Sunday, September 6, 2009

The Man Who Loved Books Too Much - Allison Hoover Bartlett

The Man Who Loved Books Too Much
Allison Hoover Bartlett
Riverhead Hardcover
Copyright Date: 2009
978-1594488917

The amazon.com description:
In the tradition of The Orchid Thief, a compelling narrative set within the strange and genteel world of rare-book collecting: the true story of an infamous book thief, his victims, and the man determined to catch him.

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.

The Man Who Loved Books Too Much was a fascinating and thought-provoking read. When I think of robbery, I tend to assume the motive is money. This books showed a whole new set of motivations: stealing because the criminal loved expensive books and wanted to own them.

I loved the insight into the world of book collectors, and how the business works. It's honestly something I could see myself doing if I had the money. Personally, I think most of the book bloggers I've read are somewhat collectors (how else to explain the towering TBR piles most of us have, I don't know). I do know that I understand the need to have a particular book (and yet, not read it).

The Man Who Loved Books Too Much may be "about" a criminal, John Charles Gilkey, but it's as much about the man who tracked his crimes, Ken Sanders, and the efforts he went to. At the same time, we learn about the author, Alison Bartlett, as she gets increasingly involved with the people she's writing about.

I loved reading this book, and I couldn't put it down, finishing it after one AM the day I started reading it. The question the book asked me was "How far would you go to get that book?" There was no slow build-up. I was caught within the first few pages. The one thing I wish there was more information on was identifying books as valuable, such as what marks a first edition. Guess I'm going to have to do some research on my own now. I have to admit, I'm now curious.

The Man Who Loved Books Too Much is due out on September 17th according to amazon.com. What's more, it may well be the best biography I've read this year. Definitely a five star book.
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