This great book The Man Who Loved books Too Much by Allison Hoover Bartlett is a true-crime tale of an obsessed book thief John Gilkey who steals books not for profit but for love. Armed with a pile of credit card numbers, including the name and billing address of the cardholders, of which he had secretly copied while part-timing at an up-market men's store where big spenders linger around, he successfully stole books valued at $100,000 from dealers around the country in the period from 1999 to 2003. Even after he was in and out of jail because of all these, from what I've learned from the interviews, I've a strong feeling that he will not stop from stealing again. As the author put it - He was a man who seemingly could not help himself from the very act that would put him in prison. So no surprise when he was reported to have stolen a book from a Canadian dealer not long before this book was out in 2009.
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."
The other main character is Ken Sanders, perhaps equally obsessive, is a book dealer and amateur detective nicknamed 'Bibliodick' who determined to catch Gilkey.
In a nutshell, this book not only reveals how Gilkey pulled off his crimes and how sanders finally caught him, but explores the romance of books, the lure to collect them, and the temptation to steal them. Oscar Wilde once said : "I can resist everything but temptation. "
Reader will also learn a trick used by opportunists who cut valuable pictures out of books to sell 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. Well, just for your knowledge, please don't do it. Okay ?
Here are some passages that I like :
The difference between a person who appreciate books, even loves them, and a collector is not only degrees of affection, I realized. For the former, the bookshelf is a kind of memoir: there are my childhood books, my college books, my favorite novels, my inexplicable choices ..... books can reveal a lot about a person. This is particularly true of the collector, for whom the bookshelf is a reflection not just of what he has read but profoundly of who he is :"Ownership is the most intimate relationship that one can have to objects. Not that they can come alive in him; it is he who comes alive in them,"wrote cultural critic Walter Benjamin.
Ken Sanders Rare Books is located on the edge of downtown Salt Lake City in a four-thousand-square-foot former tire shop endowed with high ceilings and abundant sunlight. The store is chockablock with so much old, beautiful, and bizarre printed matter - books, photographs, broadsides, postcards, pamphlets, maps - that a quick in-and-out trip takes more willpower than the average book lover can summon.
(Oh Mind! How i wish i can be there right away. My saliva is dripping.)
Gilkey told me that when he holds a rare book, he smells its age, feels its crispness, make sure there's nothing wrong with it, and opens it up very gently. He thumbs through a few pages. If the author is still alive, he thinks about whether he wants it signed .... It feels good to hold it and, especially, to add it to his collection -- but not to read, almost never to read. Like most book collectors, his attachment is not as much to the story as to all that the book represents.
Winston S Churchill, a bibliophile who paid for his books, nonetheless understood the same intimate attachement :
"What shall I do with all my books?" was the question;
and the answer,"Read them",sobered the questioner.
But if you cannot read them, at any rate handle them, and, as it were, fondle them. Peer into them. Let them fall open where they will. Read on from the first sentence that arrests the eye. Then turn to another. Make a voyage of discovery, taking soundings of uncharted seas. Set them back on their shelves with your own hands. Arrange them on your own plan, so that if you do not know what is in them, you at least know where they are. If they cannot be your friends, let them at any rate be your acquaintances. If they cannot enter the circle of your life, do not deny them at least a nod of recognition.
(This is lovely, isn't it? The intimacy between book lovers and their books. )
Physical artifacts carry memory and meaning, and this is as true of important historical texts as it is of cherished childhood books. Sitting in any library, surrounded by high shelves of books, I sense the profoundly rich history of scholarship as something real, and it's both humbling and inspiring. This manisfestation of reality is true of other atifacts as well. We can read about the Holocaust or where Emily Dickinson wrote her "letter to the world" or where Jim Morrison is buried. We can view online photos of all these places. Still, each year, thousands of people visit Auschwitz, The Homestead, and Père Lachaise. I suppose our desire to be near book rises from a similar impulse; they root us in something larger than ourselves, something real. For this reason, I am sure that hardbound books will survive, even long after e-books have become popular. When I walk down the street and almost everyone I pass is sequestered in his own iPod or cell phone universe, I can't help thinking that our connection to books is still, after all these centuries, as important as it is intangible. It is this connection that make my parents' and grandparents' old books so special to me, .....
(This is very encouraging. Yes, you can carry hundreds, if not thousands, of e-books with you in these lightweight techie gadgets, but somehow they are cold and 'lifeless', they are in large part just for convenience's sake, especially, for those on the road. I do own an iTouch to listen to musics mostly, surf web occasionally, check mail once in a lifetime, and nothing else. To my personal taste, I still love to smell, to hold, and to stroke a little the physical object -- book. When I'm travelling, carry at least 2 books is a must, and buy few more at the airport bookshop is a norm. Anyway, don't get me wrong. I do find these pocket-size gadgets are useful in a way to save our forests. Dictionary, computer, guides, instructions and many other subjects that need regular update or surely be expired in a short period are suitable candidates to be transferred to electronic form. )
To scare someone off from stealing your books, you may consider writing this on them :
This book belongs to none but me
For there's my name inside to see
To steal this book, if you should try,
It's by the throat that you'll hang high.
And ravens then will gather 'bout
To find your eyes and pull them out.
And when you're screaming
"Oh, Oh, Oh!"
Remember, you deserved this woe.
~ Warning written by medieval German scribe