Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The Man Who Loved Books Too Much

While continuing Gone with the Wind last week, I was able to squeeze in another non-fiction read;  The Man Who Loved Books Too Much.  It's the story of a man, John Gilkey, who spent most of the past decade stealing books for the love of books, not for profit.

The Man Who Loved Books Too Much: The True Story of a Thief, a Detective, and a World of Literary ObsessionWhen I first saw this title, I'll admit I was really only taken in by the cover, which has a shadowy figure in a fedora, standing in front of a tall bookcase, lined with old and rare titles.  I had an image in my head of a man, perhaps a scholar of some sort, who didn't want these books to fall into hands that wouldn't appreciate them as much as he would.  I envisioned trips through ancient libraries around the world, where Gilkey would amass large, leather bound books sealed with clasps or buckles.

I have to say I was a little disappointed.  John Gilkey lives in California, has no education, and steals from small rare book dealers by committing credit card fraud.  It seems Gilkey figured he could become something more than he is, if he were able to build a large rare book collection to admire and show off.  Using stolen credit cards, he 'buys' books from dealers, and is in and out of prison for most of his adult life.

Using stolen credit card numbers to commit his crimes wasn't really the romantic angle I was expecting or hoping for.  The book itself is well written, and much of the story was quite interesting, so I wasn't disappointed in that respect.  And it was very interesting to hear from the man himself, who was always more than ready to be interviewed for the book and really didn't, or couldn't, keep his mouth shut about his crimes.  But it couldn't make up for my disappointment in how it all played out and who was involved.

One thing of note is the number of books mentioned from The List.  But I guess that's to be expected in a book about...books.  Through his spree, Gilkey came into contact with ten different books found on The List, as well as several different authors.  And perhaps a little more interestingly, Gilkey was obsessed with the Modern Library 100 list, a catalogue not unlike the one I am currently reading through.  He thought it would very impressive to own first editions of all 100 books, and one day he said, he might even read them.  I recall my blog post from one year ago, talking about my desire to do the same thing.  Of course I would read them first.  And I probably wouldn't steal them.

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