THE HISTORY AND UNCERTAIN FUTURE OF HANDWRITING by Anne Trubek

THE HISTORY AND UNCERTAIN FUTURE OF HANDWRITING

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KIRKUS REVIEW

A succinct overview of written communication.

Belt magazine editor-in-chief Trubek (A Skeptic’s Guide to Writers’ Houses, 2010) turns from house museums of famous writers to the act of writing itself, tracing its history from cuneiform to digital messages. Observing a second-grader practicing penmanship in school, she remarks, “the prospect of not teaching students handwriting strikes many as unimaginable.” However, notes the author optimistically, “new technologies do not kill off previous ones. Writing did not kill speech, but speaking took on new valences as writing came to compete with it.” Readers may wonder at the idea that speaking is a technology and also at Trubek’s easy acceptance of Socrates’ notion that writing “caused humans to become less intelligent, less civilized, and less creative” and “decreases the human capacity to remember, to mentally retain and file facts, ideas, and experiences for later recall.” She gives no supporting evidence for these assertions. Despite privileging orality, the Greeks invented the first alphabet to contain both consonants and vowels and wrote by running words together in unpunctuated paragraphs. The Romans created the letters we now use and invented books. Medieval scribes, usually from poor families, labored intensely to produce multiple copies of religious tracts. Gradually, secular scribes created books for schools and universities, traveling across Europe selling their services. Trubek discovered that handwriting varied dramatically from region to region, making it difficult for contemporary scholars to read manuscripts. The field of paleography emerged, with specialists trained to decipher different scripts. After the invention of the printing press, many former scribes became successful penmanship masters. In the 19th century, A.N. Palmer invented “an efficient, simple style” widely taught in schools. Typewriters’ idiosyncratic letter arrangement was designed to prevent type bars from sticking together when struck sequentially. Although keyboarding competes with handwriting, Trubek believes that change offers opportunities “in accessibility, in democratization…that should be celebrated.”

Quirky facts enliven a brisk story of the history of handwriting.

Pub Date: Sept. 6th, 2016
ISBN: 978-1-62040-215-3
Page count: 192pp
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1st, 2016




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