Allison Hoover Bartlett, author of The Man Who Loved Books Too Much (Oct 22-30)

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Allison Hoover Bartlett, author of The Man Who Loved Books Too Much (Oct 22-30)

lokakuu 22, 2009, 10:41 am

Please welcome 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. Allison will be chatting on Librarything until October 30th.

lokakuu 22, 2009, 3:45 pm

Hi Allison,

Thanks for chatting with us! Can you tell us what inspired you to write The Man Who Loved Books Too Much?

lokakuu 22, 2009, 4:35 pm

As a journalist, have you found yourself to be more interested in other mysteries and crime since you wrote this book?

lokakuu 22, 2009, 7:41 pm

A friend of mine came across an ancient book, and the circumstances surrounding it were fishy enough that I suspected it was stolen. When I tried to find out who its true owner was, I stumbled upon a shocking number of stories of rare book theft. I had no idea it was more prevalent that fine art theft. And when I learned that some of the thieves steal for a love of books (rather than to resell them for money), I was hooked. Who would do this? And why would some of them risk so much for a book? I had to know what that kind of desire was about.

lokakuu 22, 2009, 7:45 pm

Hi novelwhore. Yes, I find myself reading newspaper stories about crimes and wondering--more intensely than before--about the motivations of those who committed them. Next month, I'm going to be reading in Boston, and I hope to visit the Gardner Museum while I'm there. That is the art museum from which several priceless masterpieces were stolen in 1990. The thieves have not yet been caught, which to me is like knowing there's buried treasure out there, and it's only a matter of time before someone finds it. Very intriguing!

lokakuu 23, 2009, 10:28 am

Oh, I love the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. Have you read The Gardner Heist?

lokakuu 23, 2009, 10:51 am

> 5

The Gardner Museum is wonderful! You must go there. If you do, you should get, beforehand, Patricia Vigderman's The Memory Palace of Isabella Stewart Gardner as well as the Guide to the Collection (really indispensable, as there are no wall signs the book gives much more information than the room signs).

But I digress.

My question is, have you ever been tempted by a wonderful book that you really, really wanted?

lokakuu 23, 2009, 11:58 am

Hi ablachly. Yes, I really enjoyed that book--although it begs for a sequel, doesn't it, once the art has been found!

lokakuu 23, 2009, 12:01 pm

Hi Lilithcat. Thanks for the tip about The Memory Place and the Guide to the Collection. I used to live in Boston and visited the museum a few times--but I never read those.

Tempted? Yes. One treasure I mention in the book is something a Swiss dealer showed me at an antiquarian book fair: a handwritten manuscript by Flaubert. There it was, in my hands, and for a few minutes I knew how someone might be tempted to walk away with it. My conscience got the better of me, thankfully.

lokakuu 23, 2009, 12:10 pm

Allison: I saw a picture of you with Ken Sanders on the Riverhead Books Facebook page ( and am now dying for a visual of Gilkey! Even with the descriptions you provided, I have a hard time imagining a man that can so easily fit in with the upper-class Saks community and also be such a deplorable thief.

lokakuu 23, 2009, 12:31 pm

> 10

I have a hard time imagining a man that can so easily fit in with the upper-class Saks community and also be such a deplorable thief.

Oh, I can imagine it quite well. Think of Bernie Madoff, Jeff Skilling, Jack Abramoff, et al. Compared to their thefts, Gilkey was a piker, and you know places like Saks fell all over themselves for those guys' (and their wives') business.

lokakuu 23, 2009, 2:40 pm

Lilithcat - very good point. It reminds me of what my mom always tells me, usually after I admit to walking by myself at night in the city: "Bad people don't wear signs - only hang out with each other" because I tend to think there's an aura that glows from malicious intent!

Allison, Gilkey seems to be such an interesting character and it sounded like you struggled with his criminal tendencies as well - looking back on him, do you have any additional insights or thoughts on your interactions?

lokakuu 23, 2009, 7:05 pm

novelwhore - What I struggled to understand was how someone so amiable, friendly, and calm in demeanor could also be so corrupt, criminal and guilt-free. Of course, nobody can be drawn in black and white--it's just that Gilkey's shades of gray were particularly nuanced, and vexing. An interviewer today asked me why Gilkey himself couldn't see the contradictions in his character, in his life, but I think that we all make particular sense of our own lives, even when others can't.

lokakuu 23, 2009, 11:00 pm

I must admit that I hadn't heard of you or your books before getting an e-mail from Librarything inviting me to this chat.

The title alone would interest any reader. Then when I saw that cove,r I was closer to wanting this book. Now, that I have read almost every message on LT about this book, I reallize that I need this book.

No worries, not thinking of taking it without paying. Rarely do I come across a title and description that I get this excited. I am telling you, I need this book. It really doesn't matter that I own many books that I haven't read yet. Sometimes something tells you to do something and you just have to go out and do it.

Looking forward to it, Allison

lokakuu 24, 2009, 11:31 am

callmejacx - Thanks for the note. Glad to hear that the title drew you in. I hope you enjoy the book! -Allison

lokakuu 24, 2009, 8:11 pm

Allison, you were kind enough to respond to a question of mine for the LT author interview. Not to belabor the point, but I'd be interested in hearing further from you on this issue.

The original question: "I'd like to know how she felt knowing that she was allowing crimes to be committed—including credit card fraud, transportation of goods across state lines, and (most seriously to those of us who are librarians), stealing and mutilating library books–and not reporting them. Was 'keeping her source' more important than preventing him from committing more crimes?"

To which you responded: "First, let me clarify that I never watched Gilkey commit a crime, nor was I in any position to prevent him from doing so. More broadly, I feel my book serves an important purpose in raising awareness of the importance of victims to broadcast news of book theft rather than keep quiet about it."

On the second sentence, we're in complete and total agreement (I've been a vocal advocate of libraries and other victims of theft coming forward and admitting it for years). Your book, along with others like Miles Harvey's The Island of Lost Maps certainly should help in getting that point across. It's tremendously important, and thank you for reiterating it.

To the first sentence of your response, though. From the book, while it's clear that you never actually watched the commission of a crime, and only heard about them after the fact (thus not putting you in the position of preventing those specific crimes), you note on pp. 241-2 that Gilkey confessed recent thefts from libraries to you, and outline your reaction to this (which included asking lawyers if you had any legal obligation to report it). You write (p. 242) "I found myself teetering between selfishness and benevolence: either reveal the secrets Gilkey had shared with me, probably losing access to him and possibly sending him to jail, or keep them to myself and be unjust to his victims. I tried to reassure myself that such consequences were not directly my responsibility."

You also note (p. 243) that you answered FBI agent Bonnie Magness-Gardiner's question to you "You'd tell me if the book thief had stolen anything, right?" this way: "'Oh yes,' I said, trying to sound convincing, 'Of course.'" (And you conclude the chapter by reassuring yourself that because the statute of limitations had passed, that was okay).

It seems like you were concerned with what Gilkey was telling you and what you were either legally or ethically obligated to report to the authorities. You may not have been in a position to prevent past crimes, but don't you think you were in a position to prevent future such crimes? This dichotomy ("either reveal the secrets Gilkey had shared with me, probably losing access to him and possibly sending him to jail, or keep them to myself and be unjust to his victims") is striking, but your choice is extremely troubling to me (as a librarian and as a book collector). You chose to allow crimes of which you had knowledge to go unreported - doesn't that bother you?

I know this is probably a touchy question, and I apologize if it comes across as frustrated or angry ... it's because I am.

lokakuu 26, 2009, 1:08 pm

jbd1 - I understand your frustration, but Gilkey has been in prison repeatedly for stealing books, and as shocking as this is, it has not deterred him from committing future thefts. I certainly wasn't going to be able to do that myself. And as I wrote in the book, my fear was that if I reported the thefts he mentioned (which, by the way, the victims had not reported), I would risk losing access to Gilkey, thereby losing any possibility of his divulging where his sizable stash of stolen books was hidden. It was my hope that one day those books would be returned to their rightful owners.

lokakuu 26, 2009, 5:33 pm


Since you bring it up, any new information on that stash? I kept hoping it would be uncovered while reading.

And just a comment...I couldn't believe you accompanied Gilkey into his victim's bookshop in San Fransisco. I would have been too mortified. It does illustrate how out of control Gilkey is. He's obessed with collecting these books on another level.

lokakuu 26, 2009, 6:37 pm

Sararush - Unfortunately, the whereabouts of the stash remains a mystery.

I'm glad you grasped just how intensely uncomfortable that visit to the bookshop was. I went along because I felt that in order to create a true portrait of Gilkey, it was important to observe him outside the controlled environment of our cafe (and prison) interviews. He had many times hinted at his antagonism toward dealers and certain other people, yet all I had encountered was a very congenial man, whose criminal past was hard to reconcile with his demeanor. I had a sense that if I could watch him in a more natural--albeit thoroughly unexpected--setting, more of him would be revealed. And it was.

You're right, Gilkey is obsessed with building his book collection. Like most obsessions, it seems to be impossible to extinguish, yet perfectly justifiable in his mind.

lokakuu 26, 2009, 6:40 pm

Allison, the cover and title of your book are both luscious! I can't wait to read it! Could you tell us a little about the way it found it's way into print?

lokakuu 26, 2009, 8:34 pm

Thanks, megwaiteclayton. I agree about the title and cover--both were my publisher's doing, and I couldn't be happier with them.

How this book found its way into print is a long story, but I'll give you the abbreviated version. After I discovered the story (see Message 4 for details, the book itself for even more), I got an assignment to write a story about the book thief for San Francisco Magazine. From there on, I followed a pretty typical path to publication, although I would say that mine was marked by frequent good fortune. My first stroke of luck was signing with agent Jim Levine of Levine Greenberg, who turned out to be incredibly helpful in shaping the book before it was sold. It was his idea, for example, for me to bring myself into the story, something I resisted for a long time, but which turned out to be the right decision for a number of reasons. My next stroke of luck was having Sarah McGrath of Riverhead Books acquire the book. She is a talented editor with the kind of dedication to the written word one associates with editors from eras long past. Mind you, all this took quite a while--I found the story in 2005, so it was four years in the making. Looking back, it doesn't seem like such a long time, but I assure you that there were many moments in which I was stuck and fearful that I wouldn't find my way out. But here it is, beautifully bound, a book.

lokakuu 26, 2009, 11:15 pm

Hi Allison:

I really liked your interview on NPR. I was driving through the Virginia countryside and remember having to stop at a RR crossing when you were telling about your visit to (Red Brick Books?) with Gilkey. Your description of the dealer’s reaction is tied up in my memory with seeing a bunch of rail cars headed points south.

I have a thing about theft, but especially library theft. A couple of days before your interview I bought a US first edition of JB Priestley’s ‘Festival’ at Goodwill. I’m a fan, so didn’t hesitate to buy it even though it was an ex-library book and I don’t buy them because they’re usually pretty worn. This one wasn’t, in fact it was in remarkably good shape. After hearing your interview about first editions being stolen from libraries I took it off the shelf to check it out. No ‘withdrawn’ stamp and the library name was heavily crossed out in dark black marker. I decided to do a bit of sleuthing (holding the title page at different angles under direct sunlight) and finally made out part of the name and Florida. I went online, checked the library’s catalogue and saw that it wasn’t listed. But I really hate library theft and even though I really, really wanted to read the book thought I should make sure it was on the up-and-up so I called the library and spoke with a librarian. She said that books should have been marked with a withdrawn stamp but if it was stolen it was so long ago that she couldn’t even find a record of it being in the collections (it was published in the early 50s.) I’m glad I did what I did because I do like Priestley, but every time I look at the book I wonder ‘how did you get all the way here?’.

This is a long-winded way of saying that I’m looking forward to reading your book, it sounds like a terrific piece of the Secret History puzzle (how and why things are the way they are.) Your radio interview was thrilling and The Man Who Loved Books Too Much is getting great press. I also got a chuckle out of the title, it was a nice way of pointing out that bibliomania is like a bad relationship.

Ps- Have you heard of copies of your book being stolen from libraries?

lokakuu 27, 2009, 12:19 pm

Hi SomeGuyInVirginia. I can't tell you how many times I've enjoyed listening to author interviews in my car, often postponing getting out, even after I've reached my destination, until the program was over--and connected that memory of the interview with the place I sat in the car--so it was wonderful to hear about your experience watching trains headed south while listening to my interview on NPR.

Thanks, also, for sharing your story of finding the first edition Festival at Goodwill--kudos to you for making sure it hadn't been stolen. When you read my book, you'll see that I had a similar response ("how did you get all the way here?") when I came across the old German botanical book that led me to the story of the book thief and book detective. Old books have had lives of their own, sometimes generations-long, and I think it's natural and satisfying to speculate about their "secret histories."

I haven't heard of my book being stolen from libraries. I hope my readers won't include too many who have gone, as the "bibliodick" in my book says, to the dark side.

It sounds as though you're a true book lover, so I hope you enjoy The Man Who Loved Books Too Much.

lokakuu 27, 2009, 9:37 pm

Congrats, you have a hit on your hands! The local library system has 7 copies and they're all checked out- I expect that with blockbusters but it’s something to have non-fiction on a waiting list. I've put a hold on the first available and should have it by next week. I do solemnly swear to return it. Of course, I’m usually solemn when I swear.

How do you feel about libraries? Do you think they help or hurt sales? I have a hunch that they probably do both. I went to an auction not long ago, one of the big estates in Leesburg was being settled and the furniture was mostly 18th century and it all went for a song. Some of it was beautiful, but the room didn’t seem interested in the big, heavy stuff. I filled the catalogue with the prices each item fetched and I made several comments like ‘I don’t believe it!’ or ‘Holy cow’ or ‘someone’s going to hell’. A Federalist sideboard that had the cabinet makers name, the date 1813 and his age (19) written on the back of a drawer went for a couple of grand. One category that did fetch a lot were paintings, several hundreds of dollars for tattered drabs and dun-colored pictures of paths through a wood. But art is different from furniture. You buy a 200 year old sideboard and it’s 8 feet long, you have to keep the kids away from it, hire special movers every few years when you get transferred, and polish the thing with paste wax. But a painting you put on the wall and-poof-you got class and a storied past. I have a feeling that’s what Gilkey is going to be like.

I’m looking forward to reading it and will post reviews everywhere (though you don’t need any help.) All the best on continued sales.

lokakuu 28, 2009, 2:22 pm

Thanks, SomeGuyInVirginia. It's great to hear that demand for my book is high at your library. I certainly hope those 7 readers at your library are fast readers--and honest book-returners!

I have no idea how libraries affect book sales--but I'm a big fan of libraries, so I'm thrilled that interest in my book is growing there.

lokakuu 30, 2009, 3:31 pm

BTW, I was streaming the Wed. 28 Oct. Nick Grimshaw show on the BBC. The musician Mike Snow was interviewed and said since he was a big reader he was looking forward to going to the local Maida Vale library and coming away with a bunch of free first editions. Wacky.

syyskuu 14, 2016, 4:15 pm

Ma'am, I think that you are an amazing author. I read your book about Gilkey, and it immediately became one of my very favorites. I highly recommend that book to anybody with a love of books, as I have. But I was curious about something... one thing that always interests me is what authors do OTHER authors admire. Who would you say your favorite authors are? Do those authors effect the way you, yourself, write?