John Charles Gilkey is an obsessed, unrepentant book thief who has stolen hundreds of thousands of dollars' worth of rare books from book fairs, stores, and libraries around the country. Ken Sanders is the self-appointed "bibliodick" (book dealer with a penchant for detective work) driven to catch him. Journalist Allison Hoover Bartlett befriended both eccentric characters and found herself caught in the middle of efforts to recover hidden treasure.
With a mixture of suspense, insight, and humor, she not only reveals exactly how Gilkey pulled off his dirtiest crimes and how Sanders ultimately caught him, but also explores the romance of books, the lure to collect them, and the temptation to steal them. Immersing the listener in a rich, wide world of literary obsession, Bartlett looks at the history of book passion, collection, and theft through the ages, to examine the craving that makes some people willing to stop at nothing to possess the books they love.
Who knew book collecting could be so provocative? Yet in journalist Allison Hoover Bartlett’s hands, that rarefied world and the eccentric characters who populate it represents one of lust and obsession, and of crime and punishment. In The Man Who Loved Books Too Much, Bartlett, who first reported the true-crime tale for San Francisco magazine, introduces us to two rabid collectors, each a funhouse-mirror image of the other. There’s John Gilkey, the remorseless thief who swiped hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of rare books not for profit (he seldom unloaded from his robust collection), but for love. And there’s Ken Sanders nicknamed “Bibliodick” by friends the bookstore owner and dealer who relentlessly (and, in the end, successfully) pursues him.
Helping the six-hour narrative flow along and flow it does, effortlessly weaving in a history of book collecting (and book thieving) with all the gumshoe action is narrator Judith Brackley’s smooth delivery. Measured, steady, patient, her voice contains the quiet rhythms of an NPR reporter or a Sunday school teacher. But this isn’t to say Brackley’s interpretation doesn’t veer toward buoyant effervescence from time to time. Indeed, describing Gilkey’s bold crime sprees elicits an especially enthusiastic cadence you can almost imagine the author’s jaw dropping when she heard the amazing anecdotes for the first time.
Though Bartlett makes a noble attempt to delve into the psychology of her characters, she doesn’t make many inroads, instead just circling around the same question over and over again namely, just what it is about books, of all things, that seem to turn normal people mad. The most delicious moments, in fact, may come when Bartlett inserts herself into the story; as Gilkey begins confiding more and more about his crimes, the objective journalist becomes entangled in the narrative, wondering what actions, if any, she should take. As read by Brackley, these confessional moments are when the book really comes alive, drawing you in as if it’s Bartlett herself speaking right into your ear. Jaime Buerger
"A captivating cat-and-mouse game and a fascinating exploration of why people are so passionate about books." (Julia Flynn Siler, author of the New York Times bestseller The House of Mondavi
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- Joshua Kim "mostly nonfiction listener"