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What is a Bookworm?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 23, 2024
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The term “bookworm” is used in two senses. The first refers to any type of insect which infests books, while the other refers to a person who enjoys books. The second may be used pejoratively, suggesting that the person has become obsessed with books. In the second sense, avid reading can certainly be hard on books, especially cheap paperbacks, but it is generally not as potentially damaging as insect infestation. The intended meaning is usually made clear by context.

The first usage of bookworm can get rather vague. No species of insect is specifically known as a bookworm, although a wide range of insects from silverfish to termites will eat books and paper, if the material is available. The larvae of several insects are also rather fond of books, especially the glue used in older books, and some of these larvae will tunnel into books. A true book borer, however, is rather rare.

Controlling insects in a library can be a problem, especially in an older library, which may be congenial to insects and damp as well, posing a serious significant risk to the contents. Most bibliophiles try to keep valuable books in controlled environments, where they are less subject to infestation. Keeping a library clean and dry can also help. An abandoned library, however, can be subject to large amounts of insect damage, especially in the tropics.

The second usage of bookworm actually predates the first; as early as 1599, people were referring to book lovers as bookworms. The term was only applied to insects in the 1800s. Some people prefer to distinguish bookworms from bibliophiles, arguing that bookworms love books for their contents, while bibliophiles love books as objects. Clearly, some overlap probably exists between the two, as plenty of bookworms collect old or beautiful books, and many bibliophiles greatly enjoy reading.

Different people have different standards about bookworms, often determined by their own reading habits. The term is often applied to children, especially shy children who spend much of their spare time reading. Adults, however, can certainly be bookworms as well, especially when they have a great deal of spare time on their hands. If you cannot leave the house without a book, you might be a bookworm. This is especially true if you pop the book open at every opportunity, or if you have been known to read while walking down the street, cooking, or performing similar tasks.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a Language & Humanities researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By Bertie68 — On Jun 17, 2011

@cupcake15 - I, too, am a hopeless bookworm. I belong to two book discussion clubs that meet monthly all year around. We have such good discussions about the books we read for book club. We know each other pretty well and talk about our own personal experiences in relation to the books.

I learn so much when I read and I enjoy getting lost in a book. Non-fiction books are my favorite, especially memoirs and biographies. I like fiction too, especially historical fiction.

If there is a movie, I always read the book first. In most cases, I like the book better than the movie.

Books on tape are not really for me - I prefer the written word. I wish more people would read - they are really missing out!

By BrickBack — On Jun 17, 2011

@Latte31 - I know I love getting books in the mail. I also love discussing books with other people. It is great when you join a book discussion club and everyone in the club reads the same book.

You would be surprised at the different viewpoints that you get although everyone read the same book. That is what I love about these book clubs because you not only discuss the themes of the books, but you also get to have meaningful intellectual dialogue about the aspects of the book that affected you the most.

It makes me want to write my own book someday. In fact, I went to a lecture that a local published writer gave and he suggested reading at least 200 books before you attempt to write your own because aside from the entertainment value that the books offer, you also learn writing techniques that you will later be able to assimilate into your own book. It was really motivating.

By latte31 — On Jun 17, 2011

@Sneakers41 - I agree with what you are saying. I know I should have been a librarian because I am constantly reading and researching things.

I think I just love to learn and reading lets me do that which is why I love books so much. I actually get most of my books from a book club. I love anticipating what new book they are going to send me. It is really cool. You select the genre that you prefer and the club automatically sends you the selection of the month. You can decline and select something else; it is really your choice.

By sneakers41 — On Jun 17, 2011

@Cupcake15 -I know what you mean. I love reading books and find it much more relaxing than watching television. I always get disappointed when they turn a book into a movie, because it rarely matches the imagination of the author.

It also feels different too because the actions are spelled out in front of you instead of experiencing it in your mind. When you have to think about the actions of the character instead of seeing what the character is doing directly in front of you, it leaves a lasting impact on you.

There are very few movie remakes that could ever be compared to the original book. This book worm will always pick a good book over a movie.

By cupcake15 — On Jun 17, 2011

I am a total bookworm. I love books and can spend hours in a bookstore or library. I literally lose track of time because I get so focused on the books that I am looking at that I have to be careful not to spend my whole day at the bookstore.

Reading is so enjoyable and relaxing because no matter where you are you can always take a little trip along with the character while you are reading. It is sort of hypnotic because when I read, I am so focused on the material that nothing matters around me.

I know that people say that they don’t read because they are too busy, but if you limit the amount of television you watch you would be surprised at how much reading you would get in.

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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