Ah, the Pocket Book

Begin by defining my terms? What is this, an academic essay? No, but it is, alas, subject to the vagaries of the English language, which… well. Yes. Deary deary me.

According to Wikipedia, ‘pocket book’ can mean a coin purse, a handbag (also known as a purse, to aid confusion), a notebook kept in a pocket, or a published book of a pocketable size. So you could technically keep a pocket book (coin purse) in your pocket book (handbag) WITHOUT ANY POCKETS OR BOOKS BEING INVOLVED SERIOUSLY ENGLISH WHAT WERE YOU THINKING?! Ahem.Frustrated blue textbook
Let us edge away from the Scylla of language, and likewise endeavour to avoid falling into the Charybdis of pockets-for-women (at least in this post). No, in this post we are going to assume that pocket books are a) books; and b) able to fit into pockets; which c) we have. Yes, the assumptions get more radical as they go. Assumptions are like that.

I have long liked the idea of having a book I could carry about with me. No one who knows me will be in the slightest bit surprised at this, although some may uncharitably suggest that I always have a book in my hand anyway.

Naturally, being interested in all things medieval (most things, anyway), I like the idea of a girdle book. But a girdle book requires a sturdy everyday belt, which in my case I have not got. (Other things in my life would appreciate a belt, however, such as my pocket watch, which has nothing to hang its chain from at present and is therefore seldom worn.)

Vergänglichkeitsbuch 210 100v Totentanz
You can take your girdle book with you, but you can’t Take It With You.
The obvious conclusion is: pocket book. Except… Most of the books which are designated as pocket books are a) not a book I would want to keep in my pocket and/or b) clearly intended for someone with much larger pockets than I have been so fortunate as to possess.

Possibly this is due to some poor fools in the publishing industry thinking that the terms ‘pocket book’ and ‘paperback’ are interchangeable, a thing I would never have suspected if I hadn’t found it on a Wikipedia disambiguation page. OK, I would have suspected it, but I would have felt bad for harbouring such outlandish suspicions.

The really annoying thing is that pocket-sized books are completely possible, particularly if you’re not worried about small print. I have a small book which fits in my pockets – my actual pockets, not any theoretical pockets which I may or may not possess, let alone the pocket universes some pocket books seem to call for – which contains not only a full Book of Common Prayer but Hymns Ancient and Modern to boot. Total size: 13cm by 8.5cm by 2cm.

Valais woman with prayer book. 1923
It is also cunningly designed, in that the leather cover sticks out nearly a centimetre all round from the pages, so that with use, the excess is bent in to provide a full casing for the protection of said pages. But it has failed to become a regular pocket book because it is rather old.

While it contains means for calculating the date of Easter up until 2299, and also refers to “Charles, Duke of Cornwall” (which suggests a date somewhere between 1948, when he was born, and 1958, when he was upgraded to Prince of Wales), most of the contents date to ye days when people used words like Publick, soever, and whereof (in a book with the word ‘common’ on the cover), without feeling self-conscious about it.

And much as I enjoy a bit of Early Modern English, it’s a nice place to visit but I wouldn’t want to live there. I do have a CEB New Testament with Psalms and Proverbs, but having inserted the vulnerably floppy softcover into a protective shell (formerly the cover of a Paperblanks diary), it is large enough to be inconvenient to get in and out of pockets, and is therefore seldom empocketed.

NL 16th century Portait of a women holding a book
My ideal pocket book may only exist in my imagination – I’ve certainly never seen one. I dream of a book roughly the size, materials etc of my hardy little BCP/HA&M, but containing the text of the Greek New Testament. In the original Greek, that is. Pocket editions of New Testaments translated into modern Greek are available, but if one is going to have a translation, it might as well be into one’s own language.

My second-to-ideal pocket book would be a small notebook, and in this at least the dream is not out of reach. I particularly like the Paperblanks Micro notebooks, which are 3 1/2 by 2 3/4 inches, with good sturdy paper and a tiny pocket at the back for putting your bus card or the like.

What would be your ideal pocket book? Do you think it exists?

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