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• Friday, May 27th, 2011

Allison Hoover Bartlett was born in Toronto Canada. She is a journalist with a B.A. Degree in English literature from the University of Santa Barbara in the USA and is a member of North 24th Writer’s group and Word of Mouth Bay Area.

She has written articles for the New York Times, the Washington Post, San Francisco Chronicle Magazine and other publications about travel, art, science and education. A. H. Bartlett lives with her husband and two children in San Francisco.

Bartlett’s original article on John Gilkey, the obsessed book lover thief, was published in the Best American Crime Reporting of 2007.

Her book, The Man Who Loved Books Too Much, published in 2009, is about book theft and book collectors. It’s non-fiction, written in novel form and the two main characters are: an obsessed book lover-collector, the bibliomaniac, John Gilkey and Ken Sanders, his sworn enemy and tracker.

Sanders, is an antiquarian book collector and dealer and in addition to that, a self-assigned dilettante “book detective”. He owns “Ken Sanders Books” in Salt Lake City and is accredited the security chairmanship of the Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association of America. After receiving several complaints from book dealers about thefts, Sanders becomes obsessed with the arrest of John Gilkey and is determined to have him put behind bars.

Gilkey loves books as objects, as artistic items, regardless of their content. He doesn’t read the books he steals – he collects them in order to attain a certain stature in society with his pricey rare books. He thinks that by assembling an impressive library, he will forge himself a prestigious identity, which he desperately needs as he wants to appear a refined intellectual gentleman. He never steals a book from a shelf, it’s always by credit card fraud – that way he is under the delusion that he isn’t really stealing the books and consequently isn’t a thief.

According to Gilkey’s way of thinking, “all rare book dealers are crooks and fraudsters” so stealing from them is justified by someone like him who insanely loves books and feels the urge to acquire them but can’t afford them. This shows how much Gilkey lives in his own world and has completely lost touch with reality. The fact that he also wants these valuable books as a source of pecuniary wealth is hidden in his subconscious.

Bartlett questioned Gilkey, his family, Sanders and other book dealer victims of Gilkey’s thefts for three years about their involvement in this whole affair. In an interview, she mentioned the reasons that attracted her to write this book: “ I love books, not just for their content, but the ”thingness” of them and I wanted to explore what that was about”. In other words, how an obsession can turn into a glorified crime.

Perhaps the idea of touching and smelling a book has a rewarding feeling that an audio or electronic book can’t equal, at least for book lovers. As for handling rare, valuable books, it can be an unparalleled, magical experience for an enthusiastic connoisseur to the extent of having a clamshell box made to keep this old printed treasure in. As Gilkey told Bartlett: “when he holds a rare book, he smells its age, feels its crispness, makes sure there’s nothing wrong with it, and opens it up very gently”.

The Man Who Loved Books Too Much is a fascinating story because of its authenticity. An interesting read, which would have been more intense in its impact if the character of the main protagonists were more searched, psychoanalysed and developed. The book would thus have gained more depth.

Gilkey and Sanders psychological behaviour is portrayed briefly by Bartlett as being inconsistent. Gilkey at times appears to be reasonable and sane and at other times seems deranged or irrational in his reasoning. As for Sanders, he appears friendly with Bartlett at the start, before turning hostile and irritated when speaking to her on the phone.

Nevertheless, the book is an enjoyable easy read, specially that Bartlett provides a valuable and interesting insight into the world of books and its aficionados, whether it’s book collectors, book dealers, or book kleptomaniacs.

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Category: Book Reviews  | One Comment
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• Saturday, March 03rd, 2007

It’s Khaled Hosseini’s first novel published in 2003.

This is mainly a story of guilt and redemption:

The guilt of a 12 year old boy, Amir, who fails out of fear to stand up for his devoted servant and best friend, Hassan, while getting beaten and raped by bullies.

The relief of a redemption as an adult by going back to Kabul to rescue Hassan’s son, Sohrab, whose parents had been shot by the Taliban, from the hands of the same bully who had become an important Taliban official.

Amir didn’t mind risking his life in order to escape from damnation and from being haunted by his disloyalty and cowardly actions.

He wanted to gain peace within himself and free his soul.

In the 4th line of part one in the book, Hosseini writes: “… That was a long time ago, but it’s wrong what they say about the past, I’ve learned, about how you can bury it. Because the past claws its way out. Looking back now, I realise I have been peeking into that deserted alley for the last twenty-six years.”

Hosseini manages to cover many themes in his first book with great success. He writes about love, honour, deceit, fear, redemption and about politics and its devious ways.

He also covers the life of Afghani immigrants in the United States of America.

The very close and vivid historical background takes us from the last days of the monarchy to the Russian invasion, then the rule of the Taliban and all the political turmoil up until nowadays.

Additionally, the touching story and the sympathetic characters and how real they seem to be, tend to bring to mind “The Kite Runner” as a memoir rather than as a novel.

After completing the last page one can’t help but feel emotionally involved. As Isabel Allende puts it so succinctly: “This is one of those unforgettable stories that stay with you for years … It is so powerful that for a long time everything I read after seemed bland.”

The strange thing is that Hosseini went back to Kabul after he wrote “The Kite Runner” and saw Kabul through the same eyes and memories of Amir who went back after 20 years absence.

Hosseini writes about it in the San Francisco Chronicle of August 10th 2003. The title is: “Following Amir – A Trip To Afghanistan In Which Life Imitates Art”.

After reading “The Kite Runner” I couldn’t help but finding some analogies with “The Shadow Of The Wind” by Zafon. To mention a few:

* The corrupted, sadistic, vengeful inspector Fumero and the sadistic, corrupted vengeful Taliban official, Assef.

* In “The Shadow Of The Wind” the book ends the way it started by Daniel taking his son, Julian, to the cemetery of forgotten books, like how Daniel, a few years earlier, was taken by his own father to the same place to choose a book.
By comparison, in “The Kite Runner” the book ends by Amir taking Hassan’s son, Sohrab, to a kite-flying competition, and finds himself repeating to Sohrab the same words that Hassan told him a few years previously while running after the kite “For you a thousand times over”.

I’d like to end with these few words that Rahim Khan wrote to his friend Amir: “… I want you to understand that good, real good, was born out of your father’s remorse. Sometimes I think everything he did, feeding the poor on the streets, building the orphanage, giving money to friends in need, it was all his way of redeeming himself. And that, I believe, is what true redemption is, Amir Jan, when guilt leads to good.” Then referring to Amir, he said: “There is a way to be good again, he’d said. A way to end the cycle. With a little boy. An orphan. Hassan’s son. Somewhere in Kabul.”