Falls Church librarians have been asking the reading public to lie about their overdue books.
In honor of Mark Twain's 150th birthday and to the delight of patrons of all ages, the Mary Riley Styles Public Library sponsored a tall-tale contest that allowed fibbers to return books without paying a fine from Nov. 25 to 30.
"Most of the tales were innocuous, but some were hilarious," said library assistant Tannis Campbell. Many adults, said Campbell, "had a whole lot of fun" with the storytelling contest.
To have fines waived, patrons told a story to the circulation desk staff to explain why their books and records were late. Readers were also given the option to put their tales in writing to be judged in the categories of most original, humorous and outrageous tale by a child under 16 and an adult.
Adult winners Robert Martin and David Karrow, young adults Sandra Laing and Thomas Werner and children Janet Dunham and Genevieve Parente won volumes of Mark Twain's classic tall tales, which were presented by library director Deane Dierksen Monday.
Janet Dunham, 6, who was awarded first place in the young children's category, described her excuse in inch-high words: "A grat [sic] big monster came and took all the book [sic] and didn't come back for 2 days. When the monster came back I ran up and grabed [sic] the books from the monster. The monster cried. I laughed. The end."
Second-place young children's winner Genevieve Parente, 7, wrote a modified version of the familiar "my dog ate it" excuse. "My cat ate it and 2 weeks later I found out, and I pulled my cat inside out. And I took the book out with it."
Young adult honorable mention winner Jeff Stucker, 23, wove an intricate tale to explain why the record, "The Scottish Bagpipe and The Edinburgh Military Tattoo" was overdue. Stucker wrote "While I was practicing my bagpipe playing with the record, my dog became so upset by the sound of the pipes, that he attacked the instrument. During the ensuing mellee [sic], my whiskey (Scotch, of course) was knocked against a wall socket shorting it out and blowing the fuse. As I tried to disengage myself from the pipes and the crazed dog, I slipped in the spilled whiskey and went headlong off the balcony. As I went over the edge, I could see my 1952 MG rushing up towards me. Unfortunately, it (was) anything but a gentle meeting. As my car and I had several days body work to make us right again, I could not return your record any sooner."
Adult first place winner Robert Martin dubbed himself "special assistant to the president responsible for life after The Presidency." Martin wrote, "I needed some help in packaging Mr. Reagan's memoirs." And " 'How to Sell What You Write' was very useful to me, but it had to also be read by all the President's advisors. What with congressional pressures, world calamities, and the trip to Geneva, the book became overlooked." Martin added, "Nancy finally found it on the front seat of the pick-up truck, saw that it was over-due and called it to the President's attention. He read it, shared it with his biographer, and the memoirs were sold for $3 million. I recommend this book to anyone."
Campbell said that one of the most entertaining oral tales was by a 6-year-old boy, who said he had taken his books on an airplane that crashed and they were lost over an ocean, along with his brother. Campbell said she told the boy that he must be sad to have lost his brother, to which he replied "Not really. He's a real jerk!"
Many adults had a hard time fibbing, according to library assistant Dagmar McGill. "Some of them could not come up with even a simple lie to take advantage of the fine-free week and paid the fine anyway," McGill said. Library assistant Marilyn Valone said one man told her, "I spent my whole life trying to tell the truth, and now you want me to lie!"
Among the most popular lies, Valone said, were, "I've been trying to sell it to the Israelis [or the Russians]," "I've been floating with my books in NASA's space shuttle," "I've been in the hospital recovering from a sex-change operation," and "I'm Joe Theismann, and you already know my excuse."
One woman told a circulation desk assistant that she had been terrified to return a large number of books, grimacing at the thought of a huge fine. She was pleasantly surprised by the fine-free storytelling contest. Normally the maximum fine for an overdue book at the Mary Riley Styles Public Library is 10 cents per day, with a maximum of $2 per book and $1 per paperback or magazine. If all overdue books are returned at once, the one-day maximum is $15.
But there was no limit to the creativity this contest inspired, not to mention all the books and records it put back in circulation.