Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Stealing Books

Freelance writer Alison Hoover Bartlett has given us another detailed account of a book thief in her The Man Who Loved Books Too Much: The True Story of a Thief, a Detective, and a World of Literary Obsession (New York: Riverhead Books, 2009).. She examines the sordid career of John Charles Gilkey who has stolen hundreds of thousands of books from dealers and libraries (from 1999 through 2003 Gilkey stole about $100,000 worth of books) and, apparently, who continues, when out of prison, to pilfer books. Bartlett’s book also focuses on book dealer Ken Sanders, who also works as an amateur detective tracking down book thieves. Her book reports on a lot of familiar matters about book collecting and book stealing. Individuals who know anything about the business of books or the anatomy of book theft won’t find much that is new in this publication, except for additional evidence about what prompts someone to become a compulsive book thief, but her analysis of why people, even thieves like Gilkey, develop such strong relationships to books is fascinating. Her book reads like a novel, with good character development, great dialogue, and a lot of scene setting (all built around lengthy interviews with Gilkey). Anyone who reads this book will find them self thinking of Miles Harvey, The Island of Lost Maps: A True Story of Cartographic Crime (New York: Random House, 2000), another analysis of a book thief and the nature of collecting. Personally, I still favor the Harvey tome, but I very much enjoyed Bartlett’s entertaining and informative volume.

1 comment:

Teach said...

There is a long and colorful history of book-stealing in the West. Alberto Manguel’s delightful History of Reading includes a chapter on “Stealing Books”.

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