It’s really very simple: I love books, and I love miniature things. I can’t resist tiny books. I buy them whenever I find them in charity shops and whenever they have them on the counter at Waterstones (or else, I have to restrain myself from buying them… I would have liked to buy the entire Penguin 80th anniversary range but couldn’t justify it!)
It is, after all, a great way to read things you might not otherwise have read, or even heard of. At the moment I’m reading a tiny collection of poems by Emily Dickinson, and I just finished re-read The Little Prince (second book to the right, in the pale blue and gold jacket).
I fully intend to buy more, and soon!
So for this mid-week post, I thought I’d take a quick look at a couple of my favourites from my collection…
The Yellow Wall-Paper by Charlotte Gilman-Perkins
I read The Yellow Wall-Paper for the first time in school – like many people, I’m sure. It’s a classic for a reason, and I was really pleased to be able to own it – in a tiny book all of it’s own!
Re-reading it from an older perspective, it’s just as good and as chilling as I remember and I’m really glad I came back to it.
Also in this mini-collection, two further short works: The Rocking Chair, another truly chilling story of jealousy and inexplicable horror, and Old Water, a thriller with a delicious final twist.
Of all the mini-books in my collection, this is the one I’d most recommend checking out.
The Machine Stops by EM Forster
Talk about ahead of its time – I can’t quite believe this story was written in 1909! And by EM Forster, who you wouldn’t expect to find writing science fiction.
The Machine Stops is set in a distant future where every human lives in a single room, communicating with others entirely via the machine. People live pampered lives, the machine attending to all their needs. No-one lives without the machine. In time, they come to view it as their god. But as the title suggests… it can’t last forever.
It’s a fascinating and startingly prescient story, with an unusual and interesting voice. I’d really recommend looking it up, if you haven’t already.
The Signalman by Charles Dickens
Here’s a confession: I picked this one up because of Doctor Who. This scene, specifically! This is a story the Doctor called ‘terrifying’ – must be pretty good, right?
And yes, as it turns out. It’s a brilliant story, the right level of scary for me, and I still think about the ending sometimes. The cover calls it a ghost story, but is it, strictly speaking?
The apparition in the story… isn’t a dead person, exactly. There are no explanations as easy or comfortable as that. I don’t know how much thought was put into the above Doctor Who scene, but it’s very plausible to me that a story as ambiguous and disturbing as this would frighten the Doctor. Spooky stuff.
The Wall, the City and the World by Eliot Weinberger
I found this one in the Fruitmarket Gallery bookshop, together with another little volume from the same series. I found the other one fairly forgettable, but this one stuck with me.
There’s three essays within, themed about the title words. All three are good, but what really stuck with me was The Wall: a series of short reports of activity at the Berlin Wall. Not attempts to cross, exactly, but brief true accounts of people holding conversations, throwing things and shouting over the Wall. It’s a strange and curiously enlightening read.
And a beautiful little book, to boot. Definitely one of the prettiest wee books in my collection!
It’s only just now occurred to me that I keep it just behind my piece of the Berlin wall. How’s that for irony?
Anyway, those are my favourites (tonight, anyhow) but as you can see, I have a bunch more 80th anniversary Penguin Classics (all of them by women – largely by design), and an assortment of other curious little books, including some 70th anniversary editions.
I recommend picking some of these up – so short and sweet, you can read them cover to cover on your lunchbreak.