Allison Hoover Bartlett introduces us to a bookseller on the trail of an unusual book thief, and to the book thief himself. Along the way, she and us her readers learn more about the rare book trade. Though I still find the desire to own a bunch of old books incomprehensible on a gut level.
I can understand it from a bookseller’s point of view. Heck, reading this book makes me want to learn more about rare books so I know how to spot them at library booksales! I’ve been watching a lot of Auction Kings, Pawn Stars, and American Pickers, so I can definitely see the thrill of the hunt. Discovering this expensive little gem in the midst of a bunch of worthless dusty books. That’d be cool. And then, of course, attempting to sell it at a profit. Not that many people get rich in the business..
It’s the collector’s and by extension the thief’s point of view that I can’t quite understand. I want books so I can read them. I want old books because they’re out of print and it’s the only way I can read them. I do like owning books that I like, so I know I have them and can reread them when I want. But I don’t need to own every book I’ve read, or even every book I want to read.
I own books that have been signed, but when it comes to standing in line for autographs, I sometimes wonder why I’m doing it. To have a chat with the author, or to support the author, sure. To then have a signed book I’m reluctant to read and unwilling to sell. Well.. what to do with it?
So.. why own a book that’s signed, or was owned by someone famous, or is just old. What’s so special about a first edition compared to a third or fourth? Especially if there’s no change in the text. Why?
The thief in this book wants to own an impressive library. Well, I have visions of having a large library with one of those rolling ladders. But I don’t need to fill it with books to impress people. I don’t need them to be old books, rare books, expensive books. I want it filled with cool books! Awesome books!
Will my view of this change as I get older? As I have more money to spend? As ebooks take over and print books become extinct? I dunno. Maybe, like the author of this book, I should try buying a rare book and seeing how I feel at buying it and owning it.
Speaking of ebooks, I have one quibble with the author. You are not allowed to disparage ebooks when you use the word ‘ebook’ to mean ‘ereader’. I would’ve even accepted ‘device’.
“Andy and his wife had each bought an e-book shortly before moving to Guadalajara. They were glad they had, since it’s nearly impossible to find books in English there, and the mail system is unreliable.”
Well, I hope they’re slow readers, that’s all! One book each to last them their whole time in Guadalajara.
Though she does then go on to say she thinks the physical books we do keep will have more meaning. And reminisces about books from her childhood and her kids’ books and whatnot. And I don’t know that I have a whole lot of books I have an emotional attachment to, as the physical object. So.. I dunno.
Reading the book made it obvious to me that there is more than one type of booklover. In fact, there may be 2 distinct types. (Or perhaps it’s a spectrum.) The ones who like books primarily for their content. And the ones who like books as objects, of which content is only a part.
Not that I don’t think most manga is pretty. Not that I don’t love the look and feel of the Doctor Who and Torchwood books (over and above the lackluster content). But few publishers are making books I love in that sort of way.
One other thing bugged me. Along about 2/3rds of the way in, she starts foreshadowing how she got all caught up in the thief and faced a moral, ethical, legal dilemma as he revealed more and more about this thieving to her. And the foreshadowing lends you to think that she’ll go to jail, or she’ll testify against him, or he’ll commit suicide, or.. something. I hope it’s not a spoiler to say that all that foreshadowing didn’t appear to lead up to anything to me! Maybe it was too subtle for me.
It was rather cool though to see how a book we read here on Triple Take had a great influence on the thief. The book is Booked to Die by John Dunning. This book would’ve reminded me of that book even if it hadn’t been mentioned.
This review is much more about me than about the book, but I’m okay with that! As I said, the book was interesting, and if you’re interested in learning more about the rare book trade or the mind of a thief, definitely you should read it. You can skip Booked to Die though. We all agreed it was mediocre at best.