We aren't kangaroos, and more's the pity.

If our bodies came with places for us to carry things (underboobs don't count), we wouldn't have the dilemma posed in Hannah Carlson's thorough "Pockets: An Intimate History of How We Keep Things Close." It's an entertaining, slightly academic look at how attitudes toward pockets have changed over the course of the past several centuries.

Like many good histories, "Pockets" has a lot to do with gender and class. Women have been left out of the pocket club for most of history. Sometimes, it's to minimize them (women who didn't have a place to carry a few coins were, thus, unable to make purchases without their husbands' say-so). Sometimes, it's to confine them in clothes so tight-fitting that pockets are unthinkable or unfindable, as with pockets-concealed-in-bustles that even the wearer couldn't locate.

Men have fairly consistently had pockets, Carlson writes — unless they were wearing suits of armor, which had nowhere to secure a wallet or Altoid. Or, unless they were enslaved men, who were deprived of pockets as yet another way of making sure they kept no secrets.

The juicy anecdotes Carlson turns up include that pockets have often been suspected of hiding onanistic activities and that medieval purse/pockets, dangling from women's waists, were suggestively designed to resemble vaginas. Stories of long-ago people who constantly misplaced items will make readers happy they have a place to stick car keys — or, to paraphrase an old joke, "Is that a pistol in your pocket or are you just glad you have a pocket at all?"


By: Hannah Carlson.

Publisher: Algonquin, 320 pages, $35.