If you’re coming to the B&N Review website to read about a book called The Man Who Loves Books Too Much, you probably love books enough so that other people — perhaps family members who would prefer to have a painting on the wall rather than another bookshelf — think you love books too much. There’s the contents of books we love, of course. But there’s also the sheer sensual pleasure of the physical book. Each favorite book is indelibly printed in our enamored imaginations of a complex of sensations and associations: the cover and size, its heft in our hand, the notes in the margin, the wine and coffee stains, the crumbs and old ticket stubs in the spine, the subway stop missed at the exciting bit . . . .
Allison Hoover Bartlett is a journalist who has found herself on the beat of people-mostly men — who love books a lot. In the case of the man in the title, John Charles Gilkey, it’s an odd sort of love. He stole books — not raiding archives to sell rare books for profit but ordering unusual books with stolen credit cards to collect them for his pleasure. He didn’t really read them and he couldn’t show them off to anyone, so why did he do it? Bartlett’s interest in understanding Gilkey’s motivation leads her to book thieves of the past as well, but more palatable to my taste are the portraits of book lovers who stay on the right side of the law: Lane Heldfond, Joseph Serrano, and above all Ken Sanders, the secondhand bookseller and biblio-sleuth who tracked Gilkey down. In so doing, Bartlett wisely resists the temptation to romanticize the morally negligible Gilkey to write a fast-paced introduction to literary passions anybody reading this can understand.