The Man Who Loved Books Too Much by Allison Hoover Bartlett
Read: I read a review of this somewhere, but for the life of me I can’t remember where. Anyway, it looked good. (Riverhead, 288 pages)
Rating: 7 out of 10
Synopsis: Bartlett delves into the world of rare books and those who collect — and steal — them. On one end of the spectrum is Salt Lake City book dealer Ken Sanders, whose friends refer to him as a book detective, or Bibliodick. On the other end is John Gilkey, who has stolen over $100,000 worth of rare volumes, mostly in California. A lifelong book lover, Gilkey’s passion for rare texts always exceeded his income, and he began using stolen credit card numbers to purchase, among others, first editions of Beatrix Potter and Mark Twain from reputable dealers. Sanders, the Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association’s security chair, began compiling complaints from ripped-off dealers and became obsessed with bringing Gilkey to justice. Bartlett’s journalistic position is enviable: both men provided her almost unfettered access to their respective worlds. Gilkey recounted his past triumphs in great detail, while Bartlett’s interactions with the unrepentant, selfish but oddly charming Gilkey are revealing
Overall Impression: Despite having never read this author before, the writing felt familiar. I hearkened back (I just love hearkening) to several other books I really enjoyed — The Journalist and the Murderer by Janet Malcolm, The Professor and the Madman by Simon Winchester, and The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson. Each of these books did a great job of interweaving the lives of fascinating criminals and those who had interesting relationships with them. The Man Who Loved Books Too Much followed much of the same pattern, to quite a degree of success. I found myself captivated by John Gilkey, half thinking he was completely mad and half thinking Oh crap. I have some of those tendencies. Would I ever get to the point where I am stealing books? I hope not. But I can still understand Gilkey’s desire to have a collection of books that he can show off to friends. I thought he came off too sympatheically sometimes, though — I kept needing to remind myself that he is a thief and not just an odd booklover. He stole $100,000 worth of books for goodness’ sake! It was also fun to read about this rag-tag bunch of booksellers, who combined efforts to bring Gilkey to justice. I also found the whole world of collectible books very interesting — I’m not one to go after first editions or autographed copies, so it’s not something I’m familiar with. The methods of book theivery were all very intriguing as well. The whole book, however, never feels cohesive — it sort of jumps around and never really settles. It just never really hit its groove. Other than that, it was a engaging read.
Pros: Interesting topic, in-depth interviews, and I learned a lot about the antique book world.
Cons: Somewhat sloppy narrative, and I found myself a little too sympathetic to the thief.
Other books I’ve read by Allison Hoover Bartlett: none
Other blogger reviews (Did you read and review this? Let me know and I’ll link to your blog!): Amy at My Overstuffed Bookshelf