Saturday, December 20, 2008

Fascinating Handwriting Book

Below is an article from Shelf Awareness about a book that I'd love to own that recounts the history of handwriting. And I totally agree with the quote about valuing handwriting in this age of keyboarding and emails.

Kitty Burns Florey, author of Script and Scribble: The Rise and Fall of
Handwriting (Melville House, $22.95, 9781933633671/1933633670, January
23, 2009), is a novelist, grammarian (Sister Bernadette's Barking Dog)
and self-proclaimed penmanship nut. "Since I first picked up a pen, I
have been under the spell of handwriting." Decrying the demise of the
Palmer method in favor of "keyboarding," she has written an ode to
penmanship. She covers handwriting history, calligraphy, Spencer and
Palmer, ink, pens and pencil factories. She tells us penmanship is
important: "The aesthetic appeal of good handwriting is something we
should not cease to value . . . even seeing attractive writing on a
dental-appointment reminder card . . . is a nice moment in the day." And
what would be lost if we didn't have writer's manuscripts to study:

"Even more than a personal possession, a writer's script, with its
smears, crossings out, second thoughts, and marginal notes, seems to
take the viewer directly into his or her mind. The poet Philip Larkin
once said, 'All literary manuscripts have two kinds of value: what might
be called the magical value and the meaningful value. The magical value
is the older and more universal: this is the paper he wrote on, these
are the words as he wrote them, emerging for the first time in this
particular miraculous combination. The meaningful value is of much more
recent origin, and is the degree to which a manuscript helps to enlarge
our knowledge and understanding of a writer's life and work.' In the
words of the poet and former NEA chairman Dana Gioia, 'Reading is never
more intimate than with script. The hand of the poet reaches out to
greet the reader.' When you see the manuscript of a work that's
important to you, it's difficult not to be very aware of that hand
holding the pen and forming the letters--and to feel a bit closer to the
mind behind it all.

"Now that most writers no longer labor over holograph manuscripts, there
will come a time when this kind of magic will be gone. Little that's new
will be added to the vast store of manuscripts that have come down to us
over the centuries. The shape of the letterforms, the cross-outs, the
substitutions, the puzzling illegibilities, the changes of mind and
slips of the pen, the color of the ink and the type of paper, the
egotistical capital I's and the randy loops on the g's--gone, all of it.
Someday the job applications and charge-card receipts of the famous may
be all that's preserved in manuscript collections.

"And then there's the rather stunning idea that if you can't write
cursive, you have a lot of trouble reading it, too. Will my mother's
diaries look like Sanskrit to her great-grand-children? Will it be only
a small group of specialists who can make sense of the original
handwritten manuscripts of Jim Harrison and Wendell Berry, the
heartbreaking letters home from soldiers in the American Civil War, or
artifacts like this Christmas note Walt Whitman sent to his publisher in

"Shakespeare reportedly wrote a sequel to Love's Labors Lost, entitled
Love's Labors Won--what if, in 2108, it turns up in a dustbin somewhere
in Warwickshire? Will there be any¬one around who can decipher it?
Who will be the last person to send a handwritten postcard? Who will
read it?

"In an eloquent lament in the Oregonian (January 13, 2008) for the
decline of the handwritten letter, Jim Carmin suggests: 'Perhaps our
many creative writing programs should emphasize that one of the
important facets of being a writer is to express one's thoughts in the
writing of letters, and to remind authors that for history to have a
more complete and accurate understanding of their work, the
millennia-old tradition of letter writing is a good way to do it . . .
Just as there is a "slow food" movement, to counteract fast food and
fast life, perhaps we should begin a slow writing movement, to regain
the appreciation of writing letters as an important meditative and
historically significant activity, especially to literary studies.' "

"My own advice is: if you get a letter in the mail, save it! Posterity
will thank you."--Marilyn Dahl

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