Friday, December 16, 2011

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

Although the marketing department did an excellent job of making this seem like a wonderful story, begging to be told, for bibliophiles, collectors and true crime lovers alike, alas, it is anything but. After all, what could be missing in a story about a rare book thief with a hidden cache of books—worth at least hundreds of thousands of dollars—locked away in an unknown location? And even better, the author got to work with both the theif and the man who helped capture him! But alas…a good read is simply not be had.

Where to begin?

The most glaring flaw in the book is Allison Hoover Bartlett's immense ego, causing her to intrusively go on and on in inane personal vignettes that do absolutely nothing to add to the story of John Gilkey (the book theif) and Ken Sanders ("self-appointed" bibliodick, even though he is, in fact, appointed security chair by the ABAA--so where the "self-appointed" comes in, I"m not sure.).

Adding to this, she's not a reader. At all, despite her claims to be "obsesssed" with book collecting as a result of researching the book. Her "obsession," however, is clearly as superficial as she is. Nor is she a rare book collector (many of whom don't read, true, but do appreciate the comfort of being surrounded by books at least).

Consequently, she bores the reader with her attempts to "understand" collectors by purchasing $40.00 copies of first editions, blathering on about her personal books and what they mean to her (who cares? It's not about you, Allison), and makes herself seem like possibly the stupidest woman on Earth by constantly mentioning her struggle to "understand" Gilkey's motivation (not that she goes to a criminologist, psychologist, or anyone, really, who could help her with this).

Topping it all off, she claims to be fascinated by Gilkey but at the same time worries about her friends seeing them together (though she has no problem exploiting him for this book).

Which brings us to Gilkey: not a mastermind at all, just a petty criminal who ran an unoriginal credit card racket when that was still possible with a warmped, skewed sense of entitlement. He's not too much of a reader, either, though he does read during his sporadic stints in jail. He steals books to look smarter, but doesn't bother thinking through the fact that he'll never be able to display them. But even his obvious psychological difficulties are boring--at the end of the day, he just has a chip on his shoulder. His partner in crime is, of all people, his father, a relationship Bartlett does very little to explore. Bartlett keeps claiming Gilkey interesting, but does very little to show why.

Sanders is probably the most interesting person in the book, although even he comes across as an aged hippie who likes to run a rare book shop and (justifiably) takes pride in efforts to stop theft in the industry.

Bartlett's morals are reprehensible, and when Sanders is justifiably angry at her for taking Gilkey to a bookstore he's robbed from before, the idiot woman is actually surprised at Sanders' anger! The fact that Gilkey is depriving small business owners of tens of thousands of dollars of inventory--that often can't be insured--doesn't seem to cross the author's mind but once. She's clearly a spoiled, naive woman who has no journalistic integrity. She claims she "thought" she could be objective but couldn't help getting drawn in to the story--but she could have, and deliberately chose not to.

All that being said, it's not completely terribly written; the parts where Bartlett manages to get over herself for a few paragraphs are cohesive--if dry--enough. All tha same, I'm not sure this is the master crime Bartlett thought it was. It probably should've stayed a magazine article.

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