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The Man Who Loved Books Too Much – Review

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The Man Who Loved Books Too Much by Allison Hoover Bartlett

Age: Adult

The Man Who Loved Books Too Much is a true story about a Bay Area local who stole over $100,000 worth of rare books, and a book seller turned “bibliodick” set out to find and arrest him, and the journalist who wants to tell both sides of the story. Bartlett interviews rare book sellers, John Gilkey (the man who loved books too much) and Ken Sanders (the bibliodick). Along the way, we are given brief history of other bibliomaniacs over the centuries. Gilkey had a very unique motive as well as a cleverly designed way to gather the books for his collection. As Bartlett put it:

Gilkey, who dreamed of being admired for his collection, was caught in a trap of his own making. As much as he wanted to show off his acquisitions, the very act would result in his losing them.

Gilkey reminded me a lot of a scene from The Great Gatsby, the library scene. Gatsby had thrown one his lush and wild parties, and Nick Carraway wandered away exploring the house. He wound up in the library, where a drunken man informed him that all of the books on the self were uncut, meaning unread. It was all a great show of wealth and knowledge. Which is what Gilkey wanted, to show off his knowledge, to elevate his status above the one to which he was born. I didn’t really get a sense for his love of books as a physical element, over his love for acquiring the books and his sneaky ways of going about it.

I really liked Bartlett’s writing style. It had a casual pace, enough well placed tangents and I enjoyed her own doubts and confessions throughout the course of her interviews with Gilkey and her own investigations into the story. I know that as much as I love books, I love the stories within the books more than the books themselves. My bookshelves are much barer than people would expect, but that’s because a majority of the books I read I check out from the library or borrow from a friend. I have an aversion to buying books, mostly because I think they are over priced and I don’t want to spend money on something I might potentially dislike.

The Man Who Loved Books Too Much
by Allison Hoover Bartlett
Riverhead Books, 2009
ISBN 9781954488917
274 pages


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The man who loved books too much : the true story of a thief, a detective, and a world of literary obsession