Thursday, March 24, 2011

The Man Who Loved Books Too Much - Allison Hoover Bartlett

The synopsis for this book reminded me of Edward Dolnick's books about art theft. Though this time, with books as the object of desire, I figured it was even more up my alley. This book focuses on John Gilkey, a man obsessed with books - not necessarily for their stories, but for their value. He fancies himself a sort of aristocrat who deserves the life and respect he believes comes with owning rare first editions and other highly sought after collectors items. He makes his way through book shows and used bookstores swindling owners left and right. The author meets with him in prison in an effort to understand why he steals. In addition she meets with the man who hunted Gilkey down, as well as various booksellers to understand the world of bookselling, and to uncover how such a wide-spread deception could occur. While the fundamental premise of this book is fascinating to me - unfortunately, I did not feel completely satisfied with the execution. I thought that the author touched on the psychological problems Gilkey suffered from and made an effort to speak to his family hoping to uncover more. In the end, however, I thought the book posed more questions than answers. This did, however, open my eyes to an entirely new world with respect to book loving. I don't really understand the value in old books - I just like them for their stories - though I do appreciate some good cover art. I'm not a collector of objects, so paying large sums for books that will never actually be touched or read is foreign to me. I thought the author explored this well - why Gilkey would become enamored with such a world, and how the various players in this world interact. I think so much more could have been done with the book, but it is an interesting story about a very strange character.

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