Tuesday, February 8, 2011
THE MAN WHO LOVED BOOKS TOO MUCH by Allison Hoover Bartlett (✰✰✰✰)
I am a bibliophile, pure and simple. Books are a huge part of my life; through the knowledge they impart and the fact that they are my main form of entertainment they enrich my life in countless ways. This book provided a fascinating glimpse into the world, both past and present, of rare book collecting-beyond simple bibliophilia into the realm of bibliomania, an obsessive state of being where the afflicted will do anything, legal or not, to possess the books they desire. An eclectic mix of collector's and dealer's stories, rare book lore, valuations of various books, and some auto-biographical information, author Allison Bartlett does an excellent job of merging her various elements into a riveting narrative that smoothly carries the reader from tidbit to tidbit. The glue that ties the book together is made up of two main characters: rare book dealer Ken Sanders and thief John Gilkey. Sanders became involved in tracking down book thieves while holding a volunteer security chairmanship in a professional organization. John Gilkey was his biggest nemesis. Bartlett spent over ten years interviewing Gilkey, Sanders, and many others involved in the rare book trade. One added sideline grows out of her narrative-that of journalistic involvement and legality/ethics. In several instances the author was placed in situations with John Gilkey that made her uneasy and left her wondering if she had a legal, and if not legal, then ethical, responsibility to report him to the authorities. Towards the end of her interviews, she fervently hoped that Gilkey would reveal, due to the rapport they had built, where he had stashed his stolen books. She became increasingly conflicted as to which would be of greater value: reporting things he told her or holding out in hopes of his entrusting her with this greater secret, knowing that reporting him to the authorities would destroy any chance of recovering the fruits of his pilfering and returning them to their rightful owners. Definitely a book which has left me wanting to learn more about rare books and the lore that has built up around them!