Saturday, September 26, 2009
Never before did I know the extent to which the antique/rare book world could come under threat by thieves. Oh, don’t get me wrong, I know that the Gutenberg Bible is worth a fortune, and that some other rare documents have quite a lot of value; the theft of such items doesn’t surprise me. But what does surprise me, and what was adeptly touched on in Bartlett’s journalistic monstrosity, is the extent to which people will go to collect even less-valuable items. The Man Who Loved Books Too Much is about such a person—John Charles Gilkey. Bartlett takes a winding journey through collectors' and book lovers' obsessions and follows the trail of Gilkey, a notorious book thief, across the country to the various individuals once targeted by the book obsessed man. One central figure is Ken Sanders, who takes on the role of book detective to hunt down Gilkey (previously unknown), and to retrieve the stolen items to return them to their rightful owners. Bartlett follows the trail, putting together the pieces, digging into the mind of the book obsessed and, ultimately, the mind of Gilkey, to put together a book as addictive as its key characters. I mean that too. When I started reading this over a week ago I found myself swept into the astonishingly detailed, richly researched world that Bartlett was trying to recreate. The rare book sellers, buyers, collectors, and even the thieves: all of them kept me fascinated with the world they inhabit, yearning to know more. Bartlett’s novel, thus, became a journey that I was eager to complete and yet terrified to see go. The book is too short for its own good (about 260 pages, plus footnotes), but thoroughly enjoyable. It’s hard to go into any more detail here without spoiling the novel. The back cover pretty much says everything I’ve said here, but you really need to pick this one up, particularly if you love books as much as I do. Bartlett’s novel, while not fiction, is one of those books that all fiction lovers should read. It takes on the book we so love and puts its history into a new context; it makes the world we enjoy drastically more complex by expanding its history, by dreaming up from the den of facts the reality that the book world is not just a place of words and authors, but so much more. Maybe we already knew that, but now we have proof. Now, we can point and say, “See, books aren’t so boring, now are they?” You can find The Man Who Loved Books Too Much on Amazon or on Bartlett's website. You can also get it from your local bookstores. Go get it! P.S.: Books aren’t boring, at least not to me. I was simply illustrating a point that many people think they are.