Saturday, October 10, 2009

Too Much

The term for John Gilkey's bad habit is bibliokleptomania: stealing books not for profit but because you love them, take pride in them, must have them. Freelance writer Allison Hoover Bartlett introduces the reader to two main characters in this strange true-crime tale. One is Gilkey himself, who grew up in a family where stealing among siblings was commonplace and who pulled off his first theft (a shoplifted catcher's mitt) at age 9 or 10. The other is Ken Sanders, a book dealer and amateur detective determined to catch Gilkey, who from 1999 to 2003 stole books valued at $100,000 from dealers around the country. On the way, the author pauses to illuminate a technique used by opportunists who cut valuable pictures out of books to sell them to unwitting art dealers. It's called the "wet-string" method, and it works like this: The culprit "went one day to the library with a length of wool yarn hidden in his cheek. He placed the wet yarn inside a book, along the spine. . . .

He put the book back on the shelf and came back a few weeks later. As the yarn dried, it grew shorter, which made a clean cut." The thief didn't have to use a razor to excise the print -- the shrinking yarn had done most of the work for him. As for Gilkey, who was in and out of jail during the years in which he was interviewed for this book, Bartlett sums him up as "a man who believes that the ownership of a vast rare book collection would be the ultimate expression of his identity, that any means of getting it would be fair and right, and that once people could see his collection, they would appreciate the man who had built it."
From The Washington Post's Book World/ Reviewed by Dennis Drabelle

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