There is a section in one of Stephen Potter’s One-upmanship books which states that to be one-up you have to know the history of things. For example, if you ply chess, be able to talk at length about its origins. Although Potter meant it as a joke, I think he had a point. Knowing the history of writing is, I think an enriching experience for writers. It’s not essential, of course, but interesting — as is the history of printing, and the history of literature.
With this in mind, the Writing: Making our Mark exhibition at the British Library is very welcome. It’s fascinating to be able t look a pieces of writing dating back a couple of thousand years, and the scribbles of more modern authors. The only thing I didn’t like were that it’s very dark, making it tiring on the eyes. Of course, low lighting is necessary.
For me, the highlights of the exhibition were:
Learning that James Joyce colour-coded his notes.
The Chinese typewriter: over 2,400 characters available for immediate use, plus a tray of 1,700 lesser-used characters. As if that isn’t impressive enough, the characters in the typewriter can be moved around or swapped with those in the tray. In other words, it’s a fully-customisable machine. Amazing!
Apparently, 29% of the people who answered a questionnaire think that in 50 years’ time we will type emails to send birthday cards. Many people do that now, so I’d be surprised if something else hadn’t replaced email in the next half a century. You never know, maybe people will revert to writing all their cards, just as many people have returned to books and vinyl records. As someone more famous than I said (although exactly who isn’t clear): we can predict everything except the future.
I bought the book published to accompany the exhibition, and that is fascinating. I’m not yet in a position to be able to review it, but it’s a good visual feast and a good read.Here’s a link to it on Amazon. Please note that it’s an Amazon affiliate link:
And here’s the link to the exhibition:
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