Good Reading in Your Pocket

YOU don't see them so often now, those tiny books and almanacs - genuine pocket books - once so popular with our parents and grandparents. They are much smaller than the average paperback, often smaller than the palm of the hand.With the advent of coffee-table books, new books keep growing bigger and bigger, rivaling tombstones. And one day, like Alice after drinking from the wrong bottle, they will reach the ceiling and won't have anywhere else to go. The average publisher, who apparently believes that large profits are linked to large books, must look upon old miniatures with amusement or scorn. They were not meant for coffee tables, true. They were not meant for true book lovers and readers, for they took up very little space. You could slip them into your pocket without any discomfort, either to you or the pocket. I have a small collection of these little books, treasured over the years. Foremost is my father's prayer book and Psalter, with his name, "Aubrey Bond, Lovedale, 1917," inscribed on the inside back cover. Lovedale is a school in the Nilgiri Hills in south India, where, as a young man, my father did his teacher training. He gave it to me soon after I went to a boarding school in Simla in 1944, and my own name is inscribed on it in his beautiful handwriting. Another beautiful little prayer book in my collection is called "The Finger Prayer Book." Bound in soft leather, it is about the same length and breadth as the average middle finger. Replete with psalms, it is the complete Book of Common Prayer and not an abridgment, a marvel of miniature book production. Another charming little book is my grandmother's recipe book, small enough to slip into her apron pocket. (You need to be a weight lifter to pick up some of the cookery books that are published today.) Its charm lies not so much in its recipes for roast lamb and mint sauce (which are very good too), but in the margins of each page, enlivened with little maxims concerning good food and wise eating. Here are a few pleasing examples: There is skill in all things, even in making porridge. Dry bread at home is better than roast meat abroad. Better a small fish than an empty dish. Eating and drinking should not keep men from thinking. Let not your tongue cut your throat! Another favorite among my "little" books is "The Pocket Trivet, An Anthology for Optimists," published by The Morning Post newspaper in 1932. But what is a trivet, the unenlightened may well ask. Well, it's a stand for a small pot or kettle, fixed securely over a grate. To be right as a trivet is to be perfectly and thoroughly right - just right, like the short sayings in this book, which is further enlivened by a number of charming woodcuts based on 17th-century originals. One illustration shows a moth hovering over a candle flame, and below it the legend: "I seeke mine owne hurt." But the sayings are mostly of a cheering nature, such as Emerson's "Hitch your wagon to a star!" or the West Indian proverb "Every day no Christmas, an' every day no rainy day." My book of trivets is a happy example of much concentrated wisdom being collected in a small space - the beauty separated from the dross. It helps me to forget the dilapidated building in which I live and to look instead at the ever-changing cloud patterns as seen from my bedroom window. There is no end to the shapes made by the clouds, or to the stories they set off in my head. We don't have to circle the world in order to find beauty and fulfillment. After all, most of living has to happen in the mind. And, to quote one anonymous sage from my trivet: "The world is only the size of each man's head."

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