The Man Who Loved Books Too Much

May 24, 2010 | No Comments

I finally finished Allison Hoover Bartlett’s 2009 tale of a serial bibliomaniac, which had threatened to take root on my nightstand. The Man Who Loved Books Too Much: The True Story of a Thief, a Detective, and a World of Literary Obsession is a smoothly written investigation into the world of rare books and the sometimes kooky folks who inhabit it. Rare is defined by one collector as “a book I want badly and can’t find,” and no-one wanted books more badly, or felt he deserved them more, than John Gilkey who, between 1999 and 2003, stole over $100,000 worth of collectibles and first-editions. Bartlett tracks Gilkey down on his release from prison and through a serious of interviews attempts to understand this skinny misfit in the stay-press trousers with the deferential exterior and amoral world view, and his incurable, expensive, compulsion.

This is a quiet read; there are no fireworks or car chases or astounding revelations, and unlikely to appeal to those who aren’t bibliophiles. It doesn’t so much culminate as drift to an end, and Bartlett’s conclusions on the relationship between ownership and self-esteem although pertinent feel simplistic. I sound like I’m damning with faint praise, but that’s not my intent. It has the cozy appeal of a foosty bookstore on a wet Sunday afternoon.