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Posts Tagged ‘handwriting’

The Backside of the Painting, and Other News

July 29, 2016 | by

Vik Muniz, Verso (Illha de Itamaraca), 2016.

  • The hatchet job isn’t what it used to be. To read Tobias Smollett’s book reviews from the eighteenth century is to discover, as J. H. Pearl writes, ever-higher concentrations of venom: “Smollett, who helmed The Critical Review from 1756 to 1763, never minced words in his judgment of whether a particular text was worth the paper it was printed on … All Smollett needed, it seems, was a target for his wrath. And as the pages of the Review attest, targets abounded … Specific reviewers remained anonymous, the better to create the impression of a unified voice, but writers of badly reviewed books tended to blame Smollett, returning their fire on him. It’s easy to understand that anger. Would you want your book called ‘a very trivial, insipid, injudicious and defective performance, without plan, method, learning, accuracy, or elegance; an unmeaning composition of shreds, rags, and remnants … a patched, a pie-bald, linsey-woolsey nothing’? (That was the assessment of a book called A New and Accurate History of South-America.)”
  • Because people excel at finding new ways to waste other people’s time, a small but vocal faction of conservative educators and politicians have called on our schools to start teaching cursive again. Tamara Thornton, the author of the 1996 book Handwriting in America, sees the reactionary anxiety at the center of their argument: “Learning cursive has never been just about learning how to express yourself in writing … In the early twentieth century, it’s about following models and suppressing your individuality … We get very interested in cursive when we feel that our morals are in a state of decline, all hell is breaking loose, people are doing whatever they want … And I don’t think it’s that much of a stretch that the sort of people who believe in the standard model of the family get very nervous when we depart from the standard models of the cursive script. So there have been periodic bouts of hysteria about the decline of cursive. And it’s always when we feel that as a society, we’re going down the tubes.”
  • At the White Plains Annual Reptile Expo, Madeline Cash dissects the strange bond between lizard and lizard keeper: “That unspoken connection no one else could understand, which maybe didn’t even exist, echoed all over the Convention Center. A lizard’s inhuman qualities are its appeal. They are whatever you need them to be—loving, smiling, a good listener — because the relationship is all a projection … When I saw the bearded dragons, my heart swelled. The gold-breasted beasts had the same long mouths carved across their faces that, as a child, I’d understood to be a smile. The vendor handed one over in an attempt to make a sale off my nostalgia. It cocked its head up at me with that permanent grin and it all flooded back.”


February 8, 2016 | by

“Homesickness,” ca. 1948. This page is from the Vassar College Library, Department of Archives and Special Collections, where Bishop’s papers are stored. Click to enlarge.

Elizabeth Bishop’s poem “Homesickness” appeared in our Summer 2005 issue as part of a portfolio of her notebooks. Alice Quinn wrote of the poem,

Bishop began “Homesickness” in 1948, and the handwriting suggests that this draft may date from that time. In 1964, in a letter to Anne Stevenson, Bishop writes, “My mother went off to teach school at 16 (the way most of the enterprising young people did) and her first school was in lower Cape Breton somewhere—and the pupils spoke nothing much but Gaelic ... she was so homesick she was taken the family dog to cheer her up. I have written both a story and a poem about this episode but neither satisfy me yet.”

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Hunky, Virile Consumers, and Other News

July 13, 2015 | by


From a thirties-era Esquire spread.

  • In postwar America, magazines like Esquire and Playboy helped to shape our concept of the bachelor: an unfettered man, a man in complete control of his life, a man who helped to preserve conventional masculinity even as he fretted over his appearance and his home decor. Bachelorhood became the paragon of manly existence—even though most of Esquire’s readers were married. “Because Esquire relied on corporate advertising to continue existing, overthrowing corporate hierarchy and stratification didn’t factor into their discussions of masculine rejuvenation … women were presented as an obstacle to men’s success at entertaining, which reinforced the theory that women were ultimately responsible for men’s inability to control their lives.”
  • People love to hate the Middle Ages—such benighted centuries, those were, full of blood and swine and religious drudgery! Well, people are fools: the medieval era was every bit as culturally rich as any other. They gave us “castles, cathedrals, Italian and Flemish and Byzantine art, printing, plainsong, and parliaments, not to mention universities. Yet the black propaganda of Voltaire, Hume, Kant, and Mark Twain remains suspended in the air like soot in the old factory towns, while intellectuals crow over the birth of ‘modernity’ like fancied fighting cocks.”
  • James Salter had been corresponding with Sally Gall for more than a year, working toward an extended interview—the final edits were en route to him when he died a few weeks ago, and now the transcript has a new resonance. “Style is really more than a particular voice or way of writing,” Salter says. “It presents an entire subjectivity. In a sense, it determines what can be written … Style is the writer.”
  • One of America’s earliest literary hits was Two Years Before the Mast, Richard Henry Dana Jr.’s 1840 chronicle of his transformative stint as a sailor onboard the Pilgrim. The memoir left a deep mark on Melville, who called it “unmatchable”; today it’s remembered as “a model of reportage, rife with the nautical jargon of a specialist and an anthropologist’s descriptive mastery of life aboard ship and in the Pilgrim’s then-exotic ports of call.”
  • What’s the role of handwriting in the age of the touch screen? “Handwriting is profoundly bodily. Like an exaggerated, intensified version of the sweeps and swipes we use on a tablet, writing by pen can make muscles ache. Write while crying and one’s hand becomes shaky, write with excitement and watch the swirls and loops of one’s arcs become wild—an inky neurochemical expression that type just can’t replicate or capture.”

Cursive Matters, and Other News

June 4, 2014 | by


Image via Wikimedia Commons

  • A new history argues that Joyce suffered from syphilis.
  • And a new study suggests unique cognitive benefits to learning to write in cursive: “In alexia, or impaired reading ability, some individuals who are unable to process print can still read cursive, and vice versa—suggesting that the two writing modes activate separate brain networks and engage more cognitive resources … cursive writing may train self-control ability in a way that other modes of writing do not, and some researchers argue that it may even be a path to treating dyslexia.”
  • In an ancient Chinese tomb, archaeologists have found three-thousand-year-old pants. “These pants, which were recovered from a tomb in China, are about four hundred years older than the previous record holder for ‘oldest pants.’”
  • At the Tate, “Crowds gather at the heart of Henri Matisse: The Cut-Outs, drawn to an artless home movie showing the master at work. He looks, and was, extremely unwell … Art for him is the moment at which, to quote a remark he made about Snail, one becomes ‘aware of an unfolding’. ‘At this time of year,’ he wrote to a friend, ‘I always see the dried leaves on your table, catching fire as they pass under your fingers from death to life.’”
  • “Books do indeed furnish a room—but tobacco smoke gives it volume, substance and an aroma.”
  • In the forties, the U.S. Public Health Service gave this pamphlet to anyone whose home had been sprayed with DDT; it includes a poem of sorts. “Stay indoors at night / That is when malaria skeeters bite / But DDT upon your wall / will kill them if they call.”


English Rude Word Enters German Language, and Other News

July 3, 2013 | by


Williams’ Book Store.

  • On the manifold benefits of writing by hand.
  • In which the author teaches Victorian literature to embryo accountants.
  • Germany adopts shitstorm. Or, as the Beeb would have it, “English rude word enters German language.”
  • Oh dear: the Chicago Sun-Times is discontinuing all book coverage.
  • San Pedro’s Williams’ Book Store is closing after 104 years in business.



Reading Rooms of Your Dreams, and Other News

February 26, 2013 | by


  • From abandoned Wal-Marts to Venetian warrens, thirty places for book lovers. (N.b.: gaining access to number thirteen could be problematic.)
  • A Colorado library is experimenting with loaning out seeds as well as books.
  • Thomas Pynchon’s new novel, set in the pre-9/11 Manhattan tech sector, drops in September.
  • Writing by hand is laborious, and that is why typewriters were invented. But I believe that the labor has virtue, because of its very physicality.” Mary Gordon extols the virtues of longhand. 
  • Speaking of! Proust’s handwriting, while bad, offers moments of clarity, says Colm Tóibín: “The word homosexual, as it is written in his hand here, stands alone; it is very clearly written, each letter perfectly made and totally legible. There is a feeling as you look at it that it was a word Proust did not often write, or that perhaps he enjoyed writing, or that it was a term he now wanted to take his time over, and he needed Vallette to be able to see it clearly.”