Wednesday, November 03, 2010

The Man who Loved Books too Much (copy)

I have my pilfering little hands on a great book this week. One I do not want to share with anyone or take back to the library. I am talking about 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.

The book opens with two anathemas. An anathema is a curse placed on someone who does someone else wrong. In the case of books, it is a curse on anyone who steals said book. The book in question is a medieval manuscript from a monastery in Barcelona, Spain.

The anathema reads, “For him that stealeth, or borroweth and returneth not, this book from its owner…let him be struck with palsy, & all his members blasted….Let bookworms gnaw his entrails in token of the Worm that dieth not, & when at last he goeth to his final punishment, let the flames of Hell consume him forever.”

The true story within is as fascinating as this opening. John Charles Gilkey has a passion for stealing books. From 1999 to 2003, he stole over $100,000 worth of rare books from dealers. Not to read, mind you, but for the pure pleasure of owning them. The book calls him a bibliokleptomaniac for he does not seek profit from his ill-gotten gains.

For every odd character there is an equally odd nemesis, and Gilkey’s counterpoint is Ken Sanders. A rare book dealer, Sanders turned amateur detective after volunteering to be security chair for the Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association of America. He spent three years of his life chasing the elusive Gilkey contributing to his incarceration. His friends nicknamed him the “Book Cop” or “Bibliodick.”

Bartlett mentions she entered a form of “research rapture” while gathering materials for this book. Along with sleuthing facts from paper sources, she also relied heavily on face-to-face interviews. She spent numerous hours with Gilkey (when not incarcerated) and Sanders touring their respective bookcases.

A quick note on Gilkey’s progress: As of August 2010, Gilkey can be found in Miami-Dade County where extradited on a fugitive warrant. It looks like he went to visit relatives in another state. Ha!

It was during Bartlett’s research that she also noticed book theft occurring on a regular basis in the press. Prompting her to write, “…for all its history, it is still a modern story.”

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