Strange wistfulness

vellichor
One in a series of Word of the Week outside Book·ish bookshop, Crickhowell

Book·ish, my local bookshop, has been highlighting a Word of the Week for the last few weeks, and among those featured has been

hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia

— which ironically (or probably deliberately) means “the fear of long words”. The online Urban Dictionary tells us that “sesquippedalio” relates to long words while “phobia” is an irrational fear. As for “hippopoto” and “monstro” (which are derived from hippopotamus and monster) they’re both included to exaggerate the length of the word. If such elongations are not your thing then perhaps the synonym sesquippedaliophobia (which means exactly the same thing) will easily substitute.

Another word featured is one I suggestedabibliophobia, or the fear of having no books to read. I also have high hopes of them including one of my recent neologisms, selidodeiktology, which you may remember is the study of bookmarks.

In the meantime a recent-ish meme has found its way onto their noticeboard. This is vellichor, as defined by — and possibly invented by — the online Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows as

the strange wistfulness of used bookstores, which are somehow infused with the passage of time—filled with thousands of old books you’ll never have time to read, each of which is itself locked in its own era, bound and dated and papered over like an old room the author abandoned years ago, a hidden annex littered with thoughts left just as they were on the day they were captured.

The pedant in me assumes that what is meant by a “used bookstore” is actually a shop containing many used (that is, secondhand) books, though the Dictionary definition could equally mean a bookstore that is well frequented. Perhaps both are implied. But no matter; more interesting to my mind is, whence this concoction?

WorldWideWords.org suggests that it is a compound of ichor and vellum. “The former is the stuff that was said to flow in the veins of the Greek gods in place of blood,” while the latter refers of course to parchment made from calfskin, such as was used in medieval manuscripts. “For lovers of books, there is nothing more distinctive and melancholy than the sight and smell of old books, redolent of dust and decayed hopes.” They add that the term deserves to be more widely known — so here I am trying to spread the word, though I’ve no idea in what context I’m next likely to use it.

Anyway, all this is a preamble to my lauding of Book·ish which — wouldn’t you know — is hosting the second Crickhowell Literary Festival, or CrickLitFest for short. This year sixty-four events are being staged over nine days, from October 1st to October 9th, featuring talks, literary dinners, workshops, children’s events, film showings and other delights. As festival directors Emma Corfield-Waters and Anne Rowe write, a recent Saturday edition of The Times made reference to Crickhowell’s ‘renowned Literary Festival’ which had, at that point, had only one outing, its inaugural appearance! CrickLit aims again to focus — though not exclusively — on Welsh connections such as authors (like its new President, Owen Sheers) and topics (history, culture and, of course, rugby), but anniversaries such as the quatercentenary of Shakespeare’s death, the bicentenary of Charlotte Brontë’s birth and the centenary of the Battle of the Somme will all also be commemorated.

Clearly this is intended as not just a nine day wonder to be forgotten once it is over but a celebration of books and writers that will resonate until at least the third festival in 2017. May that strange wistfulness that envelops well-used bookstores continue well into the future!

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My latest milestone, as advised by WordPress …

 

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13 thoughts on “Strange wistfulness

  1. The strange wistfulness of used bookstores….20, 30 years ago there used to be 5 used bookshops in Twbickenham, full of wonderful older books, hard covers, some with tatty dust covers …..I used to love browsing there, and still have some much loved volumes from there. I have a definite wistfulness for the loss of such places

    1. They are indeed fast becoming an extinct Sue, and the few bookshelves one sees in charity bookshops are really no substitutes. I suspect a lot of these collections are now online mail-order only, their proprietors the only ones able to appreciate the vellichor …

    1. Thanks, Laurie! Oddly, Book·ish only sells new books; but, as a small outlet (essentially just an L-shaped room with additional storage space) it punches above its weight: it was named Best Independent Bookshop in Wales and the Midlands at the 2016 British Book Awards. This year’s festival promises to be even bigger and better than last year.

  2. We still have quite a few such shops, and they remain popular. A wistfulness comes upon me when I come upon books which struck strongly at my imagination in extreme youth. Recently, Baroness Orczy and G.A. Henty.

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