Thursday, March 8, 2012

THE MAN WHO LOVED BOOKS TO MUCH (AGAIN) – Allison Bartlett


This book was reviewed by me two years ago when I first read it. I am doing so again because I have just reread it and attended a book discussion group about it. The plan is to review it, tell you what the group said and then go check and see how different my feelings are from the first time I read it.

My second reading occurred this past Monday. Book group (Adams Central Literati) was scheduled for Tuesday at 3:00 p.m. and the plan was to just skim and reread favorite parts. However, once started I reread the whole book cover to cover and was entranced with this story about the bibliokleptomaniac John Gilkey. Gilkey is a notorious rare and expensive book thief from California. For many years he has plagued book sellers all over the world but mostly in California. Bartlett studied the man, and the crimes, but also did her research about rare books (what qualifies), passion for collecting, and the particular sociopathic illness Gilkey exhibits. I found her book to be well-researched and incredibly interesting.

John Gilkey has spent many years honing his craft of thieving and creating exotic rationalizations for why he shouldn't be guilty of anything. He needs those books, they are too expensive for him to buy, therefore he only does what he “has to do” to acquire them. It is interesting that he comes from a whole family of kleptomania. Much of the book is based on interviews with Ken Sanders, a book dealer, shop owner, and self-proclaimed John Gilkey investigator. Sanders has a shop in Salt Lake City, has been a victim of Gilkey in the past and has since dedicated a lot of time keeping tabs on him. He has spent much effort helping other dealers and the authorities to combat Gilkey crime sprees. Sanders is an interesting character all his own. I checked out his website about his store and I would like to visit there someday.

Two people of the seven attending Literati stated that they did not “like” this book. One disliked it so much she couldn't force herself to finish it. (sigh) Ok, here is a lesson for all of you attending or wanting to attend a book group. It doesn't make for good discussion to talk like that. Better to say, something less off-putting like “it wasn't my personal interest and I didn't find the time to finish it,” but better yet finish it and then talk about the hangups you had with it without making others feel insulted. It is perfectly understandable for a well-read and literary person to state that the writing style was below par, stilted, or that there were no interesting word choices or phraseology. All good points but leaving the floor open for others to say that they noticed that too but were invested in getting to the story, studying the crimes, thinking about this unusual personality and reflecting on where this man's life is going to end up.

I do have to admit that in the beginning I found the writing style a bit loose and sometimes I had to reread parts to get a better picture of who exactly she was talking about. We did discuss the fact that the author is or was a journal article writer and we felt this influenced her style and perhaps was why the book felt less-literary than many that we read. One person in group appeared to actually dislike Bartlett as he felt she should have informed on Gilkey when she became aware of his criminal activities. Others of us felt she did what she needed to do to collect her data, probably followed journalistic protocol, and was not obliged to inform the authorities. You can find on the Internet Ken Sanders web sites and some documentation about the crimes and Gilkey. Apparently Gilkey is still “collecting” and since most book sellers know who he is, he is now stealing from libraries, possibly.

Ok, now I am going to look at my old review at (http://literatireflections.blogspot.com/2010_07_01_archive.html) and see if I said any of the same things....

I'm back. That one was better. I did find out that since 2009 Gilkey has been incarcerated several times but is out now and is on the prowl. Where do you suppose he keeps all those books now? Also I forgot to mention that I love the cover of this book too. So many beautiful books.... I want them.

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