Book Review: The Man Who Loved Books Too Much by Allison Hoover Bartlett

August 25, 2010

In “The Man Who Loved Books Too Much” is a non-fiction book where the author Allison Hoover Bartlett shines a light on the world of collecting in general and the little known world of rare book collecting specifically. Ms. Bartlett writes her fascinating narrative while trying to understand John Charles Gilkey, a man with no real job and no real address and whose only passion is acquiring rare books by any means necessary.

  • 288 pages
  • ISBN-10 : 1594488916
  • Publisher : Riverhead Books
  • Language: : English
I love books about books – not only do I think that the not-so-obscure references to other books and characters are a little bonding between the author and me (they’re not – but I like to think so) but they also enlarge my already too-long-reading-list.

What makes this book, in my opinion, is the fact that Ms. Bartlett met with Gilkey several times, in prison, after he was released and even at a bookstore he stole from. Gilkey talks about how he “acquired” the books, boasts about his crimes and even tries to justify them to us – which doesn’t really work.

Another compelling character in the book is a dealer named Ken Sanders who made it his mission to capture the person or persons who were stealing from California based book shops. This is no small feat in a business where admission of theft is akin to lost revenue (because clients won’t trust you to sell their books for them) and the amounts stolen as well as the objet d’art are of no, or very little, interest to the local Constables.

Ms. Bartlett peppers the book with anecdotes about past thieves and builds a very interesting narrative around a story which otherwise would make a meager subculture take notice, but skid on the sidelines for the rest of us.

As a collector whose objects of passion have spiraled beyond his meager means to continue collecting them, I certainly understand Gilkey’s frustration (after all speculation ruins every hobby once it turns into a business) but I find his justification for stealing abhorring, nonsensical and immature. From what I gathered, Gilkey is a manipulative con man and a thief – not a bibliophile.

Zohar — Man of la Book
Dis­claimer: I got this book from the local library.
*Ama­zon links point to an affiliate account

 

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8 Comments

  • booksploring August 25, 2010 at 7:11 am

    I read this book earlier in the year and never got round to reviewing it. I loved it and, like you, would've given it a 5.

  • Coffee and a Book Ch August 25, 2010 at 10:18 am

    I am right there with you — love, love, LOVE books about books!

  • StephTheBookworm August 25, 2010 at 10:34 am

    This book has been on my wishlist forever!!! Glad to hear it was great!

  • Brenna August 25, 2010 at 11:59 am

    I saw this book at the bookstore and almost picked it up. Thanks for your review! Next time I'll get it.

  • Yiota August 25, 2010 at 3:10 pm

    thank you for following my blog!i follow you too!:D

  • Bev Hankins August 25, 2010 at 9:50 pm

    I've seen this before and it caught my eye then…after your review, I'm going to have to add it to my ever-expanding TBR list. Great review!

  • lisa :) August 26, 2010 at 5:23 pm

    I heard about this one a while ago but haven't yet gotten around to reading it. Glad to hear it was good and double ditto on loving books about books!

  • readerbuzz August 27, 2010 at 5:49 pm

    I love books about books, too. I must add this to my wishlist.

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