ITHACA, N.Y. — A book that has been toted around the world and carted throughout Central New York has finally found its way home to the Tompkins County Public library, nearly 38 year after it was checked out by a Slaterville Springs teenager.
On Monday, Bob James turned in the copy of J. R. R. Tolkien’s “The Hobbit” that he checked out of the library in 1978. He joined the Marines the next year.
“I bet ya’ 25 to a couple dozen other marines and sailors have had that book and borrowed that from me,” James said, adding that he told them with some “bass” in his voice that they’d better take care of it because it would make its way back to the library some day.
So during the five years, five months and 27 days he was in the Marines, the book was on at least eight ships that traveled throughout the Western Pacific. But through all that, James said he kept the book in impeccable condition.
“You can look through it. If you can find a fingerprint on it, I’ll buy you lunch,” James said. “I’m kind of proud of that.”
He said he never meant to keep the book all those years. But after he returned to the Ithaca area when he got out of the Marines, he’d already had the book for years.
“I didn’t really know how to approach the library,” he said.
So he just kept “borrowing” the book.
James said that over the years, he’s read the book four or five times. He also read “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy to his son and daughter. And he of course has all the recently released movies.
So what prompted him to finally get the book back to the library?
Bob and his wife Becky James have owned and run the ‘Bout Time Bead and Breakfast in Montour Falls for 11 years. But they are trying to sell the place and move closer to their children in the Horseheads or Corning area.
“That’s why I finally put on my big boy pants and gave it back to where it belongs,” he said.
Library Director Susan Currie said, “I’m really happy that this book meant something to him, that he shared it with friends, that he took care of it.”
She said the book really is in incredible condition for how long James has had it.
And it’s a unique printing from — a 1966 illustrated collector’s edition. She said the spine is hand sewn and illustrations are not black and white, like most modern day editions. It was fitted with color plates, so all the illustrations are in color.
It will eventually go back on the shelf for somebody else to check out, she said.
For James, the book will always be special to him.
He said, “I hope people get to enjoy it as much as I do — I doubt it.”