Monday, January 4, 2010

Eight - The Man Who Loved Books Too Much

One of the perks of working at NPR is getting to peruse the give-away shelves around the building. This book was found on the give-away shelf by my colleague Beth and given to me.

I must admit that the premise of the book sounded really interesting. Book thief seems like a fascinating occupation to me. After reading this book, I realized that low-tech book thief is still very possible in this high-tech world. Although the main technique that John Gilkey used - taking credit card numbers from receipts - probably could not work today. But back in the late 90s - early '00s that technique worked - especially if you were setting up store credit cards with them.

Allison Hoover Bartlett decided to research book thief in more detail after a friend gave her a German plant book that was clearly stolen from a library. Allison's main guide through the book thief world is self proclaimed "bibliodick" Ken Sanders. Ken owns a rare book shop in Utah and was the volunteer security chair of the Antiquarian Booksellers' Association of America (ABAA). Ken and other rare book dealers share stories of thief - famous and infamous - with Allison (and the readers).

Allison interviews Gilkey in jail and out of jail about his methods and reasonings for wanting to steal books. Gilkey becomes "attached" to Allison and one time visits a rare book store with her that he once stole from. He brags openly about his book knowledge and other things in front of the owner - just daring him to throw them out. At one point Allison asked Gilkey if he was concerned about the reprecussions that might occur once the book came out. Gilkey just kept coming up with more and more ideas of how the book could end and what acts he would pull off to create a "special" ending.

The first 100 pages of the book are quite boring and I struggled to keep reading the tale. The second 100 pages went much quicker because they detailed the cat-and-mouse game that Sanders and Gilkey did before Gilkey was eventually caught.

Check out an interview with Ken Sanders and Allison Hoover Bartlett produced by Howard Berkes, NPR's rural correspondent.

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