Friday, July 1, 2011

Book Review: The Man Who Loved Books Too Much by Allison Hoover Bartlett

  • The Man Who Loved Books Too Much
  • By: Allison Hoover Barlett
  • Pub. Date: September 2009
  • Publisher: Riverhead Books
  • Format: Hardcover , 288pp
  • ISBN-13: 9781594488917
  • ISBN: 1594488916


Rare-book theft is even more widespread than fine-art theft. Most thieves, of course, steal for profit. John Charles Gilkey steals purely for the love of books. In an attempt to understand him better, journalist Allison Hoover Bartlett plunged herself into the world of book lust and discovered just how dangerous it can be.

Gilkey is an obsessed, unrepentant book thief who has stolen hundreds of thousands of dollars' worth of rare books from book fairs, stores, and libraries around the country. Ken Sanders is the self-appointed "bibliodick" (book dealer with a penchant for detective work) driven to catch him. Bartlett befriended both outlandish characters and found herself caught in the middle of efforts to recover hidden treasure. With a mixture of suspense, insight, and humor, she has woven this entertaining cat-and-mouse chase into a narrative that not only reveals exactly how Gilkey pulled off his dirtiest crimes, where he stashed the loot, and how Sanders ultimately caught him but also explores the romance of books, the lure to collect them, and the temptation to steal them. Immersing the reader in a rich, wide world of literary obsession, Bartlett looks at the history of book passion, collection, and theft through the ages, to examine the craving that makes some people willing to stop at nothing to possess the books they love

My Review:

I loved this book. And why not? It's a book about the love of books! Right from the beginning I felt like the author was describing many of my own feelings about books, for example, here is a quote about the importance of books in one's life:

I could tell I was the first to open it. For several days I lived in Wilbur’s world, and the only thing as sad as Charlotte’s death, maybe even sadder, was that I had come to the end of the book. I valued that half-dream state of being lost in a book so much that I limited the number of pages I let myself read each day in order to put of the inevitable end, my banishment from that world. I still do this. It doesn’t make sense, though, because the pleasure of that world does not really end for good. You can always start over on page one-and you can remember. Whenever I have spotted my old Charlotte’s Web (on my son’s shelf, then my daughter’s), I have recalled how it came to me. It’s a personal record of one chapter of my life, just as other chapters have other books I associate with them. The pattern continues; my daughter returned from camp last summer with her copy of Motherless Brooklyn in a state approaching ruin. She told me she’d dropped it into a creek, but couldn’t bear to leave it behind, even after she’d finished it. This book’s body inextricably linked to her experience of reading it. I hope that she continues to hold on to it, because as long as she does, its wavy expanded pages will remind her of the hot day she read it with her feet in the water-and of the fourteen year-old she was at the time. A book is much more than a delivery vehicle for its contents, and from my perspective, this fair was a concentrated celebration of that fact. (page 20-1)
I still remember when I got some of my early books. I convinced my mom in fifth grade to buy the first Harry Potter book for me at the book fair when she went in for the parent-teacher conference. Then, in sixth grade, I used my own money to buy The Lord of the Rings at the book fair in school. I still remember the exact room and how I stood there debating what book I wanted to get. I still have that copy, it's cover is completely taped on and it looks like it could disintegrate at any moment (I carried it for a long time- it takes a sixth grader a long time to finish LOTR!) but I can't get rid of it. I had to buy a new copy last year for a class that I took but I still couldn't get rid of my first copy. It's special. It's part of my childhood and introduction to a life-long passion for books. I still get a rush of excitement when I get a new book in the mail. I'm sure I have a big release of dopamine and probably some serotonin and norepinephrine- which is probably why I keep buying them. It's addicting! And fun.

The whole book isn't just about the love of books though. The Man Who Loved Books Too Much focuses on rare books and those who collect, sell, and steal them. Sprinkled with many little anecdotes of book thievery in the past, it mostly chronicles John Gilkey's passion and theft of many, many rare books. The author interviews John many times trying to understand his psychology behind his theft. He doesn't sell the books so it's not financially related, rather, Gilkey seeks to show a certain character and intelligence and pride through owning rare and amazing books. Bartlett also interviews many collectors and sellers of antique and rare books. This book gives a glimpse into the psychology of many book connoisseurs, which is fascinating.

The only part that I did not like was when the author's part in the Gilkey's story became a little ethically questionable and so the author questioned her role but then the book ended. I thought that it was fine that she brought her own role into the book, but then it ended before she had a resolution for her questioning.

My Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars   

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