Monday, August 9, 2010

Review - The Man Who Loved Books Too Much by Allison Hoover Bartlett (2/5 stars)

I thought this sounded like an awesome book.  It discusses the world of Bibliomania in general and specifically two men who are deep into the industry (one who steals rare books and the man whose mission it was to find him).  I love books and love learning about them and was excited to learn more about this industry.  Overall I was not impressed with this book.  The author jumps around between stories, different points of view, and her personal experiences kind of willy nilly.  She also doesn't ever really give or get any intriguing insight into why people do these things; besides the conclusions that anyone could make with a couple minutes of thought.

I listened to this on audio book, which I would not recommend, the lady who read the story kind of mumbled and didn't differentiate between characters at all.

From what I gathered Bartlett started researching this topic as a newspaper article and it grew into a book.  You can definitely tell.  This would have been find as a newspaper feature but as a book it left a lot to be desired.  Bartlett mainly focuses on John Gilkey, a reknown rare book thief, and Ken Sanders, a Bibliodick set on catching book thieves.  

The most positive part of this book is the look into the world of rare book dealing.  Some of this information is very interesting.  Unfortunately for me that was the most positive part of this book.

Bartlett switches between Gilkey's stories and Sanders' stories without much organization or reason.  Then she intersperses sections on how she feels she fits into the world of bibliomania and what her thoughts on the whole issue are.  She spends quite a bit of time sympathizing with Gilkey and not nearly enough time discussing the impacts of his book theft.  Towards the end of the book there is one lady whose story she tells briefly, that gives you a bit of an idea of what kind of impact stealing a $5000 book has on a rare book store, but that's it.

I failed to find Gilkey as intriguing as the author did.  Gilkey was a plain old stupid criminal, the only thing that sets him apart are his calm attitude and his complete lack of morality.  Although I guess a lot of criminals lack morality.  Gilkey wasn't even clever and most of the time seemed to be just plain old lucky.  I was hoping for a tale of clever deception and what I got was a tale of a criminal with some luck who was up against an inefficient system of law that has bigger things to worry about than stolen books.

Sanders was a more interesting person and he really seemed to make some changes in the overall system that helped catch book thieves.

The conclusions that Bartlett draws are less than awe-inspiring.  Basically people collect things because they want people to admire them.  I was disappointed that the whole build up in this book leaves us with that basic message.  I know this is a non-fiction book but the closure of it was also pretty...well...lame.  At the end of the book not much had changed from the beginning.  As the reader we know a smidge more about rare book collecting and some might learn more about collecting as a type of disability.  Personally I didn't learn anything I didn't already know about people who are crazy about collecting things.

Overall, this short book seemed like a much longer read than books twice its length.  There is some interesting information; but it is bogged down by constant switches in who is telling what story, a lack of empathy for the people being stolen from, and only minimal insight into why people do the things they do.  Basically I thought it was boring and a waste of time.  I almost stopped listening to it on more than one occasion but kept telling myself "really it's not that long, you should be able to get through this...".  I will not be picking up any of Bartlett's future works.

This book goes towards the following reading challenges:
- The 100+ Book Reading Challenge
The Man Who Loved Books Too Much: The True Story of a Thief, a Detective, and a World of Literary Obsession 

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