Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Handwriting: Declining and Falling



Script & Scribble: The Rise and Fall of Handwriting / Kitty Burns Florey
New York: Melville House, c2009.
190 p.

I received this book from Random House last week; I've already read through it and returned to certain pages to reread them. It's a wonderful book! With all the interest in snail mail penpals lately over at Eva's and Emily's, I thought that there may be a few more of you out there who would find this book fascinating. Florey's fervour about the process and history of handwriting is catching, and she talked further about it and this book over at Intelligent Life, on January 23, National Handwriting Day, of course!

Here's a bit of the blurb from the book jacket itself:

Florey tackles the importance of writing by hand and its place in our increasingly electronic society in this fascinating exploration of the history of handwriting. Weaving together the evolution of writing implements and scripts, pen-collecting societies, the golden age of American penmanship, the growth in popularity of handwriting analysis, and the many aficionados who still prefer scribbling on paper to tapping on keys, she asks the question: Is writing by hand really no longer necessary in today’s busy world?


If you have any interest in handwriting or writing implements you will find this book an absorbing read. Florey starts with her own life, talking about the training she received in elementary school in the Palmer Method of cursive writing. I have vague memories of the same; it's the strange 2 shaped Q that I recall. I never could force myself to create that shape, instead I copied the O and put a line through it. Handwriting, both everyday and fancier calligraphy, has always interested me. For a while there in my early teens I only wanted to write with a fountain pen, convinced I had been born into the wrong century. My father indulged me and printed up a batch of stationery in his print shop, ecru paper with a beautiful silhouette of a fountain pen across the top, with my name imprinted under it. That was an unforgettable gift!

A while ago (actually, in 2006) there was an article in the Toronto Star bemoaning the lost ability of young people to write in cursive. I remarked on it then and still feel that there is a place for proper cursive instruction in schools, even though that does make me sound like an old fuddy duddy. Florey discusses some of the different kinds of handwriting taught these days, seemingly mostly by homeschoolers, using programs such as the Getty-Dubay system. She also suggests that one of the reasons men especially are known for their bad writing is that cursive is taught in Grade 3, when girls are still ahead of boys in their development, and cursive is not reinforced in later years but it is simply taken for granted that students can scribble as needed. She writes in a delightfully humorous manner, tossing in hilarious random footnotes, and each tidbit was really entertaining. Along with the chapters on handwriting history and methods, pens and inks, manuscripts and graffiti, she includes sections about graphology. Handwriting analysis, like a horoscope, seems reliable to the analyzee, she suggests, because of the Aunt Fanny effect: "This could apply to you, me or my Aunt Fanny!" She delineates the differences between graphology and graphoanalysis, the latter created by a man appropriately named Milton Bunker. I also discovered that something I considered a deformity in elementary school is actually a well-known (and now very retro-cool) physical phenomenon in habitual handwriters: the lumpy callous on the left side of the middle finger of my right hand, where the pen sits, is called the Writer's Bump! Also, original quill pens were adaptable to righties or lefties; depending on which side of the bird they were plucked from, quills curved in slightly different directions. Along with these bits of useful dinner-party conversational gambits the book has numerous illustrations, of pens, personalities, penmanship samples, and various scripts. Florey delights in the joys and rewards of legible, attractive handwriting and encourages us to take pleasure in our own hand as well. It's an inspiring, funny and enlightening read for anyone who enjoys writing, pens, inks, stationery, letters, or the history of social movements. Did you know that good handwriting was once an indication of moral superiority? Well, all the more incentive to work on it now! Read this; you won't be disappointed.

4 comments:

  1. great post....I really like that there are books out there talking about the importance of writing by hand.

    I had that same lesson with the 2 shaped Q!

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  2. Handwriting! Real pen/and/paper correspondence! Not only must I read this book, but I must proselytize about it. (In fact, I just did, in the Pen Fetish forum on Ravelry.)

    I correspond with at least 10 women (some more often than others), and without that contact, I would feel so bereft. Of course, we all are paper and pen fetishists...

    I'm off to read about other snail-mailers. Love this post! Thank you!

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  3. I've added this to my library list. I have the *worst* penmanship. I'm quite envious of those that have beautiful penmanship. sigh.

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  4. Serena - isn't that the weirdest letter?

    Teabird - Glad to find another correspondence addict! I have a couple of penpals I still write to and it is great to use nice paper and pens.

    Sassy - I am making no comment on the handwriting/moral rectitude equation... ;)

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