The Man Who Loved Books Too Much

“To Gilkey, having a book like The Mayor of Casterbridge – old and fine, a piece of literary history – in his hands, felt deeply satisfying.  There was nothing like it.  He held it, knowing that it was worth something, that ‘everyone wanted it,’ but that he was the only one who owned it.  It was thrilling.” (page 124)

In A Gentle Madness, Nicholas Basbanes wrote about the great lengths some book lovers went to in order to build their collections.  Many of them had the money and means to pursue their dream collections but he opened the book with a story about Stephen Blumberg… the man who stole from libraries to build his own personal library. Allison Hoover Bartlett’s The Man Who Loved Books Too Much tells a similar story.

the man who loved books too much

“What would you do for the love of a good book?  For John Charles Gilkey, the answer is: go to prison.”  This story focuses on two men who are both obsessed with books, just in very different ways.  John Gilkey’s dream was to own rare books and he decided to make that dream a reality, even though it meant turning to theft.  Ken Sanders is a rare book dealer who took on the extra job of catching book thieves.  Bartlett keeps the story moving at a good pace, switching back and forth between Gilkey going about the thefts and Sanders setting up a network to help catch him.

“I began to sense that the urge to collect is not born all of a sudden, but gains momentum after, say, one or two purchases.  I wondered, if I bought a few first editions of books that had inspired me in my own writing, whether I might feel what collectors felt: I might actually become one of them.” (page 128)

There is a third part to the book though and that is Bartlett’s interactions with the two men. As she works to understand what motivates both of them, she’s also learning about the book industry as a whole and just what it takes to make someone an obsessive collector.

From The Cover: Unrepentant book thief Gilkey has stolen a fortune in rare books from around the country.  Yet unlike most thieves, who steal for profit, Gilkey steals for love – the love of books.  Perhaps equally obsessive, though, is Ken Sanders, the self-appointed “bibliodick” driven to catch him.  Sanders, a lifelong rare book collector and dealer turned amateur detective, will stop at nothing to catch the thief plaguing his trade.

In following both of these eccentric characters, journalist Allison Hoover Bartlett plunged deep into a world of fanatical book lust, and ultimately found herself caught between the many people interested in finding Gilkey’s stolen treasure, and the man who wanted to keep it hidden: the thief himself.

With a mixture of suspense, insight, and humor, Bartlett has woven this cat-and-mouse chase into a narrative that not only reveals how Gilkey pulled off his crimes and how Sanders eventually caught him, but also explores the romance of books, the lure to collect them, and the temptation to steal them.  All collectors have stories of what first made them fall in love, and Gilkey and Sanders are no different.  Bartlett puts their stories into the larger context of book passion, collection, and theft through the ages.

Immersing the reader in a rich, wide world of literary obsession, The Man Who Loved Books Too Much exposes the profound role books play in all our lives, the reverence in which these everyday objects are still held, and the craving that makes some people willing to stop at nothing to possess the books they love.

Just One More Thing: “‘Too few people seem to realize that books have feelings,’ wrote collector Eugene Field, who wrote The Love Affairs of a Bibliomaniac in 1896. ‘But if I know one thing better than another I know this, that my books know me and love me.  When of a morning I awaken I cast my eyes about my room to see how fare my beloved treasures, and as I cry cheerily to them, ‘Good-day to you, sweet friends!’ how lovingly they beam upon me, and how glad they are that my repose has been unbroken.'” (pages 75-76)

This Edition: Hardcover published by Riverhead Books (2009)

You Might Also Like: Slightly Chipped: Footnotes In Booklore by Lawrence & Nancy Goldstone

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One thought on “The Man Who Loved Books Too Much

  1. Pingback: Provenance | how time does fly

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