This book belongs to none but me
For there's my name inside to see.
To steal this book, if you should try.
It's by the throat that you'll hang high.
And ravens then will gather 'bout
To find your eyes and pull them out.
And when you're screaming
"Oh, Oh, Oh!"
Remember, you deserved this woe.
---Warning written by medieval German scribe
Fortunately for me I live in the part of the world that couldn't conceive of a book being of a value worthy of stealing. Thieves here are more interested in cash, and flat screen televisions than say a first edition of Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy.
This is the story of the rare book dealer, Ken Sanders and his search for the book thief John Gilkey. I have issue with the title The Man Who Loved Books Too Much. I'm a bibliophile and suffer from bibliomania, but I would never, ever steal a book because for me ownership is directly tied to the fact that I paid for the book. There is no ownership, merely possession if an object is stolen. Gilkey felt that because he could not afford the books that he was justified in not only stealing the books, but stealing credit cards to use to purchase the books. The only victims as he saw it were the "rich" rare book dealers. He came up with elaborate schemes to put booksellers at ease enough to filch their books, and at the same time went to great lengths to not be recognized.
Ken Sanders, a collector and rare book dealer out of Salt Lake City, started to notice a pattern in book thefts across the country, and put together a network through the Antiquarian Booksellers Association of America to try and warn dealers about the rash of stolen rare books and thus the first biblodick
was born. This story is about John Gilkey and Ken Sander's detective work in bringing him to justice. It is too bad that John Gilkey, to some degree, achieved the fame he wanted through the writing of this book, but without him the efforts of Ken Sanders could not be lauded.
I have some respect for those book thieves that steal because they have a love of rare books. John Gilkey stole rare books because he perceived the ownership of rare volumes to equate with the respect he craved. He wanted people to come over and be impressed by the rare books on his shelves and see him as an educated, smoking jacket wearing, bourbon drinking, blue blood aristocrat. He was never any of those things. He was just a man who did not want to work for a living and yet wanted to own the finer things in life, not because he loved those items, but because he wanted to be perceived as someone who owned those fine objects.
The moments when the author stepped into the book annoyed me. In fact if she had not done such a wonderful job of interviewing the rare book dealers and conveying their views and life, I would have rated this book much lower. When she would sit around and whine about not really understanding book collecting, I would find myself grinding my teeth. I was starting to question if she was really the right person to tell this story. Luckily those moments involving the author were few and far between, and frankly could have been left out of the book.
It has been many years now since I used to work a booth at the San Francisco Book Fair, but it brought a smile to my face whenever she would mention a name of a rare book dealer that I had the pleasure to meet. This is a book for book people, but also those that enjoy a real life detective story.