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Friday, September 18, 2009

The Man who Loved Books Too Much.

Book Stealer: Sociopath or misunderstood collector?

I have written HERE before about Library Things Early Reviewer program. It's a great program. I especially like it because it gives me the opportunity to add books to my library without paying for them. Certainly, I need to review the books to better my chances of winning more in the future. But since I am at least as passionate about blogging as I am about reading, it certainly does make for fun on a budget.

My most recent free book from Library Thing, The Man Who Loved Books Too Much. It is the fantastic but true account of a criminal stealer of books, the used book seller turned detective who brought him to justice, and the author whose own obsession threatens to impede the impartial chronicling of the story and make her a character in the tale as well.

If you are the type of person who skips introductions, prefaces, and prologues in works of nonfiction.and saunters right down to Chapter 1, don't make that mistake here! Allison Hoover Bartlett crafts a gripping page turner from the first sentence of said prologue. From there she chronicles the obsessions of the 3 main characters of her book.
First is the titular star of the book, John Charles Gilkey. The word sociopath does not appear in the 258 pages from prologue to afterward, unless you contend as I do, that Gilkey is a walking definition of the word.

My Merriam-Websters dictionary defines sociopath as "see psychopath", and defines sociopathic as "of relating to, or characterized by asocial or antisocial behavior or a pyschopathic personality". Neither of those definitions prove to be very illuminating, so I ambled over to Dictionary.com where they define sociopath as "a person, as a psychopathic personality, whose behavior is antisocial and who lacks a sense of moral responsibility or social conscience." It is the last part of the definition that describes Gilkey. Here is a man amassing hundred of thousands of dollars of rare books by credit card fraud, who refers to his activities by benign words like "I got a book here," rather than saying I used bad check and stolen credit card numbers to steal those books.

Gilkey sees people in two categories 1) people to impress with his collection and 2) people to help further his collection. The problem is because of the way he obtains his books, there is no one who can possibly fit in the first category. That is, until he begins to use the author and the promise of being featured in her magazine article and books as an audience to impress.

The second obsessed character chronicled by Bartlett is Ken Sanders, the lapsed Mormon turned bookseller turned detective. Sanders is obsessed with justice. While he is very eager to share his stories of how rampant and destructive thievery and fraud is in the rare book industry, he is very reluctant to have Gilkey portrayed as anything other than twisted and depraved. His obsession with justice is so strong he often asks Bartlett if her readers will find him more crazy than Gilkey.

Finally, the third obsession is that of Bartlett, the chronicler of this tale. While Gilkey's obsession is collecting books he can't or won't pay for, and Sander's obsession is keeping legitimate collectors safe, and bring illegitimate ones to justice, Bartlett's is more difficult to define. Her obsession is with collecting their stories. In doing so she becomes so involved that Gilkey begins to show her "probably" stolen goods and confessing many crimes. He even tours a bookstore that he has stolen from with her. She gets so intertwined in his dealings that, she must seek legal advice to make sure she has not crossed the line from chronicler to codefendant. Her angst translates well to the page and adds to the readers' enjoyment.

In the books afterword (also a must read), says "this story had me under its spell from beginning to end." Many writers write stories that they are enchanted by, sometimes these stories are crushed under the weight of such enchantment. Bartlett deftly manages to mesmerize the reader under the same spell. I recommend it for your collection. I urge you to pay for it.

To see more SIX WORD SATURDAY go to Show my Face dot com. Also get ready to participate this coming Thursday in Three Things this Thursday.

Next Time: I thought we all knew the President's address.


  1. Cool review man. Since you own the book, can I borrow it rather than pay for it?

  2. How fun that you get to review books to gain books! You must have a fantastic library!


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