When I googled “bookworm,” almost the entire first page of hits concerned an online word game. The lone exception was for a long-running radio program about books. I suppose a fair amount of book clubs, book stores, book review newspaper columns, etc. have the name bookworm or bookworms. I even came across Bookworm Socks!
And why not? Bookworm is a long establish idiom for someone who spends a lot of time reading or studying. I take it the term is not entirely complimentary, as in this illustration: ” The girl who would rather stay inside and read than go out and play is an example of a bookworm.”
I could easily open a can of different worms by wondering, “why girl?” Oh well. It could be even worse. The example could have been a girl who would rather stay inside and read than go out on a date.
Bookish boys don’t come out any better. “Bookworm” may be an early way of saying “nerd.” (Although, as Bill Gates famously said, be nice to them, ’cause one of them will probably be your boss.)An even older usage is more literal: insect larvae that eat books. As it turns out, some of them maintain their enjoyment of books as adults. There is no one species of bug known as a bookworm. In fact, there are numerous culprits that eat through page after page, leaving small (or if left unchecked, large) holes.
The first librarian I ever worked for, who taught me a lot about book preservation, was quite paranoid about food in the library. The staff were allowed to have snacks or even lunch at our desks, but we had to make sure that no crumb remained there. Crumbs attract roaches, and when they finish that meal, what they like best is the paste that keeps books together.
Imagine my shock and surprise, when I started to library school, that the library closed one night a year to host a banquet. That’s right. In the library.
Since then, patrons have demanded relaxation of many traditional library rules. More and more libraries allow them to consume at least some food or drinks in the library. I hope the two legged bookworms and those who clean up after them are careful with their food so as not to give too much encouragement to the less iterate variety!
Here’s a nineteenth-century poem too much fun not to share:
THERE is a sort of busy worm
That will the fairest books deform,
By gnawing holes throughout them;
Alike, through every leaf they go,
Yet of its merits naught they know,
Nor care they aught about them.
Their tasteless tooth will tear and taint
The Poet, Patriot, Sage or Saint,
Not sparing wit nor learning.
Now, if you’d know the reason why,
The best of reasons I’ll supply;
‘Tis bread to the poor vermin.
Of pepper, snuff, or ‘bacca smoke,
And Russia-calf they make a joke.
Yet, why should sons of science
These puny rankling reptiles dread?
‘Tis but to let their books be read,
And bid the worms defiance.