Bibliophile or Book Nerd?

When I was teaching composition, I used to have my students write an extended definition paper comparing and contrasting two synonymous terms that mean slightly different things. For example, “chef” and “cook.” Or “father” and “daddy.” Technically, they are the same things, but in the vernacular, synonyms can be quite different from one another.

The same is true of the words “bibliophile” and “book nerd.” It’s become cool to be a nerd of any kind, but I wonder what the subtle differences are between the two words. I imagine a bibliophile collects hardbacks – leather volumes shelved in floor-to-ceiling bookcases besides fireplaces. I imagine a book nerd is rather indiscriminant of which paperbacks she reads and how long she keeps them. I feel like I have both inside of me.

I have spent years building a library of Irish literature meticulously shelved in my living room. However, softcover books of poetry and dog food cookbooks are thrown callously on shelves in the den. If I want a particular book, I have to walk into a certain room to find it; this is the way I organize my personal collection. The book nerd in me starts books she doesn’t finish and happily gives them away to someone who will, but the bibliophile in the shadows stacks books on her bedside table and returns to them, sometimes weeks or months apart, taking years to finish them like a find cognac or Brandy. One is a reader with a small r, the other a reader with a capital R. I don’t think one is better than the other. Perhaps book nerds grow in to bibliophiles after years of canvassing dusty bookshops and university libraries? Perhaps inside every 50-year-old connoisseur, is a 23-year-old fanatic screaming to get out?