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I mentioned in an earlier post how much I love making personal connections with the books I read and how powerful a tool that can be for readers in general. Any parent who’s ever read a book with their child about potty training or welcoming a new baby to the family in an effort to ease either process along knows exactly what I’m talking about. When a reader sees herself or her immediate world in the story in any way she finds tools to deal with her own conflicts, gains empathy for the character (and the world at large) and connects emotionally in a way that brings that book to life and cements it in her brain and psyche.
I also mentioned how much I loved experiencing bookish adventures tied to the tales I read. Again, just as we create experiences for our young readers through art projects or science experiments or field trips to extend the learning they’ve had through their readings, we can do the same for ourselves. One of my recent book club reads was the perfect example of a natural book extension.
Used booksellers have often fallen prey to scammers, thieves and frauds. That was especially true in the time before advanced technology. An informed collector could scout out a particular tome, give false information, pay with a bad check or stolen credit card and be on their merry way leaving the seller stuck with the bill and no recourse for prosecution. This, obviously is not a phenomenon unique to booksellers but because of the way the book selling community functioned up until recently it was particularly detrimental to them. Unlike art or antiques, books haven’t always been cataloged and valued in the same way. And while many art pieces are one of a kind, most books are created in mass numbers so even something dating back hundreds of years may still have multiple surviving copies making it harder to prove value or track ownership.
On the west coast in 1997, John Charles Gilkey stole his first book using stolen credit card numbers. Over the next few years he amassed hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of rare books from libraries, stores and book fairs across the country. Book sellers at the time were a fairly independent lot with little communication or cooperation between vendors. Ken Sanders, a victim of Gilkey’s operations, took it personally and took it upon himself to catch the thief. Describing himself as a reluctant “bibliodick,” Sanders revolutionized the used book selling world creating networks of communication, tracking methods, and cohesive communities in order to stop the thefts. A sting operation in 2003, with Sanders front and center, finally brought Gilkey down and saw him put behind bars.
The book is a fascinating look into a milder true crime than we’re usually accustomed to reading about. No sensationalism, no blood, no glory. Just a book lover who took things too far and a book lover who set things at right again. Bartlett spends time with both Gilkey and Sanders, giving us insight into both men’s motives and personalities. We also get a bit of the history of books, publishing, and the passion of collecting. Any bibliophile will relate.
The adventure for me came in visiting and exploring Sanders’ Rare Book Shop here in Salt Lake City and seeing some of the scenes described in the book. Sanders is a product of the beat generation (Edward Abbey was a close friend), an avid naturalist, and above all, a book lover. His shop is naturally a book lover’s paradise filled with crammed shelves and tipping stacks of books everywhere you look. I spent over two hours perusing the aisles and piles before purchasing a copy of The Other Way to Listen by Byrd Baylor and wishing I could afford just one of the items in the locked glass cases.
If you’re ever in town, do yourself a favor and check out Sanders’ shop. In the meantime, check out the book and let me know what you think!
Written by: Allison Hoover Bartlett
Number of Pages: 288
Publisher: Riverhead Books, 2010
Age Range: Adult