A library in London, England, is trying to determine how a book 48 years and 107 days overdue made its way to Port Moody.
The Tooting Library, which is one of 12 libraries that comprise the Wandsworth library system in south London, posted the manuscript mystery on its Twitter account Monday after it received a plain brown mailing envelope posted from Port Moody.
Inside was a copy of A Confederate General from Big Sur, by Richard Brautigan, that was due Feb. 19, 1974. The pink check-out slip was tucked into a brown envelope that warns ominously, “If this book is not returned to the library on or before the last date shown on the card, a fine will be charged in accordance with the Libraries Regulations.”
Wandsworth Libraries has a new longest overdue book. Returned after 48 years and 107 days. Thank you to whoever sent it back to Tooting Library from Port Moody in Canada. The questions is, how did it get there? pic.twitter.com/5qb1wCHPod— Wandsworth Libraries (@wandsworthlibs) June 6, 2022
Heather Shepherd, the manager of Tooting Library, said when she first saw the envelope, with no return address, she thought it was an interlibrary loan which customers can request from any library in Britain.
“But then I noticed the ticket and our address in the front and my colleague pointed out the French label,” Shepherd told the Tri-City News in an email. “On closer inspection we realized it had come all the way from Canada.”
Shepherd said getting borrowed books back in the mail isn’t unprecedented for her library, as the Tooting area of London “has always had a very mobile population.” In fact, last year the library received books from a family that had moved to New Zealand.
But, Shepherd said, the long absence of the book returned from Port Moody has caused a bit of a stir, predating all of the library’s current staff by almost a decade. It’s even caught the attention of the BBC.
“Who knows, we may yet get on The One Show,” she said, referring to a popular live magazine program featuring studio guests and topical stories that airs nightly at 7 p.m. on BBC One.
According to the Tooting Library’s website, its late return charge is 25p per item per day. Fortunately for the borrower, the maximum fine is £8.50. Otherwise, they would be on the hook for £4,406.75, or $6,934.88 CDN. That’s almost 3,000 per cent more than the book’s original cover price of £1.50.
Richard Brautigan was an American novelist, poet and short story writer who died by suicide in 1984. A Confederate General from Big Sur was his debut novel, published in 1965. It’s about a man named Lee Mellon who believes he’s a descendant of a Confederate general from Big Sur, California, who may or may not exist.
While the book’s dust jacket boasts Brautigan’s fantasies are “ingenious, blithe and beautiful,” it didn’t exactly fly off the shelves and subsequently went out of print.
But interest in it reignited when Brautigan’s 1967 novella, Trout Fishing in America, was a critical and commercial success, selling more than four million copies worldwide and putting the author at the forefront of the decade’s counterculture youth movement.
Shepherd said judging from the checkout slip, the library’s copy of Confederate General enjoyed a run of popularity after it was acquired in late 1972 or early 1973, then went “on a very long holiday.”
She said the library plans to put it back into circulation, although it may spend some time in a display case now that its acquired renewed notoriety.
By the time Brautigan died at the age of 49, he’d published nine novels, as well as 10 collections of his poetry. Several writers cited him as an influence on their own work, including Canada’s W.P. Kinsella. The late author, whose most famous work, Shoeless Joe, became the basis for the Kevin Costner movie, Field of Dreams, wrote in the introduction to his 1985 collection of 26 short stories, The Alligator Report, “I can’t think of another writer who has influenced my life and career as much.”
According to the Guinness Book of World Records, the longest overdue library book is a historical tome about Northern Germans, written in Latin, that was borrowed in 1668 from the library at Sidney Sussex College at the University of Cambridge and returned in 1956 — 288 years late.