In the age of the Internet and Kindle, the traditional paper-and-ink book may seem on the verge of obsolescence. But Allison Bartlett’s fascinating nonfiction narrative explores a world of people for whom those tangible objects mean more than the words printed in them.
In large part, it’s the story of John Charles Gilkey, an ordinary enough resident of the San Francisco Bay area with an out-of-the-ordinary obsession: getting his hands on rare, valuable books, even if it means he has to steal them. Using his retail job to score credit-card numbers, Gilkey begins a nationwide fraud spree, eventually attracting the attention of the security chair of the Antiquarian Booksellers Association of America—who happened to be Salt Lake City’s own Ken Sanders.
Bartlett delves into the ways in which Sanders and his fellow dealers employed new technology to preserve their old technology, but it’s hard to deny that Gilkey becomes a compelling character. And Bartlett captures both the insecurity that inspires Gilkey to believe great old books convey status by association and the sense of entitlement that allows him to excuse his crimes. The details of Gilkey’s methods—and those eventually employed to thwart him—are fascinating, but it’s even more fascinating getting inside his head.
Join the author with one of her subjects at Ken Sanders Rare Books, or as part of the Utah Humanities Book Festival (more events at UtahHumanities.org).
Allison Hoover Bartlett: The Man Who Loved Books Too Much @ Ken Sanders Rare Books, 268 S. 200 East, 801-521-3819, Thursday, Oct. 22, 7 p.m. & @ Main Library, 210 E. 400 South, Saturday, Oct. 24, 3 p.m.