By Kimberly Richardson
When I think of the word “bibliophile” I automatically think of myself. In my apartment are five bookcases filled to the brim with books of every subject and genre. Reading and now writing books has been a passion of mine since childhood. Even now I would much rather spend my money on books than clothing, shoes, jewelry, or anything else. I have even scraped together change from the bottom of my messenger bag to purchase a book. So yes, I fully accept my bibliophile nature. Yet, while I enjoy my addiction, I would never cross legal lines to obtain my passion.
Others, however, would have no problem doing such a thing. Take John Gilkey for example, the subject of Allison Hoover Bartlett’s non-fiction book, The Man Who Loved Books Too Much. Gilkey adored books, and he would steal them from bookstores and book fairs in order to sell them for profit. He would even obtain credit card numbers (back when the numbers were printed on receipt slips) and call in orders to antiquarian book dealers all over the country. His activities stumped many book dealers until bookseller Ken Sanders made it his personal mission to track down the thief and deliver an appropriate amount of justice.
While conducting research for her novel, Bartlett spent a great deal of time speaking to both Sanders and Gilkey. She even went so far as to walk with Gilkey into one of the bookstores that he had stolen from. Gilkey explained that he had stolen the collectible books because they were priced too high for the common man to obtain. He loved books so much that he felt it was his right and duty to “acquire” them for his personal library. Sanders, along with other antiquarian book dealers, feel otherwise. They claim that, although he may have loved books, stealing them was unfair to those who would have obtained the books through legal means. Some of the book dealers Bartlett interviewed questioned her own motives in following and speaking to the book thief, wondering if perhaps she was in on the scam as well. There has been much debate as to Bartlett’s ethics while gathering research for her novel and whether or not she romanticized Gilkey, portraying him as a passionate lover of books rather than just a petty thief. Nevertheless, Bartlett does a fantastic job conveying both sides of the book world: those who sell the highly prized books and those who would do anything to obtain them, both legally and illegally.
When I finished reading the book, I wondered if Gilkey was still out there stealing books for his collection, or if perhaps he had turned a new leaf and purchased them like everyone elses. Regardless, one thing I know for certain is that once bitten by the bibliophile bug, there is no turning back. Right or wrong, a bibliophile is still a bibliophile, giving into our literary passions to satisfy that endless need, no matter to what extreme measures our passions may drive us.
By Kimberly Richardson