Disappearing act

Eleven years after writing about Kriktor the boa constrictor, my thoughts return to this old childhood favourite.

I was reminded of Kriktor’s disappearance from the library when reading about the young Lucy Mangan’s search for The Phantom Tollbooth. Some things are easier today, now that we can search all over the world for almost anything we want or need.

When Lucy’s teacher had read the book to the class, Lucy understandably wanted a copy for herself. But there were none; the library had no longer got it. My Phantom Tollbooth copy is an ex-library one, as was one of Lucy’s subsequent [three] copies, when she finally found them, years after falling in love with the book at school.

We can probably assume that the London libraries near her got rid of this book because they saw no need for it. My Kriktor’s tale was different. He was ‘borrowed’ and never returned. Used for a television programme, I suspect his disappearance was not unusual. Busy people in a busy studio won’t stop to consider one picture book, and whether it should be accompanied ‘home’ to the safety of its library, where more children can enjoy it.

There are other ways of losing books from libraries, of course. I have often thought of writing about the wicked ways of the world here, but stopped before giving anyone ideas.

In my early twenties I had a boss, who told me about this fantastically funny novel she liked, and how hard it had been to source another copy when hers went missing. Eventually one was discovered in a library, and she borrowed it, before going back there, apologising for ‘having spilled coffee’ on the book and offering to pay for it.

All right for her, and as it was anything but a literary marvel, possibly not the end of the world for the library. But it’s the principle of the thing that bothers me.

And then she lent it to me to read.

Before you get too excited, I gave her the book back when I’d read it. I have no recollection of either the title or the author, but she was right; it was very amusing and a fun read. And there was not a single stain of coffee anywhere.

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