Warning: Book Nerd Alert. I made a discovery today. Apparently miniature books are A Thing. Or they were, anyway.
I knew of the existence of very small books, of course. I even have one on my shelf, Nancy Drew’s Guide to Life. (Stay tuned for some wonderful and realistic advice). But I hadn’t realized that there were so many fascinating ones, or that they had such a history behind them. Miniature books were popular in the last part of the 19th century, because they were a novelty, as well as being portable and easy to conceal. I’m not sure why one would need to conceal a tiny Moroccan leather bound copy of Sherlock Holmes, but that is an option if one is carrying a miniature version of it. Perhaps some of the tiny books were rather more sinister, or embarrassing, in need of being hidden from judgmental eyes.
If obscuring questionable books wasn’t your thing, they could also be handy while traveling. One could carry a vast number of books in a small case when in need of entertainment for a long, rattling train journey. Nowadays, we have e-readers for to help us bring lots of books along for a trip, which are certainly easier to read. Instead of squinting to read the tiny font, we now have to worry about drained batteries. One small problem for another, and I think I’d rather carry a charger than a magnifying glass.
The novel I’m currently writing takes place in the late 19th century, so I have a perfect opportunity to put this new knowledge to use, and include one in the story. And there are many options for me to choose from; miniature books, like all books, came in a wide range of subjects. They could be encyclopedias, novels, poems, rhymes, dictionaries, tourist guides, or religious stories. One of the tiniest miniature books is only the size of a ladybug, impossible to read without magnified aid, is a religious one. It contains a portion of the Bible, and was meant to be worn as a token or charm, a way for a person to keep something personally meaningful close to him or her. I like this idea, and kind of wish I could wear a tiny book as a necklace pendant. Choosing just one book seems impossible, though. Also, there is the slight obstacle that I don’t have a million dollars to buy a rare miniature book.
Miniature books certainly don’t sacrifice quality for diminutiveness, either. There are teeny books of all kinds, from gilt-trimmed sets of Don Quixote to cleverly drawn flip books, to pop up books depicting silhouettes of cities.
I really like the one that has a minute key hidden within its equally small pages. I’m pretty sure the key must open a hidden compartment in an old grandfather clock, or a secret drawer in a Tudor era writing desk, wherein lies the secreted will of a fabulously eccentric and wealthy relative.
That sounds a little like a Nancy Drew mystery plot, I know. But you can’t blame me – I had to flip through my own miniature book before writing this, and now my mind is overflowing with practical mystery-solving advice and life skill suggestions, all based on Nancy’s many adventures. I’ll share my favourites.
“If you see something resembling a shark in a river, don’t fret. It’s more likely to be a small submarine operated by thieves.” (Nancy Drew’s Guide to Life, pg 82)
Freshwater rivers aren’t a suitable habitat for sharks – think clearly, you silly person! But they are ideal for technologically-advanced thieves. Keep your pearls close.
“Flowers sent by a secret admirer might be coated with poison.” (pg 18)
Trust no one who keeps their identity a secret. Only a devious assassin would do that, obviously.
“Cover you face immediately when confronted with an explosion. Obviously, it is good to avoid explosions in general.” (pg 20)
Wise advice, indeed. I know they might seem exciting, and you might be looking for a good story to tell at the next wing night, but resist going near explosions, everyone.
“Strange mechanical noises can only mean one thing: a printing press is being used for nefarious purposes.” (pg 112)
Maybe this explains some of the miniature books that needed to be concealed.
I went through a pretty intense phase of reading Nancy Drew novels almost exclusively when I was ten. These bits of wisdom might seem like they’re mocking the series, and, well, that’s true. But it’s affectionate mocking.
If you could have a miniature (or humongous) copy of any book, which would it be?