By Saeed Ahmed, CNN
April 19, 2010 -- Updated 2107 GMT (0507 HKT)
(CNN) -- He never told a lie, as the story goes. So maybe if he were alive today, President George Washington could tell a New York City library what he did with two books he checked out 221 years ago.
The two books -- weighty discourses on international relations andparliamentary debates -- were checked out on October 5, 1789.
They were due on November 2, 1789, but weren't brought back.
Since then, they've been steadily collecting a fine of a few cents each day, adding up to more than $4,000 by the New York Society Library's informal estimate.
"I'm sorry, math is not my thing at all," said Jane Goldstein, the assistant head librarian when asked to hazard aguess.
The fine at the time was 2 pence a day. Now, it's 15 cents -- "It's really gone up, hasn't it?" she quipped.
One of the librarians, Matthew Haugen, guessed the fine to be in the region of 3,000 British pounds, or about $4,577.
"He stuck with the pence concept," Goldstein said.
The library first learned of the missing books when it discovered a yellowed ledger in its basement
It listed allthe people who had checked out books from the city's oldest library between July 1789 and April 1792.
Next to the works "Law of Nations" and the 12th volume of "Common Debates" was the name of the person who checked them out: "President."
At the time, New York was the capital of the United States, and the library was the only one in town.
Soon after, the capital was relocated to Washington D.C.The New York library, a subscription library that was New York's first library open to the public, has known about the missing books since the 1930s. The matter came up again recently because the library is capturing the ledgers in digital form to preserve the records.
Library officials cross-checked the books mentioned in the ledger with the ones in their collection.
"Volume 12 (of "CommonDebates") was still missing," as was the other book, Goldstein said.
The library is not so concerned about the fine as it is about each book.
"We don't know where it is," she said. "We have tried to find it and we can't," she said.
Book jackets: An endangered art
By Bob Greene, CNN Contributor
April 19, 2010 -- Updated 1751 GMT (0151 HKT)
(CNN) -- So I'm studying a menu, sitting at the barof a restaurant on a recent trip, and two couples arrive for dinner. They ask if the bar stool next to me is taken.
I say it isn't, and one member of their party sits down and they continue their conversation. One of the voices sounds startlingly familiar. It's a great voice --authoritative, inviting, cultured without being aloof. It's a voice that sounds as if it should be narrating "AmericanExperience" documentaries on PBS, or maybe films by Ken Burns.
We'd never met, but we start talking -- you feel like you want to lasso that voice and keep it in a bottle for when you need it on a cold winter night -- and McCullough turns out to be just as good a guy as you'd hope. Of all the things I might ask him about his books, the first thing I say has nothing to do with a single word he haswritten.
"Mort Janklow always says that the jacket of your Truman book is as effective a book cover as he has ever seen," I say.
"I know," McCullough says.
If we reach a time when the majority of books are read on the screens of portable devices, something will be lost.
Yet there is also a sense of ownership that a book jacket bestows: A book is an object, a thing, and it becomes a lovely one,almost a piece of art independent of the words, when the jacket is evocative and illuminating.
If you have books in your home, you can probably close your eyes and visualize the jackets of the ones you love best. If and when that goes away -- if the majority of the books you buy are not kept on shelves in your home but stored in your digital reader -- that will disappear. Not completely; the...