Sunday, October 20, 2013

Bartlett's The Man Who Loved Books Too Much

Allison Hoover Bartlett's The Man Who Loved Books Too Much is a breezy, enjoyable story about John Gilkey, who was caught stealing large numbers of rare books in stores around the Bay Area. What set him apart from your basic thief is that he had no profit motive. He just wanted to be seen as an educated, well-read man. He based many purchases on the Modern Library top 100 books, which he felt were a mark of sophistication.

He went in and out for prison both for theft, credit card fraud, and for writing bad checks, and was bizarrely amoral. He wasn't rich and could never own these books, so of course he had to steal them. Those dealers owed him! They were charging so much for these books, and he wanted them. How else would he get them? In all the interviews, he seems geniunely unable to see that he is doing anything wrong.

It's a glimpse into bibliomania. Since they were stolen, he could never really display them or show them to anyone else. Somehow just having them was enough. But eventually a dealer got on his trail and pursued him with the help of the police. One lesson from the book is not to mess with rare book dealers. They mean business.


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