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Library book returned 100 years overdue has perfect title

Based on its name alone, one could have guessed that this short-story collection wasn't going to make it back in 1917.

It's not the most-overdue library book we've written about lately. That honor goes to "The Microscope," returned to England's Hereford Cathedral School in December 120 years overdue.

America is a much younger country, so it perhaps makes sense that the US's recent whopper of an overdue book is only an even century late. But it's the title that makes it.

The short-story collection returned to the San Francisco Public Library on Friday was due in 1917, but its very name implies that it wasn't going to get returned on time. The book, by F. Hopkinton Smith, is called "Forty Minutes Late."

Webb Johnson of Fairfield, California returned the book, the San Francisco Chronicle reports, inspired by the library's current period of overdue-fee amnesty. Late fees are now capped at $5 anyway, but had the cap and the amnesty not been in effect, the library figured the actual late fee had ballooned to $3,650 (£3,032, AU$4,882).

Johnson's great-grandmother checked the book out in 1917, but there's a good reason why she couldn't return it. Phoebe Webb died a week before it was due back.

This is the season, apparently, for people to find and return very, very overdue library books.

Someone in Seattle anonymously returned the decades-overdue book "Rattlesnakes" by J. Frank Dobie last week with an apology note indicating that it had just been found in a box inside a bedroom closet.

But the example making headlines in Seattle has decades to go before it competes with the San Francisco and British versions. "Rattlesnakes" was checked out in America's Bicentennial year of 1976, making it only 40 years overdue.

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