A page-turner: The story of a lost library book

If you’ve been reading my column for a while, you know that I’m a voracious reader. I generally have two books going at all times, usually from the library. I prefer library books because our tax dollars have already paid for them and you don’t have to store them. Those are both big pluses. Hooray for libraries!

One thing I’ve always been proud of is in the more than 50 years I’ve been using libraries I’ve never once had a late fee or failed to return a book. This is really a matter of pride for me.

I’ve read many times about books finally being returned after decades, as if that were a good thing. It’s not! A book never should have been treated so carelessly in the first place.

When I borrow a book, I treat it as my own. I don’t spill stuff on it, crease the pages, or write in it. Treating it as you would if it were your own is just the right thing to do. If you really need to highlight or write in a book, then go buy your own copy.

So the other day I had just finished reading “Approval Junkie” by Faith Salie. She’s a comedian/journalist who appears regularly on the wonderful NPR radio show, “Wait, Wait … Don’t Tell Me,” and she’s also a correspondent on “CBS Sunday Morning News.”

I’ve always enjoyed her and, while the book was great, it was very female oriented — lots of stuff about clothes, hair, relationships, and pregnancy. Because of all that, it didn’t really grab me so much, but I still enjoyed it.

I had been reading this book while sitting in a beach chair with my feet up on the back bumper of my F150 truck. This vehicle has a broad, flat bumper, with multiple heights making it perfect for propping up your feet and providing a place for your phone, drink, or whatever.

It’s my favorite place to read when the weather is nice. The only problem is, every now and then, I’ll forget to remove something from the bumper and then drive off and lose whatever was there. (I lost a really nice ashtray fashioned from an old motorcycle piston this way.)

I’m sure you can see where this is going.

Shortly after reading the book, I had to run out and do some errands. When I came back, I set up the chair, getting ready to start my next book (I really do read a lot) when I realized I didn’t know where “Approval Junkie” had gone to.

We had house guests that weekend, so there was more commotion than usual. I checked all the usual spots but it was nowhere to be found. Finally it dawned on me that I must have driven off with it on the bumper.

I got in the truck and retraced my route. The neighbors must have thought I was critiquing their lawn-cutting techniques. Alas, the book was nowhere to be found.

I was so depressed by this, it was all I could think about for several days. I truly have never paid a library late fee in my life, much less actually lost a book. To finally have to join that club was making me ill.

n my mind, I was using my Toastmasters’ skills to craft a speech for Tim Wiles, the director of the Guilderland Public Library. In the speech, I would apologize profusely, beg for forgiveness, and promise to never let it happen again.

I’m pretty sure I was going to offer myself up for corporal punishment as well. I mean, they trusted me with a valuable library resource and I had let them down.

I was really, really bummed out. It was not a good feeling at all.

Then I was at a concert and randomly decided to check my email when this missive appeared from Heather Nelson, a senior clerk at the Guilderland library:

“Hi Frank, a patron found the book you had checked out, “Approval Junkie,” in the middle of the road near Suzanne St. I checked the item in so it is no longer on your record. I then placed another hold on it for you and you have until July 18th to pick it up here. If you no longer want the item, let us know and we will cancel the hold.”

Holy cannoli, Batman! I could not believe it.

One of my neighbors must have found it and returned it to the library, just like I would have done if I had found a library book in the middle of the road. What a welcome surprise. It was like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders. Now my no-late-fee-and-no-missing-book streak would still be intact. Whew!

Public libraries are one of the great achievements of modern society. These clean, efficient institutions allow the wealth of human knowledge to be shared by lucky community members.

They offer so many services — books, magazines, newspapers, movies, and all kinds of programs — that it’s almost unbelievable. We are so, so lucky to have our community libraries.

Thank you to my neighbor who returned the library book for me. You made my day. Heck, you made my year!