By Patricia Lightfoot
When I say “lost books,” I don’t mean books that I once owned and can no longer find. I mean books that I once heard being read aloud, or read myself and returned to their rightful owner, but have no way of finding, having long forgotten the title and the name of the author. I remain sadly tantalized by fragments of barely remembered text and images.
I encountered two of these lost books through a wonderful children’s TV program in the UK called “Jackanory,” on which books were read aloud by actors. One classic episode featured former Doctor Who Tom Baker reading The Iron Giant by Ted Hughes. The first of the now-untraceable books had a Medieval setting, I believe, in which on the days either leading up to or just after Christmas a young woman received a partridge and a pear tree from an unknown admirer, followed the next day by two French hens and, no doubt, another partridge and pear tree. I heard part of one episode, enough to be intrigued years later, but for some reason I heard no more.
Another fleeting exposure to a story on “Jackanory” featured some older women who wore lead shoes to prevent them from flying away and to make them look like regular, unexceptional people. I do remember a vivid Quentin Blake—style illustration of grey-haired women floating past rooftops. I would love to know what happened in that particular story. Were these women good or villainous?
When I was about 11 years old, a schoolfriend lent me a compelling novel about a teenage girl’s experiences in a series of schools, in none of which she was able to find her place, which resonated with me and those of my contemporaries who craved a school where we would be recognized and valued as individuals. At the very least, we envied this character’s opportunity to walk out of a situation and start over. Maybe that’s what we really dreamed of. I recall what was for me a very striking image, I believe near the end of the book, where the main protagonist and her father are dining by the Mediterranean. This was already wonderfully exotic. They converse like adults and the girl’s father is eating octopus cooked in its ink. I felt no desire to eat the same dish, but I remember that this passage felt like a signal from the future. I would now love to revisit this novel from an adult perspective, but for me it remains lost.