Book Reviews: The Man Who Loved Books Too Much

Thursday, October 7, 2010


The Man Who Loved Books Too Much
by Allison Hoover Bartlett
★★★★

This book is subtitled "The true story of a thief, a detective, and a world of literary obsession," and that about sums it up. The author researched a well-known rare book thief named John Gilkey. He has been stealing rare books for years and despite numerous stints in jail because of his actions, he's completely oblivious to the crimes he's committed. He sees himself as entitled to the books and is pathological in his desire for them. He is constantly trying to attain a level of power and respectability that he believes only money and possessions can help him obtain.

One of the most interesting elements of the book is Bartlett's surprise at becoming part of the story. She tries to maintain an objectiveness, but the more research she does, the harder it is to separate herself from the situation. When she's around Gilkey she gets sucked in by his charismatic behavior.

The book also introduces us to Ken Sanders, a book seller who has worked to catch Gilkey and put him behind bars. He becomes just as obsessed as Gilkey in his quest. There's a bit of madness on both sides of the issue.

The descriptions of the books and the individuals love of them is contagious. I found myself wishing I could wander through a rare bookstore as I was reading. It is shocking how much some of the books cost and how silly some of the semantics of collecting are.

In the end I think I love books too much to ever collect first editions and rare books. The collectors said over and over again how you should never read those books because they're too valuable to touch and read, which seems so sad to me. Books are meant to be read and thumbed through. Some of my favorites have coffee stains and dog-eared corners. It would be torture to own a book by a brilliant author and never crack it's pages to delve into the story.

All-in-all a wonderful read about obsession and its dangerous effects. It's made even sweeter because it deals exclusively with the world of books.

5 comments:

sharazad said...

I loved this book! It made me dream of coming across a first edition in some used bookstore for $5 and selling it for a fortune...I was shocked at the audacity of this man...he had a serious sense of entitlement. If he had stolen any of my books, I'd have shot him...

Falaise said...

I totally agree with you - I could never collect rare books as I couldn't resist reading them and also I wouldn't be able to buy as many books as I now do!

I'm definitely going to check this book out - thanks.

Avid Reader said...

sharazad - Me too! I already check out Goodwill's book selection when I can, but now I check the title page to see if it's a first edition. Yes, I realize it's a long shot.

Falaise - I could never support my book habit if I bought rare books. It's the one thing in life that you don't have to chose between quality and quantity. If you go to used bookstores you can have both!

Carl V. said...

Wasn't it interesting? I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this and couldn't help but want to jump in my car and go track down all these interesting used/rare bookstores. Someday....

Avid Reader said...

Carl - I love books like that. I'll find myself sitting in my car for an extra minute or two while running errands because I'm caught up in a story.