Monday, November 8, 2010

The Man Who Loved Books Too Much

The Man Who Loved Books Too Much by Allison Hoover Bartlett
Penguin Group, 2009
Trade Paperback , 288 pages
ISBN-13: 9781594484810
highly recommended

In telling the true story of book thief John Charles Gilkey and the man who was driven to capture him, Journalist Allison Hoover Bartlett explores the larger history of book passion, collection, and theft through the ages.
My Thoughts:

The Man Who Loved Books Too Much: The True Story of a Thief, a Detective, and a World of Literary Obsession by Allison Hoover Bartlett is a fascinating examination of a rare book thief and the book collector who helped catch him. From "the end of 1999 to the beginning of 2003 John Gilkey stole $100,000 of books" using stolen credit card numbers and forging checks. Ken Sanders, a book collector and seller who was the security chair for the Antiquarian Booksellers' Association of America, noticed an increase in thefts from member's reports and he began pursuing Gilkey.

Bartlett approaches her exploration of the world of rare book buyers and dealers with interest and respect trying to understand both the collectors and their reasons for collecting rare editions, and the rare book dealers, whose work is often a labor of love rather than a profit-making enterprise. She extensively interviews Gilkey. She also interviews Sanders, as well as other book dealers.

As her research and interviews continue, she begins to examine her involvement with Gilkey and her legal responsibilities to report what he is discussing with her. She also becomes concerned about the attention she is giving Gilkey and his response to it.

What I found odd, as a reader, was that Gilkey wasn't obsessed with reading books or stealing beloved books. I don't think he loved books too much. He was stealing books to gain respect for his collection. He was trying to steal a lifestyle. But he is a thief and a fraud. He is amoral and has a sense of entitlement to the books he steals. I think Bartlett was correct to question the attention she was paying him with her many interviews. He certainly seemed to feel it would give him a measure of fame.

This is a short, interesting book. I really do love books and have that wall of books Gilkey wanted, but the difference is that they are not there to impress anyone. I have read the books and keep them because of that connection. Be sure to check out the website if you are interested in The Man Who Loved Books Too Much. (I received this copy from the publisher in a give-away.)
Highly Recommended

At the end of my desk sits a nearly four-hundred-year-old book cloaked in a tan linen sack and a good deal of mystery. opening.

For three years Sanders had been driven to catch John Gilkey, a man who had been he most successful book thief in recent years. When I first contacted Sanders, he said that he had helped put Gilkey behind bars a couple of years earlier, but that he was now free. He had no idea where Gilkey was and doubted that I would have any luck finding him. He also believed that Gilkey was a man who stole out of a love of books. This was the sort of thief whose motivation I might understand. pg. 5

As I accumulated information about the thief, the dealer, and the rare book trade, I came to see that this story is not only about a collection of crimes but also about people's intimate and complex and sometimes dangerous relationship to books. pg. 6

I love to read books and I appreciate their aesthetic charms, but I don't collect them; I had to come to this fair to understand what makes others do so. pg. 11

They were and are a determined breed, and their desire can swell from an innocent love of books, or bibliophilia, to an affliction far more rabid, bibliomania... pg. 24

...he estimates that from the end of 1999 to the beginning of 2003, John Gilkey stole about $100,000 worth of books from dealers across the country. pg. 36

What makes someone cross the line from admirer to thief, and how fine is that line? pg. 38

That people would admire Gilkey because of his book collection seemed to be at the crux of his desire. It wasn't merely a love of books that compelled him, but also what owning them would say about him. pg. 47

"Too few people seem to realize that books have feelings," wrote collector Eugene Field, who wrote The Love Affairs of a Bibliomaniac in 1896. "But if I know one thing better than another I know this, that my books know me and love me. When of a morning I awaken I cast my eyes about my room to see how fare my beloved treasures, and as I cry cheerily to them, 'Good day to you, sweet friends!' how lovingly they beam upon me, and how glad they are that my repose has been unbroken.” pg. 75-76

Like most book collectors, his attachment is not so much to the story as to all that the book represents. pg. 107

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

this is already on my to-read list. It sounds like one I'll love.