Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Man Who Loved Books Too Much by Allison Hoover Bartlett

Some titles just jump out at you from the shelf, and that's what happened with The Man Who Loved Books Too Much. I saw it, I picked it up, and then I had to read it.

Bartlett expands her article of the same name from San Francisco Magazine about book thief John Gilkey and the "bibliodick" who caught him (more than once), Ken Sanders, into this book, giving some more depth to the stories of Gilkey and Sanders but not much more action. (After all, how much action can there be in the story of some middle-aged book lovers? Even if one of them is a thief.)

Gilkey, to put it in a nutshell, stole large numbers of credit card receipts from part-time seasonal jobs at Saks in San Francisco, held onto them for a while, and then used them to obtain books and other goods (hotel rooms, restaurant meals) illegally, over the course of several years. Sanders, then the voluntary security chair of the Antiquarian Booksellers' Association of America, realized that a string of book thefts were the work of one man (or gang), organized the response, and convinced police to find and prosecute Gilkey. Gilkey has spent the last decade in and out of jail for various theft-related crimes; Bartlett met him in 2005 and interviewed him repeatedly for this book, meeting him semi-regularly in San Francisco. (She also met Sanders in person, but less often, since his home base is his store in Salt Lake City.)

It's a short book, and somewhat superficial -- it does feel like a good magazine article stretched out to exceptional length, and not like a story that really needed to be a book -- but it also tells its story without too much frippery. Bartlett does drop some obvious hints early on that she becomes too involved in her story, but that really just consists of listening to Gilkey's stories and obsessing about whether she's culpable for any crimes if she doesn't immediately inform the authorities. The case is not as enthralling as Bartlett would have the reader believe, and she doesn't dig as deeply into Gilkey's psyche as perhaps she might -- or, perhaps, she tried, and this is as far as he'd let her see.

But those are quibbles: The Man Who Loved Books Too Much is a breezy true-crime account that lives up to its title and will be enjoyable to everyone who likes books just a bit more than is reasonable -- which is anyone who bothered to read this far, I expect.
Listening to: 65daysofstatic - When We Were Younger & Better
via FoxyTunes

1 comment:

Carl V. said...

I read this one recently and really enjoyed it, perhaps not entirely for the story of Gilkey as much as reading about all the great books and bookstores that I would love to be able to see. My book lust was going full bore as I read it.

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