Last Saturday I went to a book sale in the Methodist Hall in the next village. It was in aid of an African charity and the books had been donated (I’d given a bagful myself). Pricing was simple. Hardbacks £1, paperbacks 50p. Thus it was that I acquired World’s Classics editions of JANE EYRE, THE MILL ON THE FLOSS, CRANFORD and a collection of Father Brown stories for far less that I’d have paid in a second hand bookshop. Don’t I already have other editions of these works? Yes, I do, except for THE MILL ON THE FLOSS, but it’s always worth having a World’s Classic edition. They are the epitome of portability. These little blue hardback books, published for decades by Oxford University Press, measure about 6 by 4 inches and are printed on thin paper. They combined legibility, elegance and lightness. My copy of MIDDLEMARCH weighs 9 ozs, Beat that. They are such convenient little books, so small they are easy to read in bed – no propping up unwieldy volumes. They are perfect for taking on holiday or on any long trip. The first time my husband went on a working trip to China I put Trollope’s THE WAY WE LIVE NOW in his suitcase and it kept him going through long evenings in his hotel room in Harbin and through sleepless jet-lagged nights. The next time it was PHINEAS FINN.
I often pack one at the last minute just as backup. Who knows, I might get held up at an airport or – horror of horrors – simply run out of things to read and why risk that when I can slip a World’s Classics edition of PRIDE AND PREJUDICE or PORTRAIT OF A LADY into a corner of my bag. It’s the reader’s equivalent of the hiker’s slab of Kendal Mint Cake.