For Christmas, my good friend and mentor John DeVillars gave me a copy of “The Man Who Loved Books Too Much” by Allison Hoover Bartlett. (There were several messages embedded in the giving of this gift, I’m clear on that much.) I’ve been eager to read it, but it was fairly far down on the stack of books on my bedside table until last night. It was worth the wait: a lot of fun and readable in a few nights, if you’re willing to stay up late. It’s apparently non-fiction, but it reads almost like a mystery novel — about Bibliomania.
Bartlett tells the story of John Charles Gilkey, who steals a great many rare books, and the rare book dealer (Ken Sanders) who helps to track him down and warn his fellow dealers of Gilkey’s misdeeds. Bartlett clearly spent an enormous amount of time reading about book collectors, dealers, and thieves and talked to a good many of them, too. She tells the story of Gilkey, Sanders et al. in a manner that’s at once serious and reflective, and with a welcome sense of humor throughout. Bartlett gets deeply into the topic herself through the research and writing process, which comes through clearly in the text in an appealing, human way. She refers in the notes on p. 263 to a state of “research rapture,” which resonated for me. For anyone who loves books and bookstores (or libraries, for that matter, which make a cameo appearance near the end, especially), it’s an interesting, fun (and quick) read.
For those for whom the book is not enough on this topic: I also enjoyed the Library Thing interview with the author.