Allison Hoover Bartlett, author of The Man Who Loved Books Too Much (Oct 22-30)
This group has been archived. Find out more.
Bliv bruger af LibraryThing, hvis du vil skrive et indlæg
Thanks for chatting with us! Can you tell us what inspired you to write The Man Who Loved Books Too Much?
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?
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.
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.
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?
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.