Script and Scribble: The Rise and Fall of Handwriting Hardcover – Jan 20 2009
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"This is a book every writer would love, a curio cabinet on the art and act of writing."
- Amy Tan, author of Saving Fish from Drowning
"What in God's name has happened to penmanship? It's easy to blame the computer, but, as Kitty Burns Florey demonstrates in her thoughtful, witty, and sensible book, the story goes far deeper than that. It touches on the way we think, the way we write, and the way we lead our lives. Read Script and Scribble and be enlightened."
- Ben Yagoda, author of If You Catch an Adjective, Kill It!
"[A] pithy account of the history of handwriting...Florey makes a solid case for handwriting as a social indicator, and her affection for its art is thoughtful and aesthetically informed."
- Albert Mobilio, Bookforum
"...a witty and readable (and fetchingly illustrated and glossed) excursion through the history of handwriting..."
- Cullen Murphy, The Wall Street Journal
"[H]ighly enjoyable...witty and often endearingly autobiographical."
- Michael Dirda, Washington Post
"[A] charming, illustrated eulogy to a craft that's fast losing its place in the modern world."
- Financial Times
"Florey's argument is nostalgic yet pragmatic. 'It seems wrong,' she says, 'when something beautiful, useful, and historically important vanishes.' Charmingly composed and handsomely presented, Script and Scribble just might provoke a handwriting revival."
- Boston Globe
"Florey lovingly traces the history of handwriting, from its ancient birth to its imminent demise."
- Sam Anderson, New York Magazine
"[A] winsome mix of memoir and call to arms...an entertaining history."
- Editor's Choice, Chicago Tribune
About the Author
Kitty Burns Florey, a veteran copyeditor, is the author of nine novels (Solos, Souvenir of Cold Springs) and many short stories and essays. With her husband, Ron Savage, she divides her time between central Connecticut and upstate New York.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
This book does include a brief history of the development of writing and an interesting discussion of the various teaching methods and penmanship styles of the 18th through 20th centuries. There are some witty observations about the effect of the personal computer on our lives, especially on our (un)willingness and (in)ability to put pen to paper on a day to day basis. There is a discussion of the quirky "graphology" movement. All entertaining, if not extremely enlightening.
But the book also suffers from some serious flaws.
First, sad and sorry production values. As others have noted, there are some glaring glitches like text printed on top of graphics, footnotes misnumbered, typos, the absence of an index. One also would think that a book extolling the virtues of fine handwriting would also be a finely made book. This one is printed on cheap paper and has that "fresh out of a software package" look.
Second, some very thin content. The discussion of the history and current status of the fountain pen is superficial at best and inaccurate at worst. Sure, the fountain pen is not exactly mainstream. But there has been a modern resurgence of interest in fine writing instruments, both vintage and current production. This book devotes two pages to the development of the fountain pen, including an extended anecdote about an ad for the Sheaffer Snorkel on the "I Love Lucy" show. The author devotes just over one page to ink, which concludes with the observation that ink is "an artifact of another world," available only at art supply stores for use by artists and calligraphers. The author seems blissfully ignorant of the resurgence of interest in fountain pens and the revival of many of the classic pen manufacturers.
The title of the review sums up my impression of the book. Much to admire, much that disappoints.
Kitty Burns Florey has taken what seems like a topic for a short magazine article and come up with quite a browsable book in Script and Scribble: The Rise and Fall of Handwriting. She conducts a quick tour of writing, from cuneiform pictograms made with a stylus in wet clay up to handwriting methods taught in schools today. There's a survey of pens and pencils, as well as of typewriters.
Handwriting in popular culture, handwriting analysis, calligraphy, and doodling all come under Florey's scrutiny. She has done a considerable amount of research for the book, but also relies on her own experiences for many examples. Apparently she is quite a pack rat, because she shares many handwriting samples from her own experiences, starting in first grade.
Although this is not an academic book, there are many side notes to elaborate on points made in the text. You don't often see side notes, which are located in the margins unlike the more traditionally placed footnotes or endnotes. The wide margins also leave room for lots of graphics.
Florey, who has also written about diagramming sentences in her previous book Sister Bernadette's Barking Dog: The Quirky History and Lost Art of Diagramming Sentences, is not a dinosaur who is clinging to the past. She accepts and embraces computers and blackberries, but wonders if keyboarding can completely replace handwriting. Students who take notes on laptops tend to transcribe class lectures verbatim. Students who take handwritten notes learn to evaluate while listening so they can pick out the noteworthy bits to write down. But most of us can type faster than we can write, and for a longer time. Both writing and typing have their merits.
In the end, Florey advocates a best of both worlds approach, in which children would learn to write legibly, in addition to learning keyboarding skills. She suggests an italic script that is a sort of cross between printing and handwriting. She sees no reason that children should learn to print and then to write. Why not just learn one method?
Will handwriting survive? It is not hard to imagine a day in the not-overly-distant future, when penilliteracy--I made that term up---will be rampant across the land. As it is today, I suspect lots of people use handwriting only when they are required to sign a legal document. They don't write checks anymore, because of debit cards and online banking. So, for a lot of people, handwriting has become analogous to singing. A century ago, people sang a lot more---in church, in community gatherings, or around the piano at home with family and friends. But now we tend much more to associate music with recorded music, and the participatory element has diminished. And because people don't sing much, they get out of practice, and on about the only remaining occasion on which we still do---a birthday party---people often sound dreadful, and very self-conscious. ( I know I do.) And people are that way about their handwriting. They don't have to use a pen, so their handwriting deteriorates, to the point where they are terribly embarrassed when other people see their ungainly scrawl. That embarrassment is a hopeful sign to me, because it signifies that people still feel having good, legible penmanship is something to be valued.
Next time you go into an antique store, thumb through the boxfuls of old postcards. You'll discover that beautiful penmanship eighty and ninety years ago was not a gift bestowed upon the few. You'll see lovely script on every card. And they had to contend with quirky nibs and bottles of ink! I believe anybody who wishes to improve his or her handwriting is capable of doing it, with help from a class in calligraphy, or perhaps a software program. The question is whether the interest in having good handwriting skills will ever resurge; maybe it will not. Few people are nostalgic today for the days when you had to make your own soap, and maybe in time handwriting will fade altogether.
Kitty Burns Florey is a graceful writer, and frequently funny, and her book is hardly a starchy schoolmarmish finger-wagger. She makes good handwriting sound very cool, and very desirable. Which I certainly have long felt. If you've read this review this far you are probably going to enjoy this spirited and informative book.
Along the nicely illustrated way we learn plenty of interesting things. Who'd have thought that in early 18th Century London a clerk or a contractor would write so fine a hand that his bill "for work and materials" on a house in Tower Hill would be a thing of beauty in itself, preserved and admired to this day? Who'd have thought that the beautiful writing by commoners would spark a backlash amongst the upper crust, who would distinguish themselves from lesser folk by scribbling as sloppily as possible? That Copperplate, Spencerian and Palmer method were all "scientific" styles, distinct and replete with rules, rules, rules not only about the shapes of letters but proper posture for the writer and whence must come the light source?
As a professional writer I am bound to my computer--even as I compose this review--as once I was to the typewriter, but still I write with a fountain pen every day (Parker Duofold, italic nib) and have a dozen other back-up pens. I use them all from time to time, to sign checks and letters, and especially to address envelopes. Here's why: everybody gets junk mail, and it's obviously junk. But suppose that in your daily stack you were to see an envelope that was just as obviously addressed by hand, by a real person? You'd open it first, of course. Lost art though it may be, calligraphy still counts in some places. Thank-you and sympathy notes must be hand-written. Some people even hire calligraphers to address invitations because the touch of a human hand means so much. (There are numerous computer typefaces that mimic handwriting. don't even dream of them. They are pathetic. )
And so I recommend this book even as I forgive Ms. Florey for being a copy editor and for paying insufficient attention to Chancery Cursive, even as I recommend that you but this book and invest ten bucks more in a Sheaffer Mini Calligraphy Kit (also available from Amazon) so you can, after just a little practice, see what PERSONAL expression looks like.--Bill Marsano is an award-winning writer on travel, wine and spirits.
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