The Man Who Loved Books Too Much: The True Story of a Thief, a Detective, and a World of Literary Obsession is a nonfiction book by Allison Hoover Bartlett that is based upon the true story of John Charles Gilkey, a man who stole rare books throughout his lifetime for the sheer satisfaction of owning them, and Ken Sanders, the rare book dealer who made it his personal ambition to catch him. Rather than simply laying out the facts behind their stories, Bartlett delves deeply into the world of rare book collecting, revealing how it can easily become an obsession on both an emotional and an intellectual level.
Throughout the reading of this book, I found myself drawn in by the evocative descriptions of physically handling limited editions — the weight of the book in your hands, the feel of its cover, the smell of the pages, and the precious glimpse of a favorite author’s own handwriting inside the cover. I could easily see how someone who loves to read a particular topic might become obsessed with their collections, whether the goal is to collect rare cook books or first editions of favorite stories from childhood.
It was opening day of the New York Antiquarian Book Fair, and they were waiting to begin the treasure hunt.
Though Gilkey, the book thief described in the book, stole for very personal and somewhat unbalanced reasons, he is clearly not alone in his hunger to expand his collection. In fact, Bartlett draws similarities between the ABAA’s (Antiquarian Booksellers Association of America’s) Security Chair, Ken Sanders, and infamous book thief, John Gilkey. They both developed a love and appreciation for book collecting as children, during which time they both collected comic books. Though one crossed the line into a life of crime to satisfy his craving, they both share an unquenchable desire for and appreciation of rare books as prized objects.
In fact, as I was reading this book, I found myself visualizing the rare book fairs described within its pages and developing a desire to visit them, going so far as to begin a mental list of some of the books for which I might hope to find. Before long, I was perusing the antique, first edition, and rare copies of books on my own shelves, becoming curious about how much they might be worth or if there were others out there who would appreciate them as I do.