Noe Valley Voice September 2009

Book Love Gone Wrong

By Lorraine Sanders

Sure, many of us are looking for the next great read. But few would go to jail for it.

Literary love so strong it turns criminal is the subject of local journalist (and former Voice writer) Allison Hoover Bartlett's debut title The Man Who Loved Books Too Much: The True Story of a Thief, a Detective, and a World of Literary Obsession, due out this month (Sept. 17).

The story tells the tale of rare book thief John Charles Gilkey, who once made it his goal to own a first-edition copy of every title on Modern Library's Top 100 list, and rare book dealer Ken Sanders, who made it his mission to find Gilkey and thwart his efforts.

"Here's somebody that was so obsessed with books that he would do just about anything to get them, including give up his freedom and go to jail," says Bartlett, a 23rd Street resident and San Francisco Writers' Grotto member who's written for the New York Times, Washington Post, and San Francisco magazine.

In and out of jail for his crimes, many of which were carried out at the expense of Bay Area bookstores, Gilkey has stolen such coveted tomes as a signed copy of Jack Kerouac's On the Road worth $10,000, a signed copy of John Steinbeck's East of Eden valued at $5,000, and a $2,500 signed copy of Anne Rice's Interview with the Vampire.

"The central narrative is about this modern-day rare book thief, but the larger story really is about book passion. Nowadays, when people are talking about ebook readers and the future of the book, it's interesting to think about what books mean to people," Bartlett says.

The author will read from The Man Who Loved Books Too Much at a book party on Saturday, Oct. 3, 7 to 9 p.m., at Cover to Cover Booksellers, 1307 Castro St. Don't worry. Gilkey has been barred from showing his face at Bartlett's signings.