Denver Bar Association
October 1999
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Summer Reading in Haysville, Kansas

by PFK

The Associated Press reported that Cheryl Cooper of Haysville, Kan., ran up a fine of $5.80 for an overdue book at her local library, didn’t respond to a court summons, was arrested, and went to jail and bonded out for $1,000.

Overdue books are a plague upon mankind. It’s the reader’s responsibility to choose those books with short words in them. Short words serve the God-given purpose of being able to be read more quickly than long words, and the reader who has mastered short words can usually get a book back to the library with next to no effort.

Of course, some books have short words in them but are tricky and can foul you up because the books have too many short words. A book with lots of words is a long book. (Think Michener, Clancy.) The reader in Haysville, Kan., who ventures out of the library with "Hawaii" or "The Sum of All Fears" is either a fool or has his bail bondsman on call. These are books best obtained from the local bookstore, where the obligation to return them is less onerous.

What’s worse, of course, is that most evil of combinations—a long book with long words. (Think Sartre, Pynchon.) The astute reader should be able to recognize these worrisome books immediately. Besides being heavy, there is a certain gravitas to them, they have an aura about them, an unhappy seriousness—a mixture of qualities which can only mean disaster to the unprepared reader. Be ready for the consequences of carelessly plopping down your library card and walking out the door with "Being and Nothingness" and "Gravity’s Rainbow" under your arm. Also be prepared to face the nagging worry that the title "Being and Nothingness" describes your life in Haysville.

(Why would anyone want to write books that big anyway? Isn’t it better to have two smaller books than one big book?)

Lord knows, books can be a problem with all their ampersands, quotation marks, commas and parentheses. The libraries of Haysville, Kan., have enough problems without having to worry about books. The reader who runs up a fine of $5.80 is arrested by the police, monitored in jail by the sheriff, hustled through the court system by judge, attorney, court clerk and bail bondsman—it takes a lot of city resources just to make the public library system work effectively.

If the reader can wait until the book is a movie and is out on video, he can rent it from Blockbuster. If it’s a short movie, he should be able to get it back on time.

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