Winton Pawprints 

Winton (c.1995-2012) was our beloved shop cat and still has the last word every month in her regular column.

With the winter sale looming...

 - Monday, July 08, 2013
With the winter sale looming, it was the perfect time to open Alison Hoover Barnett's The Man Who Loved Books Too Much. A tale of collecting and the so-called gentle madness, bibliophilia. It was enough to sharpen my taste, both to search through the tables of bargains upstairs for books to add to my own collections, and to start gathering a new set about the book sickness itself. Whilst Bartlett's project in studying sociopath book thief John Gilkey and his would be nemesis, rare book dealer and 'book dick' Ken Saunders, didn't turn her into a obsessed collector, she clearly amassed a pretty substantial library of books about bibliomanes that I'd be most happy to have gracing my own shelves.
Written in a Janet Malcolm vein (not quite as sharp, but who is?) of the biographer/journalist implicated in the study of her subject, Bartlett strikes up what seems to be quite an unhealthy acquaintance with serial book thief, John Gilkey. He is a man with a sincere belief that because he wants something it's his by right—and by the use of other people's credit cards. Perhaps I've been watching too much Criminal Minds of late, but Gilkey's blindly amoral stance veers creepily close to murderous if thwarted, and the book does get an eery tone at times. The mystery of where Gilkey's ill-gotten books are stashed is never really solved. And murder is not unheard of in the pursuit of an elusive text. A 19th century Spanish monk, Don Vincente, strangled & fire-bugged his way through quite a few people to get his hands on a book that was supposed to be the only one in existence. Apparently upon hearing this was not the case he was heard to cry aloud: 'Alas, alas! My copy is not unique!' A cry he repeated right up the steps to his execution. But Gilkey is possibly of the more benign variety of collector (apart from his itchy fingers)—the one mocked in the following riddle: 'Which man is happier, he that hath a library with well nigh unto all the world's classics, or he that has 13 daughters. The happier man is the one with 13 daughters, because he knoweth that he hath enough.' The sexism in this chestnut is entirely appropriate, as most book collectors are indeed men. Take for example Thomas Jefferson Fitzpatrick of 'the one book is never enough, and when a collection is complete, another is imminent, if not already begun' variety of book hoarders. He bought so many books in the 1930s that his Nebraska house exceeded the building code maximum load! And by the time he died in 1952, on an army cot in his kitchen, he was surrounded by 90 tons of books. An object lesson to those of us who have the bug.
I have to keep selling my books back to Gleebooks 2nd hand to finance further purchases, which culling keeps the tonnage in check. But Bartlett's book has got me on the trail of John Dunning's series featuring Denver homicide detective and rare book & first editions collector Cliff Janeway, and I'm slated for a long overdue re-read of Lawrence Block's Bernie Rhodenbarr (burglar and bookseller) mysteries. I'm not interested in firsts or rare books, I like focussed collections around a particular subject, and matching sets. The books I am truly obsessed with accumulating at the moment are the from the Library of America. They are cloth bound with sewn bindings & ribbons, jacketed to perfection, and they are printed on premium acid free paper—I've had some volumes on the shelves for more than 10 years, and not a hint of foxing! And fetish value aside, you end up with a fantastic collection of American classics: fiction, journalism, naturalist  (you should see the Audubon plates) and political writings. A collection to hand down. Winton