Writer’s unblock

We tend to forget that most writers today are actually typers. They no longer write, but type their work on machines, mechanic or electronic. Don’t worry, I’m not being either pedantic or facetious, and I’m certainly not suggesting that only someone with a pen or quill in hand should be called a writer. I’m merelyContinue reading “Writer’s unblock”

Fiction and non-fiction

One of the peculiarities of the Anglo-American book cultures is, to my mind, the habit of dividing prose into fiction and non-fiction. As far as I know, no other cultural tradition does it. In French bookshops, books are categorised as literature (novels) – subdivided into French novels, foreign novels, youth/teenager novels, fantasy/science-fiction and detective/thriller/crime novels,Continue reading “Fiction and non-fiction”

Speed and writing

The history of writing is many things, but it is also a history of raising the speed bar. From stone and wood to paper and digital, writing went faster and faster. New writing technologies superseded old ones not only because they made records more permanent and reliable, but because they saved time. Parchment replaced papyrusContinue reading “Speed and writing”

Pre-print UX

Everything today is about user experience. The standard ISO definition of user experience has it as ‘a person’s perceptions and responses that result from the use or anticipated use of a product, system or service’. The earliest case of user experience has to do with books before the age of print. Readers’ engagement with manuscriptsContinue reading “Pre-print UX”

The book is an iPad which…

Just imagine for a second. The book is an iPad which instead of a screen has paper leaves which may be turned, and contains no plastic. The pen is an extension of your fingers which comes between you and your thumb. Paper is a touch screen without the capacity for self-erasure. The library is aContinue reading “The book is an iPad which…”

In defence of books and bookshops: 1993

Nearly 25 years ago, the French novelist Jean d’Ormesson reflected on the future of books and bookshops in a world invaded by television and new technologies. ‘Books’, he wrote, ‘are a great blessing in uncertain times.’ ‘The modern world was built through books. The Bible is a book. The Koran is a book. The Discourse onContinue reading “In defence of books and bookshops: 1993”

Ten medieval ways to hold a book

The good thing with illuminated manuscripts of books of the Old Testament is that there is great scope for depicting scribes, books, scrolls, pens, desks, and other elements of the medieval culture of writing and book-making. Manuscript Engelberg 76, produced in the mid 12th century at the Benedictine Abbey of Engelberg in Switzerland , oneContinue reading “Ten medieval ways to hold a book”

The legends of medieval books

This blogpost is not about myths and legends, but about editorial legends, the written explanatory matter accompanying an illustration, map, chart, explaining how visuals are to be read and understood, or what they stand for. Despite their widespread use, legends are not modern. Medieval scribes, scholars and the manuscript culture these worked in made good use of legends,Continue reading “The legends of medieval books”

How to write and publish in the Middle Ages: Eadmer and St Anselm

We moderns easily forget that the medieval texts we read in manuscript or in print are the result of a complex process of composition; that writers didn’t just ‘pen’ words and sentences as they came to them; that we are not the only ones to struggle on the agonising road from ‘idea’ to ‘final draft’.Continue reading “How to write and publish in the Middle Ages: Eadmer and St Anselm”

Petrarch on the love of books

Richard de Bury’s Philobiblon has echoes of Petrarch’s Epistolae familiares. The two men had indeed met and, according to Ernest Thomas, were ‘kindred spirits’, united in their love for books and the celebration of learning. In book 3 of his Epistles, the Italian humanist observes that ‘gold, silver, jewels, purple garments, houses built of marble, groomedContinue reading “Petrarch on the love of books”