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Original Essays | September 15, 2014

Lois Leveen: IMG Forsooth Me Not: Shakespeare, Juliet, Her Nurse, and a Novel



There's this writer, William Shakespeare. Perhaps you've heard of him. He wrote this play, Romeo and Juliet. Maybe you've heard of it as well. It's... Continue »
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The Man Who Loved Books Too Much: The True Story of a Thief, a Detective, and a World of Literary Obsession

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The Man Who Loved Books Too Much: The True Story of a Thief, a Detective, and a World of Literary Obsession Cover

ISBN13: 9781594488917
ISBN10: 1594488916
Condition: Standard
Dustjacket: Standard
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Synopses & Reviews

Publisher Comments:

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.

Review:

"Bartlett delves into the world of rare books and those who collect — and steal — them with mixed results. On one end of the spectrum is Salt Lake City book dealer Ken Sanders, whose friends refer to him as a book detective, or 'Bibliodick.' On the other end is John Gilkey, who has stolen over $100,000 worth of rare volumes, mostly in California. A lifelong book lover, Gilkey's passion for rare texts always exceeded his income, and he began using stolen credit card numbers to purchase, among others, first editions of Beatrix Potter and Mark Twain from reputable dealers. Sanders, the Antiquarian Booksellers' Association's security chair, began compiling complaints from ripped-off dealers and became obsessed with bringing Gilkey to justice. Bartlett's journalistic position is enviable: both men provided her almost unfettered access to their respective worlds. Gilkey recounted his past triumphs in great detail, while Bartlett's interactions with the unrepentant, selfish but oddly charming Gilkey are revealing (her original article about himself appeared in The Best Crime Reporting 2007). Here, however, she struggles to weave it all into a cohesive narrative. (Sept. 17)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)

Synopsis:

While most thieves steal for profit, rare-book thief John Charles Gilkey steals purely for the love of books. With a mixture of suspense, insight, and humor, The Man Who Loved Books Too Much immerses the reader in the world of literary obsession and reveals how dangerous it can be.

About the Author

Allison Hoover Bartlett's writing has appeared in the New York Times, the Washington Post, the San Francisco Chronicle Magazine, and other publications. Her original article on John Gilkey was included in The Best American Crime Reporting 2007.

What Our Readers Are Saying

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Average customer rating based on 9 comments:

Veronica Duczek, January 1, 2011 (view all comments by Veronica Duczek)
I could not put the book down. All the characters were so fascinating. And what was better, they are real people.
I love how the author took us on this journey of discovery with her. I felt like I was standing at her shoulder.
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(2 of 2 readers found this comment helpful)
lesismore9o9, May 26, 2010 (view all comments by lesismore9o9)
In the Rare Book Room of Powell's City of Books, sealed behind a glass door and bordered by two faded brown texts, sits an unassuming blue-covered copy of John Keats' complete poetry. While it may seem indistinguishable from volumes you'd find on a garage sale card table, this book is worlds above them for the name scrawled on the inside page: Jack Kerouac. This volume was owned by Kerouac in 1949, the same year he and Neal Cassady drove across country in the journeys that would become “On The Road,” and contains various underlines and marginal comments the great author made. It's a book saturated in history – and kept out of my hands by an $8,000 price tag.

But as much as I eye the book and lovingly run my fingers over the glass border, thoughts of larceny never once cross my mind. Even if all the store's employees were on a smoke break and no legal consequences existed, the thought of stealing this book – or any book – is abhorrent to me no matter how deep my passion runs. It's a moral code that many serious book lovers share, but one that sadly doesn't extend to everyone. Allison Hoover Bartlett's discursive “The Man Who Loved Books Too Much” explores how that bibliomania drives the lives of thieves and collectors – and what happens when the two go into conflict over one volume too many.

The titular man who loved books too much is one John Charles Gilkey, a California native who was gripped at an early age by the fever of book collecting. Unable to afford the titles he wanted and furnish the grand library of his dreams, Gilkey moved into the world of fraud, using bad checks and stolen credit card numbers to defraud sellers. Establishing a system – harvesting credit card numbers from his job at Saks, calling ahead to order titles as gifts and picking them “in a hurry” – Gilkey soon became one of the most successful book thieves in operation, filching over $100,000 worth of first additions and rarities from rare book dealers.

Such a string of thefts eventually gained attention in this passionate community, and the growth of “pink sheets” (dealer theft reports) became the pet cause of Antiquarian Booksellers Association of America security chair/Utah rare books dealer Ken Sanders. In the process of modernizing the ABAA's theft system, he brought Gilkey's efforts to the attention of other dealers – an effort not helped by the police's apathy what they saw as petty book thefts, and Gilkey's utter refusal to turn away from his habit after being caught.

Bartlett presents her narrative from a first-person perspective, interviewing both men extensively and casting herself in reactions to their stories. In the case of the fiery Sanders, Bartlett is drawn into the world of book collecting, painting the immersion of antiquarian book fairs and stores with towering shelves. The dealers she meets offer all the right war stories: their start in the field, the joy of a Holy Grail title discovered in a back drawer or brought in by an unknowing seller, the deep betrayal felt when a previously trusted customer liberates titles without paying. It can be a dry subject for the non-bibliomaniac, but Bartlett keeps it relevant by discussing her own reactions, experiences in collecting and volumes that mean something to her. She may not care as deeply as Sanders, but she does care, and her enthusiasm for these stories carries over.

The varied anecdotes on book sales and book thefts keep “The Man Who Loved Books Too Much” interesting, but it is the inclusion of Gilkey's stunning amorality with his bibliomania that makes it compelling. Gilkey is a fascinating figure – very knowledgeable about his passion and completely swept up in the image of “his library,” paradoxically wanting to show off a collection that would land him back in jail if the right person saw it. His complete lack of regret for any of his thefts, as well as his often childish conviction that going to jail for stealing books he can't afford is a personal slight against him by the booksellers, will set any librarian's blood boiling but make him a character worth studying. His brazen nature also allows for some particularly memorable scenes during the interviews: in one, Gilkey casually wanders the halls of a bookstore he's robbed before, firing off random details on titles for sale as the owner and Bartlett look on with respective suspicion and horror.

Similar scenes do provide “The Man Who Loved Books Too Much” with tension, but it does lack the punch of other true crime stories. Some of this stems from the fact that this story isn't a traditional cat-and-mouse structure of two men purposely trying to outsmart each other (though Sanders spearheaded a sting effort to catch Gilkey the two have never met, and Gilkey can't even remember Sanders' last name when asked), but there is a feeling that Bartlett could have dug deeper. She never seeks a concrete answer from Gilkey on how deeply his father was involved in the thefts despite mentioning her curiosity more than once, nor does she take Sanders' advice and try investigating where Gilkey stashed his ill-gotten library. True, such efforts would have likely destroyed the rapport she built with Gilkey, but the story feels like it would have been improved from more interactions outside the two men.

But that will likely only disappoint readers looking for a taut crime thriller, and “The Man Who Loved Books Too Much” has far more to offer than that. Gilkey and Sanders represent two very different sides of the same obsession, and Bartlett as intermediary stirs up not only the deep allure books represent to them but a plethora of stories perfect for anyone who has more than a passing interest in maintaining their bookshelf. If you're like me, it might even make you take a more serious look at how you value your own collecting elements – at time of writing, I've got a mason jar collecting coins so in three years, that Kerouac/Keats might move into my own hands.
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Gregorio Roth, April 29, 2010 (view all comments by Gregorio Roth)
The E-Library Librarian suggested that I read this book. So I listened to the Audio CD.

The book explores the relationship of book collectors, book thieves, and the books they collect. The book is an examination on how books shape our lives and how we shape the books we read or collect. Thomas Jefferson Fitzpatrick desired to make a tomb by collecting so many books, when he died in 1951 he had so many books that he had to sleep on a cot in his kitchen.

I read and collect books because it is an elixir for my insecure post modern polluted mind.

Books provide a way to make a personal biographical museum of our interests and our loves tomes in one volume. Books serve as a vehicle for a public image shaped carefully by our selected works. We discard books as a way to say, "See how much I have grown, and look at the books I use to own." Words today are footprints of our fleeting thoughts, some holy-some not.

The book poses the question: "Are we shaped by the books we read, or do we shape the books we read?"
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Product Details

ISBN:
9781594488917
Subtitle:
The True Story of a Thief, a Detective, and a World of Literary Obsession
Author:
Bartlett, Alison
Author:
Bartlett, Allison Hoover
Publisher:
Riverhead Hardcover
Subject:
Criminals & Outlaws
Subject:
Book collecting
Subject:
Thieves -- United States.
Subject:
Other Miscellaneous Crimes
Subject:
Books
Subject:
Biography - General
Edition Description:
Hardback
Publication Date:
20090917
Binding:
Hardback
Grade Level:
from 12
Language:
English
Pages:
288
Dimensions:
8.50x5.80x1.01 in. .88 lbs.
Age Level:
18-17

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Related Subjects

Featured Titles » History and Social Science
History and Social Science » Crime » Enforcement and Investigation
History and Social Science » Crime » General
History and Social Science » Crime » True Crime
Reference » Books on Books

The Man Who Loved Books Too Much: The True Story of a Thief, a Detective, and a World of Literary Obsession Used Hardcover
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Product details 288 pages Riverhead Hardcover - English 9781594488917 Reviews:
"Publishers Weekly Review" by , "Bartlett delves into the world of rare books and those who collect — and steal — them with mixed results. On one end of the spectrum is Salt Lake City book dealer Ken Sanders, whose friends refer to him as a book detective, or 'Bibliodick.' On the other end is John Gilkey, who has stolen over $100,000 worth of rare volumes, mostly in California. A lifelong book lover, Gilkey's passion for rare texts always exceeded his income, and he began using stolen credit card numbers to purchase, among others, first editions of Beatrix Potter and Mark Twain from reputable dealers. Sanders, the Antiquarian Booksellers' Association's security chair, began compiling complaints from ripped-off dealers and became obsessed with bringing Gilkey to justice. Bartlett's journalistic position is enviable: both men provided her almost unfettered access to their respective worlds. Gilkey recounted his past triumphs in great detail, while Bartlett's interactions with the unrepentant, selfish but oddly charming Gilkey are revealing (her original article about himself appeared in The Best Crime Reporting 2007). Here, however, she struggles to weave it all into a cohesive narrative. (Sept. 17)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Synopsis" by , While most thieves steal for profit, rare-book thief John Charles Gilkey steals purely for the love of books. With a mixture of suspense, insight, and humor, The Man Who Loved Books Too Much immerses the reader in the world of literary obsession and reveals how dangerous it can be.
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