Well as Bartlett demonstrates in her new book, if there ever was a person to fit this bill, John Charles Gilkey might be it.
Written in a first person account, Bartlett examines the world of book collecting and book theft focusing on a story of two men – both who seem to have an incredible love of books but demonstrate this love differently. Ken Sanders, of Ken Sanders Rare Books in Salt Lake City, not only sells books, but also took up the cause of investigating stolen books as the Security Chair for the Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association of America. It was while in this post that Sanders came across Gilkey, and made it his mission to catch him.
Gilkey was not an ordinary book thief, his motivation appeared to be for the love of having a book in his collection and not just as a commodity to later resell when the time was right. (Not that he didn’t try and resell some when he needed the cash for a lawyer, but this does not appear to be his primary end goal.) He educated himself about books, and they seemed to not just have a monetary value, but a personal value to him to be able to have it.
What I appreciated about the book is the time that Bartlett spent talking with Gilkey, while he was in jail, and when he was free. Talking about the crimes he was convicted of (he was in and out of jail over the years) and how he stole books. She used this to provide quite a portrait of him, that also looked at his motivations for having these books in his personal collection.
I enjoyed Bartlett’s conversational tone and all the added anecdotal stories about other book thefts. She conducted a lot of research and interviewing to bring out these fascinating stories. I think I might have liked all the stories of book obsession and theft in total, even more than just Sanders’ and Gilkey’s story, but of course I understand that you need an anchor story – and these two men gave her such access. All of these stories together provided me with a glimpse into a world in the book universe that I had not seen before and I would definitely like to read more about in the future.
Thanks to the publisher for sending me an ARC of this book to read.
The Man Who Loved Books Too Much
Author: Allison Hoover Bartlett
Published: September 17, 2009 (Hardcover)