Culture

Overdue Book Returned to San Francisco Library 47 Years Late

Photo of San Francisco Public Library, via Wikimedia Commons

Editor's Note:

Also in the news: A new interview with Against Memoir author Michelle Tea, and the science behind the plot twist. It’s your Daily Blunt!

In 1970, someone checked out a copy of Eldridge Cleaver’s Soul On Ice from the San Francisco Public Library. Did they read it? Did they enjoy it? These are among the many questions librarians have this week after the book was anonymously returned 47 years late. Since their overdue fines cap at $10.01, the borrower in question will be spared the $1,731.70 charge should they decide to come forward – as the library has invited them to do, so they can be properly thanked. As the article notes, another SFPL branch recently fielded a book that was more than a hundred years overdue, which was returned by the borrower’s great-grandchild. It’s never too late!

The annual Lyttle Lytton contest, in case you hadn’t heard, challenges writers to compose the absolute worst first sentence for an imaginary novel they have no intention of finishing. This year’s winner has been announced, and it’s a doozy: “As I felt the vampire sexily drinking the blood from my neck, the warmth between my legs grew both in wetness and in fear for my life.” They include enough honorable mentions – including some that were earnestly written and found in the wild – to keep you groaning all day, and here you can browse the archives of past years’ winners.

In case there was any doubt that we’re hard-wired to miss our subway stop while reading a particularly suspenseful novel, scientists have examined the cognitive tendencies that writers exploit in order to confound even the smartest reader with plot twists. The phenomenon hinges on an author’s ability to manipulate events in reverse: “When we know the resolution of an event — whether it’s a basketball game or an election — we tend to overestimate how likely that outcome was… Information we encounter early on influences our estimation of what is possible later.” If you anchor the reader’s attention on certain details skillfully enough, you’ll be able to yank the rug out from under them without their ever having suspected a trap.

Michelle Tea’s new book Against Memoir is a collection of essays that delivers on its title, exploring subjects far beyond the author’s own personal history. In an insightful interview with LitHub, Tea questions the impulse that leads people to rummage around in their past and in their psyches for material to write about: “I really link my compulsion to write, my identity as a writer, to my compulsion to drink and my identity as an alcoholic,” she says. “It feels deeply true to me that my ‘writer-ness’ and my alcoholism, and the kind of writer I am, I’m writing largely if not entirely about myself, these things are rooted in my body, in my brain, in my neuro-chemistry.” Is there truly a genetic tendency linking these issues? Who among us is brave enough to submit our creative process to this level of analysis? Tea is, and you’d better believe this: whatever the outcome is, she’s gonna write about it.