Thursday, April 29, 2010

Book 25: The Man Who Loved Books Too Much

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 reads like a work of fiction, like a sequel to The Thomas Crown Affair, only it's so much better because it's all real.

Journalist Bartlett follows John Gilkey, a man obsessed with rare books and became a successful book thief, and the man who became his pursuer, one who is also obsessed with rare books, Ken Sanders. Sanders is a life long lover of rare books, a bibliophile, who turned into an amateur detective to stop the man who is pillaging the things he loves most: those rare books.

As Bartlett reports on Gilkey's thieving ways, first making contact with him while he was in prison, there for the first time after a successful sting operation set up by Sanders, she becomes enmeshed in the world of books herself. Her interaction with Sanders,Gilkey , other books sellers, and the literary world of rare books weaves her into her own story, letting her see her own personal relationships with books and the written.

Not only do we see Bartlett's personal history with books, but we are treated to Sander's views as a rare books expert, and his self appointed title as "bibliodick"- a man who wants to catch book thieves, any book thieves, but especially Gilkey.

We also hear first hand accounts of Gilkey's thieving ways. He shares with Bartlett how he did it; from the bad checks to the phone deceptions to the credit card fraud. His mindset isn't that of a man who wants to steal this rare classics for the money, but for the prestige, the romance of book owning, the validation of having something so exquisite , just to steal for the pure joy of owning an autographed first edition of a book. He wanted these to build his own private library, not for any reason other than he just loved books. But Gilkey is a con man; has he conned himself into being a book lover or is there something else?

Bartlett paints an interesting portrait of a man who will resort to almost anything for books. I love the all over view she gives us ofGilkey-- I left this book feeling like he was slimy but I envied that he had, even if by illegal means, he touched and "owns" these wonderful classics. I learned an amazing amount about the world of book collecting; and it just reinforced my own personal feelings that books are to be treated like friends.

This was an amazing book with an even more amazing story. I appreciate that Bartlett's style spun a tale in the style of fiction but is still very real. Worthy of more than just one read!