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Review: The Man Who Loved Books Too Much by Allison Hoover Bartlett

ManWhoLovesBooks_JKTF.inddTitle: The Man Who Loved Books Too Much

Author: Allison Hoover Bartlett

Genre/Pages: Nonfiction/288

Publication: Riverhead Books; September 17, 2009

Rating: 4 BOOKMARKS

A riveting account of one man’s obsession with rare books, another man’s unrelenting efforts to catch him, and the woman who documented it all.

Persistent lying and stealing.  Check. Superficial charm.  Check. Lack of remorse or inability to care about hurting others.  Check. Narcissism and sense of extreme entitlement.  Check and CHECK.

John Charles Gilkey could be the poster child for Antisocial Personality Disorder and he’s fixated on rare books.  In him, Allison Hoover Bartlett finds an inconsistent and unreliable source who acts as her guide on a literary odyssey through the world of rare books and his obsession with possessing them through acts of fraud and theft.

Spending whole years researching Gilkey and Ken Sanders, the book dealer who made it his personal mission to catch him, Bartlett finds herself, at times, walking the fine line between right and wrong to get her story.  This conflict actually made the work all the more authentic and exciting.  Gilkey confides in her about crimes past and Bartlett wrangles with her conscience–should she report him and risk scaring him off, ending their professional relationship (and her research)?

The Man Who Loved Books Too Much details the world of rare books, making it seem enticing and almost seductive.  Each collector’s hunt for the book, the crowning jewel of his or her collection, keeps the dealers in business.  What used to be a rich, white man’s game is now seeing an influx of younger, more diverse collectors.

With colorful characters, steady pacing, tales of deception and illicit behavior, and dogged efforts to catch a criminal,  The Man Who Loved Books Too Much is an exciting, educational, and thoroughly entertaining read.  If you’re looking for a great nonfiction book for a challenge or just want a change of pace, I would recommend this book without hesitation.  Many thanks to Lydia at Riverhead for this review copy!

Do you collect rare or first edition books?  How about signed editions?  I have a few signed books–Jodi Picoult came to my local library a few years ago and signed two books for me and I went to Megan McCafferty’s book signing a few years ago at B&N.  I don’t have any rare or first edition books–the only old books I have are ones from my childhood that I keep for nostalgic reasons.

Review: The Wish Maker by Ali Sethi

wishmakerTitle: The Wish Maker

Author: Ali Sethi

Genre/Pages: Fiction/432

Publication: Riverhead Books; June 11, 2009

Rating: 2.5 BOOKMARKS

A sweeping saga told in lyrical prose about one Pakistani boy’s coming of age during a climate of political and social change.

Ali Sethi’s debut novel, The Wish Maker, is an ambitious novel–almost an epic–spanning two decades (plus flashbacks), several governments, and much social and political unrest.  Make no mistake, Sethi is a masterful storyteller with a mature voice that belies his young years–he was in his early 20s when he wrote this novel–but I felt that the story suffered from information and sensory overload.

The Wish Maker tells the story of Zaki Shirazi, a young boy growing up in a house filled with women.  Zaki’s mother is a journalist who writes for a magazine and leans toward the liberal left, while his grandmother is more of an old-fashioned conservative.  Zaki’s cousin also lives in the house and struggles to find herself throughout the novel.

The pages were filled with scores of secondary characters and it was challenging to keep everyone straight.  Additionally, unfamiliar terms and foreign phrases were peppered throughout and  I looked up several to give myself a more solid understanding of the story and dialogue.   

This book could very well go on to receive much critical acclaim–the writing is wonderful–but for me it had too much going on and ambled along accounting for all the daily minutia of Zaki’s days.  I appreciated the imagery and characterization but felt that there was no real resolution with some characters and that some of the secondary story lines just petered out.

Thanks to Matt at Penguin Books (Riverhead) for this review copy!

How about you?  Have you read this novel?  Am I way out in left field with my review?   What’s your take?