This book was fascinating. I don’t read non-fiction books often, especially if they are not written by Bill Bryson. Unsurprisingly, it was the title that drew me to this one. I mean, I consider myself a book lover and, in fact, most of the people I interact with online would probably say the same about themselves, but I wouldn’t have thought there was a way to love books too much. It turns out there kind of is…
The Man Who Loved Books Too Much does not really deal with a love of books and reading but more with an obsession with collecting them. It’s the real story of John Gilkey, who became a criminal in his pursuit of building a prestigious book collection. The author started researching rare and valuable books and fell into a rabbit hole where people would spend thousands of pounds for a book and book sellers become detectives trying to catch a man who’s constantly defrauding them. It made for a very interesting and quite entertaining read.
I couldn’t relate to Gilkey very much at all; he’s very odd and most of the time he is extremely irrational, while at times he appears to be completely devoid of ethics. He clearly has his own system of values, one that makes it ok to steal very expensive books. But the fact that his aim was to built an impressive collection of respected books so that people would admire him and look past his humble background, kind of earned him my sympathy.
What I realised while reading this book is that I am definitely not a book collector. I love books and I have various, long lists of books I want to read in my life. But I don’t mind reading a library copy or a cheap paperback edition. For me, the important thing, at least for the majority of books, is to read the contents of the book, not to possess the actual book. Having said that, it gives me great joy and comfort to look at my books, to be surrounded by them. And recently, I bought the loveliest edition of The Wind in the Willows even though I already had the Wordsworth Classics edition.
So perhaps it’s not so impossible to begin to understand why some people become obsessed and simply have to have this book or that. Although, for me I think it would always be copies of books that I have some sentimental connection to, like books that are intertwined to childhood memories. Plus, I’m almost certain that nothing would induce me to steal a book and I probably wouldn’t spend a ridiculous amount of money either.
And then, apart from the pure joy of collecting anything, presumably people also like it when people admire their collections. This is what Gilkey wanted primarily and I’m guessing a lot of others do too. Filling your bookshelves with (almost) priceless first editions is certainly impressive, although I’m not sure that really make sense as it doesn’t mean you’ve actually read any of them.
Overall, I really liked reading The Man Who Loved Books Too Much. It was a story different to anything I’ve read before (because it’s actually true and truth in this case is stranger than fiction for sure) and it made me think about my own bookish habits. I’d love to hear what you attitude towards books is. Do you collect books? What’s the most you’ve spent on a book? Are you more focused on reading books or collecting them? Or somewhere in the middle, as am I?