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Lost week continues: lost Booker winner, plus Geo. Washington’s overdue books

May 20, 2010

Some weeks I’m astonished the way a theme will arise, as if to confirm chaos theory, from the hurly-burly of the book world. It’s happened with showbiz, it’s happened with politics, and now it seems to have happened with the word “lost.” Today: updates on the Lost Booker Prize, and George Washington’s lost library books.

First, the Father of Our Country can resume his eternal rest, untroubled by thoughts of digging in the pockets of his burial suit for spare change. He’s off the hook for the $300,000 in fines owed on two books  checked out of a New York library in his name 221 years ago,  as discussed here on April, 19.

Washington’s Mount Vernon estate presented a copy of one of the books yesterday, reports the New York Daily News, and the “delighted” library staff forgave fines on both books.

“I hereby absolve George Washington and his representatives for any overdue library fees incurred,” said Charles Berry, the New York Society Library’s chairman of the board of trustees.

After news of the two lost books broke last month, the Washington estate began searching for replacement copies. They were able to locate a copy of The Law of Nations, which Washington checked out in 1789, online and bought it for $12,000.

According to the Daily News, James Rees, executive director of the Mount Vernon Estate, apologized for Washington, saying, “He did not do his public duty.” Rees thanked the library “for your patience, and for your generosity in erasing the considerable funds that were probably owed by George Washington.”

Aw, shucks, replied Berry, the library had no intention of pursuing the fines anyhow: “But we were delighted to learn that a copy of this book was coming back to us.”

All in all, a grand PR day for everyone concerned, wouldn’t you say?

And now for the “Lost Booker:” In what strikes me as an upset, J.G. Farrell was announced winner of the so-called Lost Booker Prize yesterday for his 1970 novel, Troubles. The award makes good on a 40-year oversight:  Following a rules change in 1971, books published in 1970 were not eligible for Britain’s most prestigious literary prize. We talked about the whole thing here on Tuesday.

By “upset” I mean that the novelist most likely (and probably most deserving) to win actually did win. Of the six authors nominated, Farrell is the one whose reputation is still growing, reports the Guardian, and he’s the only one to have already won the prize. But: Giving him the nod doesn’t really get maximum mileage out of the Lost Booker, which, let’s face it, has been a publicity stunt from the get-go.

Indeed “Lost Booker” hullabaloo has been such a promotional bonanza for the prize, and for the nominated authors, I expected it to go to Shirley Hazzard or Mary Renault, neither of whom have been so much as short listed for the real thing.

You see, this is why I don’t go to the track: No good at handicapping. Congrats to Farrell, who drowned in a freak fishing mishap in 1979, as well as the other nominees — Hazzard, Renault, Muriel Spark, Patrick White, and Nina Bawden.

All their books are worth consideration by 21st century readers.

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