have a confession. I am a lousy library patron. I know, I know. It
comes as quite a shock that an author would so blatantly and
unabashedly take advantage of the greatest public institution ever
instituted—The Free Public Library. I don’t know why it is so difficult
for me to return books on time. I am like a book Roach Motel—books
check out . . . but they don’t check back in. It’s a pathological
problem, I’m sure. One time, a librarian from one of the many local
libraries in my county called and begged me to please return her copy
of Squirrels—Friend or Foe (or something like
I had checked it out for my
daughter to do a report for school.
That was three years previous to the librarian’s heart-wrenching call.
She promised she would not impose the fine, she just wanted her book
back. Fortunately, I still had it and could even locate it in my vast
personal library system—the pile system: A pile here. A pile there. I
returned the book—three days after she called!
My heart is in the right place.
Each and every time I take books from the library I promise myself and
the checkout clerk that I will return the books.
But I don’t. My fines are legendary. I’m sure I probably financed the
entire collection of Narnia books. Not very long ago I needed some
information from the reference librarian. She did some checking and
then suggested a book that was available only at a library a few miles
down the road.
She called and asked them to
hold it for me—the “famous”
local author; the woman whose debut novel was selected as one of the
top five titles of 2009 by none other than Library Journal—I
was so embarrassed. The librarian told me I would have to pay a $27
fine first for a book I had surreptitiously returned in the night drop.
I think I am in pretty good company. I recently learned that George
Washington, yes, the George Washington—first
president of the United States—is guilty of this most heinous of
misdemeanors. Apparently, George checked out two books from the New
York Library system in 1792 and never returned them. Adjusting for
inflation, George’s fine would be over $300,000. Congratulations! Way
to go, George. The library doesn’t want the money. They just want the
sensing a trend here, a way
to buck the system, a bibliophile loophole. It seems to me that if you
keep library books long enough, you sort of get off scot-free. After a
while they no longer want the money. Hey, it worked for George and me.
I hope you do know that I
would never, ever incite people to take out books and keep them until
they reach the $300,000 mark and scam the library. Because, as usual, I
am going to try to turn a new leaf and become a better library patron.
I mean, they are so nice to me. They give me books—for free. It doesn’t
get better than that.
Well, except this. My local
library is going all out to help me celebrate my debut novel, The
Prayers of Agnes Sparrow. They are sending out press
releases, inviting all manner of local dignitaries, and they even
dedicated the corner window to me and Agnes. (See
picture). I mean really, how red is my face?
The library—use responsibly.