Contents of blog copyright Book Dragon's Lair 2009-2017
It's been an interesting year so far. I've lost both my Moms. My mother died in January after a long decline. Soon after, my Mother-in-Law went in for bypass surgery. While her heart healed, other issues zapped her strength and she died April 22.

I may have challenge update posts but I don't know when I'll be posting regularly or when I'll get to visit everyone who is working on the challenges I'm hosting.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Introducing....

A Conversation with Allison Hoover Bartlett

author of

THE MAN WHO LOVED BOOKS TOO MUCH

The True Story of a Thief, a Detective, and a World of Literary Obsession


Did you feel compelled to write this book?
Absolutely. Passion is seductive, hard to turn away from, and there isn’t a book collector out there who isn’t passionate. Once I set foot in the rare book world, I wanted to know why these people felt so strongly about books and why some of them would do just about anything to get their hands on the volumes they desired.


What is most mesmerizing about John Gilkey?
Gilkey is a polite, curious man who loves books. He is also willing to break the law to add to his collection.


Were you surprised by Gilkey’s candor and willingness to be interviewed by you for your book?
Since Gilkey denied having stolen books when he was in court, I feared he wouldn’t speak with me about the subject, so I was very surprised when he first wrote me from prison, saying, “I would be delighted to tell my story.” We met regularly, both in prison and out, for a few years, and he was always willing to talk openly. I think this is because most people enjoy telling their life stories, and for a book lover like Gilkey, the idea that his story would one day be published in a book must have been exciting.


When did you realize that you would make Gilkey the central character in your book?
Early in my research I discovered that internationally rare book theft is more widespread than fine art theft, so there are a lot of book thieves out there. The reason I was drawn to Gilkey is that he stole the books not to sell and make money (as most thieves do), but because he loved them and wanted to add them to his growing collection. I was eager to find out how anyone could be so obsessed with books that he would be willing to risk his freedom for them.


Has Gilkey read your book? And, if so, is he pleased with the way you portray him?
Gilkey has not read my book, but he did read an article I wrote about him, which he was pleased with.


Did you coin the term “Bibliokleptomaniac”?
No. That term has been around for a long time.


Other than John Gilkey, who has been the most fascinating rare book thief? And which crime, the most interesting or unusual?
Other than Gilkey, the rare book thief I found most interesting was don Vincente, a 19th century Spanish monk who stole great quantities of books from his monastery and eventually murdered ten men for their books. It’s a very dramatic story, one I tell in detail in the book. I especially enjoyed learning that it had inspired Gustave Flaubert’s first published short story, “Bibliomanie,” which he wrote at age fourteen.


Do you think the punishment for rare book thievery is severe enough?
On the rare instances that book thieves are caught, they are given extraordinarily light sentences, even when they’ve stolen millions of dollars worth of books. I think this is because the very qualities that help them steal rare books in the first place (they can be polite, erudite, adept at conning people) help them win over judges, convince them that they will never steal again.


Would you compare John Gilkey more to John Robie, the fictional jewel thief portrayed by Cary Grant in “To Catch a Thief?” or to Frank Abagnale, the notorious check forger played by Leonardo DiCaprio in “Catch Me If You Can”?
I’d have to say Frank Abagnale. Gilkey appears to be respectful and earnest rather than debonair and suave. But like both men, he’s very clever.


Why do you think rare book dealers and librarians prefer to keep rare book thievery quiet?
When collectors want to sell a book, or even a whole collection, they often ask dealers to handle the sale. If word were to get out that a particular dealer had been a victim of theft, collectors would be reluctant to entrust him with their books. As one dealer said to me, “Once you’re tainted by theft, you’re toast.” As for rare book librarians, some of their books have been donated, and they want those gifts to keep rolling in. One librarian recently told me, “When I first started working here and discovered that a particular volume was gone, I told my boss, and she said, ‘We don’t have missing books here. Ever.’” This attitude is a tremendous advantage for thieves.


If your friend Malcolm had said you could keep the 400-year-old book he found in his brother’s belongings, would you have kept it or returned it to the library it was supposedly from?
I would have returned it eventually. I have a pestering conscience, so I wouldn’t have been able to enjoy it forever. But, if after inspecting the book, the librarian found no evidence it was theirs, I would definitely want to keep it—and to uncover, once and for all, its true past.


As a journalist, you’ve written as an objective observer about many topics. Is this the only time you were so drawn into the story that you lost your objectivity?
To be objective, you must be an unbiased observer. But once book thief John Gilkey started confessing crimes to me and discussing thefts he’d like to carry out in the future, I went from being an observer to a participant in the story—so it was impossible to be purely objective. My responses, for better or for worse, could affect the outcome. It was a thorny position to be in.


Do you still go to garage sales and flea markets, but now specifically hoping to find rare books?
It’s irresistible. There’s usually at least one box of books at every garage sale, but so far I haven’t found anything valuable. At flea markets I’ve begun to keep an eye out for “Little Blue Books,” which were printed between 1919 and 1978. They aren’t always blue, but they are little, designed to fit into your shirt pocket. I’ve found some wonderful titles, like “Infatuation, and Other Stories of Love’s Misfits” and “True Prison Escapes,” for a couple of dollars each. Some “Little Blue Books” are much more valuable, though, like “The Serious Lesson of President Harding’s Case of Gonorrhea” (around $130.00). I’m keeping my eyes out for it.

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Disclaimer

In accordance to the FTC guidelines, I must state that I make no monetary gains from my reviews or endorsements here on Book Dragon's Lair. All books I review are either borrowed, purchased by me, given as a gift, won in some kind of contest, or received in exchange for an honest review.