My rating: 3 of 5 stars
eh, it was ok.
the author follows a thief, a bibliodick (that’s what his friends call him), and a string of scams done to acquire rare books. the author says at the outset that she wants to understand the kind of mania that compels a thief to keep stealing books, no matter how often he ends up in jail for it.
the problem is, i don’t think she understands the guy, in the long run. at least not on those terms. the mania for just one more book is, she finally concludes, a matter of greed, at least in this guy’s case. but throughout the book, her wariness of this guy, her foregone conclusion that he’s a bad guy, pretty much precludes her from ever really walking the aisles in his shoes. it’s almost as if she thinks he has some contagion, or that writing anything non-judgmental about him, will infect her, put her in the wrong camp, in the Felon camp.
i wouldn’t have any respect for the guy myself, but not solely because he’s a thief–it’s because he doesn’t love what’s in the books. i don’t think the books meant doodly-squat to him, except as a status item. but a book as a vehicle for learning, for connection, for broadening the mind? nope, not on his radar.
the booksellers and the bibliodick, quite understandably, hate the “sumbitch” because he is taking money out of their pockets in a thin-margin business, and because they do have respect for the books (although perhaps again not for the content, but for the history). so ya, i can see their point.
so anyway it’s an ok tale, although i feel gypped that the author didn’t do that authorial thing of putting herself in her subject’s mind, being too busy protecting her own. i’m betting that Nicholas Basbanes’ book A Gentle Madness is by far the better bet, tho, if you want to understand the collector’s psyche.
regardless of how the collector gets her books 🙂