re reading this and you’re a guy, take a look at that passage again. Substitute all ‘her’ with ‘him’ and ‘she’ with ‘he’. Return to this sentence when you’re done.

You must be telling yourself that that girl (or boy) is definitely not you. If it IS you, even in the mildest form, though, keep reading. If you’re not sure whether it’s you but you have some strange habits involving books and reading that you don’t prefer to talk about in polite company (i.e. hiding books that you want to buy in a different shelf so that you can get back to it later, rubbing book covers to check if they rub you back, feeling things akin to possessiveness and self-entitlement when someone you hate happens to read an author or a work that you love), then keep reading.

Consider, as well, the other variation of the creature known as the bibliophile, made possible by the rise of tablets and cellular phones. Do you hoard eBook upon eBook while knowing full well that you probably won’t read all of them within your lifetime? Do you (more than) occasionally read said eBooks while in commute or while you’re driving? On the throne? Heaven forbid: in the shower? If these symptoms seem familiar, keep reading.

So we’ve established the fact that We Will Never Be Able to Read All the Good Books in the World. How, then, can bibliophiles of all levels of weirdness, deal with our pain? I say that we do it by seeking to understand our behavior through the Five Stages of Grief, first devised by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross.


Denial. “That can’t be right,” we tell ourselves. “Of course I’ll be able to read everything that I want to. Good books are hard to come by, and I’ve got the time. There’s ALWAYS time.” I call it “staving off the pain”.

Anger. On the other hand, we can simply refuse to accept the Hard Truth, and work ourselves up into frenzy through speed-reading, book-hoarding and other similar activities – at this point, I recall the months I spent one summer, attempting to finish a novel every day in the hopes that I can at least tell my friends that I’ve read my collection, and my collection is, of course, comprised of ‘good works’.

I didn’t get very far with that: real life sort of got in the way. Anger, at that point, went from anger at the Hard Truth to anger at myself, and then I got tired of being angry because that left less time for me to read.

Bargaining. “Even if don’t read every good book I’ll read everything by Stephen King/Diana Wynne Jones/Leo Tolstoy!” This is where things get interesting. Bargaining, in my experience, often goes hand-in-hand with anger in the sense that we bibliophiles start drawing up devious schemes and master plans in order to triumph over the Hard Truth. We give up other hobbies to buy us time, we train ourselves to read faster, we play around with our definition of ‘good’ (see “Denial”).

Bargaining is “staving off the pain,” only funnier. For other people.

Depression. The weight of the Hard Truth bears down on us, and rather than attempt to rectify or deal with the hopeless situation we simply crumble underneath it. When one is in this stage, one usually turns to other hobbies, often spawning a large amount of internal conflict simply because a bibliophile can be so distant from what he or she loves no matter how much it hurts them.

Acceptance. …And after ranting and railing and bitching and moaning, one finally comes to accept one’s situation. The proper preparations are done, some sacrifices are made, but overall, all is well.

These stages are actually interchangeable, and from the looks of it, we never really break out of the cycle – this isn’t surprising, given the fact that there will always be more authors to read, more works to talk about and more book stores to get ourselves lost in. The Hard Truth is something beyond our control, and in that sense, it is a tragedy that the Kübler-Ross Model is applicable to.

Now that we’ve broken things down, it should be easier for us bibliophiles to deal with it and move on with your lives, though, right?

(See ‘Denial’.)

Pam Punzalan

29, female, not in Narnia about anything. Games, teaches, writes, reads, flails, smokes, occasionally drinks, loves cats. Answers to Kae, Pamela, Pam, Pam-Pam, Pammy, Pammeth. Pamera, and Pammu. Also part of the admin team of Girls Got Game, over at!

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