Saturday, August 7, 2010

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

The Man Who Loved Books Too Much: The True Story of a Thief, a Detective, and a World of Literary Obsession

What compells a man to steal rare books worth thousands of dollars, even after he's served jail time for that specific crime?  It's that question that author Allison Hoover Bartlett asks herself repeatedly throughout this book.

The Man Who Loved Books Too Much chronicles the years Bartlett spent researching rare book thefts and interviewing a man who stole many, many rare books from dealers across the country.  His name: John Gilkey.  Bartlett, a journalist whose writing has appeared in The Washington Post and The New York Times, first meets Gilkey when he is behind prison bars.  Over the next few years, they will continue to meet.  Gilkey will slowly tell Bartlett about his book thieving: how he chooses books, how he gets credit card information, how he goes about acquiring the books.  Bartlett grows to realize just how much Gilkey really loves rare books-but is it really because he loves to read them?  It seems as though Gilkey wants to collect because he wants to impress.

This book brings the reader along on a journey into Gilkey's world.  Bartlett is a great writer.  I thought she did a really fantastic job of painting us a portrait of John Gilkey, from his physical description, "At the time of our first meeting Gilkey was thirty-seven.  He is of average stature, about five-foot-nine.  His eyes are hazel-brown......The cadence of his quiet, calm voice reminded me of the children's television host Mr. Rogers" (pg. 44), to his personality, "Gilkey had hidden much of himself behind gilt.  Polite, curious, ambitious-or greedy, selfish, criminal" (pg. 252).  What I found the most interesting was what Bartlett often said of Gilkey's take on his crimes.  He never put the blame on himself (even though he stole the books).  Instead, he blamed the dealers of the rare books, saying they priced the books too high for him to afford, or how they often stole books.  Page 50 goes like this:

"Gilkey said that he didn't like to spend his 'own money' on books, and that it wasn't fair that he didn't have enough money to afford all the rare books he wanted.  For Gilkey, 'fairness' seemed to be a synonym for 'satisfaction'". 

Two thumbs up to Allison Hoover Bartlett!  This book was fabulous, and her honesty throughout (like when she realizes how much Gilkey's appearance had made her think of him as almost a friend, not a greedy book thief and self-centric person) added to her story.  I, like Bartlett, found myself almost pitying Gilkey at times.  Then I'd remember his greedy ways and think, "I have to pay for my books and the expensive dolls I collect, so you can get yourself a job and start saving too!"  This was a great, quick read and it comes highly recommended from me.

A favorite passage:
Pg. 253: "Hunting down treasures for a collection brings it own rewards, but, ultimately even more satisfying, building it is a way of creating a narrative."

Title: The Man Who Loved Books Too Much
Author: Allison Hoover Bartlett
Date of Publication: 2009
Number of Pages: 259
Genre: Nonfiction
Source: library copy


  1. I discovered you on the Blogger Hop...and have an award for you here:

  2. Just stopping by via the hop. I like your blog and am a new follower :) This book sounds really interesting. Hope you are having a great weekend!

    And the plot thickens...