The Man Who Loved Books Too Much
2011-01-27 13:26:43 Posted By: Lois - Branches
Here is a very interesting true crime story, which reads like a mystery novel, and is also a joint biography of three separate people. Author Allison Bartlett has taken a 2006 San Francisco Magazine story she wrote and turned it into a book. The three main characters are: criminal John Gilkey, a rare book thief who has stolen over $100,000 worth of books, Ken Sanders, a rare book dealer/detective (nicknamed Bibliodick) and the volunteer security chief of the Antiquarian Booksellers' Association, and the reporter author who tells their stories. This is a fascinating read for people who love books, people who collect, mystery fans, and those who enjoy a good biography. The book held my interest throughout and raises come very serious questions that will stick with the reader.
John Gilkey is an interesting psychological profile. He has been "getting" books for many years without paying for them or even holding a steady job to support himself and his desires. Gilkey believes that he deserves to own fine books and that owning books will show others that he is a man of wealth, taste and knowledge. He proudly boasts to the author that he can "get" books for free, and he displays no remorse or responsibility for breaking the law. At one point in the story, Gilkey even meets the author at a rare book shop he has stolen from and, in front of the dealer he has victimized, shares his complaints about the store! Upon more than one occasion, Gilkey worked seasonally for Saks Fifth Avenue and would periodically steal credit card receipts and then order rare books. The actual owner of the credit card did not learn of the theft until two months later. Gilkey also traveled the world, ate at fine restaurants and stayed at five star hotels, all the time using bad checks and stolen identities. He has spent some time in jails and prisons, but considers that the price he has to pay for his "career." He rarely reads the books he steals and decides which ones to "get" by using Modern Library's list of the 100 Best Novels of the 20th century.
Ken Sanders is a rare book dealer who took it upon himself to do something about these thefts, Sanders created a database for rare book dealers to communicate with each other about their lost materials and to describe suspects for these crimes. In his own way, the detective is just as obsessed as the thief and the reporter. As the story builds, the reader comprehends that the detective is stalking Gilkey at the expense of his own business, and Sander is furious that the thief continues his "career" with only short stints in jail, and often without having to give back his stolen items. In addition to the crime story and the lives of these three characters, the setting for this reporting takes the reader inside the rare book stores as well as inside book fares and exhibitions so that one feels the immediacy of place and understands and appreciates the world these characters inhabit.
And the big questions remain: Did the reporter maintain her objectivity or did she find Gilkey likable because he is charming? Does a love of books make the theft of them less of a crime? How is a thief made and what do we learn of Gilkey's family and upbringing? And how can book dealers prevent these types of crimes in the future?