Book (DK Eyewitness Series) – (1993)

As I’ve mentioned before (see here about cowboys and also a read about sports (but no blog post for that one)), I’ve become a big fan of the DK Eyewitness books over the past couple of years.

Although categorized as a kid and YA book, I’ve found that each book in this series is a super way to be introduced to a topic in a manageable manner. This is supported by the fact that each book has a fantastic graphic design approach to the subject, and actually, by the time I’ve finished reading one of these titles, I feel as though I have been wandering around a really well curated exhibition at a museum. I have always learned something new by the end, and it’s just been an overall interesting experience. So – yes. High praise for the book series.

This particular title jumped out at me when I was strolling past some library shelves, and I loved reading it just as I have loved reading the other titles. Called, very simply, “Book”, this edition covers the history of books, of writing, of language, and of any other topic that you can link with the history of the printed word, and it does so in a concise and graphically pleasing way that it was a pleasure to read and learn along the way.

Roman Tablet with Inscription

Because there were so many nuggets of knowledge in this title (just like the other titles), I ended up taking a few notes and so thought that this bullet format would do the job for this review.

  • When the Roman alphabet was first used, it originally wrote from right to left. It was only after a few years of usage that it was changed to the left to right format as we use nowadays in the various Western languages.
  • Each letter in most of the examples of Roman writing has been hand carved in stone, and each letter is designed to fit inside an invisible square or circle to help keep its uniformity and so each character stays the same size.
  • Romans used mathematical compasses (like you used in HS perhaps) to keep the circles all the same size, and sometimes, if you look closely at some Roman writing, you can spot the small hole in the center of the letter from when the stone carver use the point of the compass as a guide.
  • The majority of Roman writing is in capitals as they were easier to carve with the tools available. Each letter was drawn onto the stone surface with chalk, then gone over with paint and then the carver just followed these thick and thin lines to make the writing permanent.
  • In Arabic writing, the language was originally written without any consonants (leaving the reader to add the consonants him/herself when he/she read the writing). It was only later that vowels were added to the written language, and these were written as extra marks above or below each letter (e.g. small dots or dashes), You can see this in Hebrew and other similar languages. (I’d always been curious what these dots/dashes meant. Now I know…)
  • Early writing was written on papyrus (which was a watery reed like plant), or was written on parchment. Parchment is apparently made like this: the animal’s skin is first washed in clean water, then soaked in a solution of lime for up to ten days. Each side is then scraped to remove the hair and flesh remaining, and once that’s done, the skin gets soaked once again. It’s then stretched onto a wooden frame, and then each side is further scraped with a curved blade to remove any debris left over. One more scraping after the skin has dried removed any debris, and then you’re good to go. Thus, parchment was hard to produce, expensive to buy, and so only the wealthy would use it for their affairs. (Huh. Didn’t know that, although it makes perfect sense.)
  • With reference to fonts and similar: italics is called that because the forward slanting writing was designed to be similar to the writing that clerks in Italy would use for their documents. (Makes sense.)
  • Times Roman was given its name as it was developed for the London Times newspaper in 1932. (I imagine that Times New Roman was a more modern refinement of that.)
  • The type Gill Sans was designed by stone carver Eric Gill, and so it goes on. Fascinating (to me at least).

In the old days, as paper was very hard to get and expensive to have and to use, a lot of people didn’t have a lot of practice in writing and so it was hard for the writer in question to judge how much room to leave on the paper/papyrus/parchment for the writing that you had to do.

Thus, mistakes were made, and I adore this signature of Elizabeth I (below), as she has all these flourishes and curls around her sig but then accidentally runs out of space on the paper and has to add her “H” to the last bit above the line. (I love how it shows that even queens make mistakes. 🙂 )




Pen News

I know you’ve been dying to know about the pen purchase the other day, and I finally remembered to take a pic to show off my new proudly acquired little writing friend. Here she is:


Ahhh. Hello, my little sweetness.

This is a Pilot Metropolitan with a fine nib in gold brush finish. It’s the same model as my previous ink pen purchase last year, a pen that I have fallen head over heels in love with and that I adore. Another plus: I even use it for most of my notes at work meetings and similar so it’s not something that just sits around being neglected.

It’s perfectly balanced for my hand, a joy to write with, and might even improve my handwriting a bit, all of which to say is a miracle if you ask me. I also ordered the little cubist pen case (or as it was called in England in my youth a pencil case) in a color which just makes me smile when I see it at meetings. The ink is pink. Perhaps not the most professional color ink to use, but as it’s my pen and my writing, I am planning on using this when my current cartridge runs out. I’m wondering how pink is pink…

The fine nib makes a difference as well. I like the medium nib, it’s true, but sometimes only a fine nib will do the trick. (You know you’re OCD* about pens and ink when this is a concern to you in your daily life!) This combined w my Moleskin notebooks makes me a very happy person…

Does anyone else have a thing about ink pens? Or any pens? Or office stationary? Please say yes. 🙂

P.S. Completely unrelated to the topic of post, but dying to know anyway: Has anyone see the AbsFab movie? I keep hoping it’s going to come to my city, but the odds are going down week by week. 😦

  • Not to make light of a serious condition. My sister and I both have some tendencies and we call it “Overly Caring” instead of the slightly judgy tone of “Obsessive Compulsive.” It works for us. 🙂

Readings: Essays and Literary Entertainments – Michael Dirda (2000)


Having just finished up Michael Dirda’s book of essays about books, I feel quite bereft for several reasons, really. One is that no matter how hard I try, I will not reach his level of literary achievements – He seems to have a familiarity with every title out there, no matter how far back you go. Second – he writes extremely well about what he reads (without a trace of boasting about the sheer numbers), and three, he’s been awarded the Pulitzer Prize, and finally, four, he seems to be a nice all-around guy.

In case you’re not up on who Dirda is, he is the Washington Post’s Senior Book Critic and he has a Ph.D. in Comparative Literature from Cornell University.  He’s also incredibly well read, and I’ve dipped into his erudite blog (now defunct), but you can see more of his writing via The American Scholar’s Browsing column. I’ve enjoyed almost everything I’ve read by him so far. I own three of his books (Readings (2000), Bound to Please (2005), and Book by Book (2005)) but have only read this title so far. (Read quite a few of his columns though.) However, he definitely meets the self-determined criteria of one of my famed literary dinner party guests. (Guests so far include Nick Hornby, Robert Lacey and Dirda. Hmm. I clearly need to balance up the table a bit in terms of gender and POC… I’ll work on that.)

Basically, this book is a collection of essays and columns from his writing at the Washington Post, and in the same vein as Nick Hornby (except a little more elevated, one might say). Hornby’s easier to read and pretty funny, whilst Dirda is much more scholarly and serious. Both are good in different ways – just depends what you’re in the mood for, really. Just be prepared to add oodles of titles to your TBR list.

So this collection covers a wide range of topics, from the challenge of getting his three young boys to read more to the writings of Sophocles to the book-buying adventures in which he engages every now and then. As a bookie person, I really enjoyed each column but must be candid and admit that there were quite a few titles of which I had never heard. (Boy – he seems to have read everything and remembers what he read as well!)

I particularly liked his quote about traveling:

“A good rule of thumb is: Pack twice as many books as changes of underwear.”

Sounds rather sensible to me.

So – if you like books about books, or reading about books, and enjoy adding five million titles to your TBR, then I highly recommend Dirda’s columns. I really enjoyed this read, and now moving the other two titles up the pile a bit. (Want to spread them out a bit so I can look forward to them. Plus he has a new title coming out in 2015. Joy.)


ALERT: Broken Spell Check and Strange Grammar Outbreak…

These are just some of the signs that I’ve spotted about town in the past few weeks… Enjoy!

Annnyone for a game?

Annnyone for a game?

Oh, semi-colons. Use with caution. Just because you can doesn't mean you should...

Oh, semi-colons. Use with caution. Just because you can doesn’t mean you should…

Quotation mark abuse that had to be documented...

Quotation mark abuse that had to be documented…

Sign from a doctor's office -- shimpering, anyone?

Sign from a doctor’s office — shimpering, anyone?

And a slightly odd thing to put on your car:


Recap: 2015 Mayborn Literary Nonfiction Conference


As part of my job and life, I write any number of documents, reports, PR materials and numerous other pieces, so it’s important that I try to learn as much as I can to develop my skills. Luckily, I love to learn and when I was offered the chance to attend a prestigious writing conference near Dallas, I jumped at it.

The Mayborn Literary Nonfiction Conference is an annual event organized by the Mayborn School of Journalism (or J-School as it’s known) at the University of North Texas. It’s been going on for quite some time, and has evolved into a pretty important literary event for those in the world of nonfiction (especially narrative NF, creative NF, long-form NF, literary NF or any of its other permutations). The conference’s theme was “The Great Divide” which covered, as the conference brochure says, “the great divide between the Haves and the Have-Nots in America and the social, economic, racial, cultural and political fissures created by this divide.”

Speakers were heavy hitters in the world of lit NF: there were keynotes from Anne Fadiman and from Barbara Ehrenreich, there were editors and writers of all levels from places like the Washington Post, New York Times, and The Atlantic magazine, and there were Pulitzer Prize winners talking about their work.

There were panel conversations about the ethics of writing someone else’s story (as happens with lit NF many times): should a writer appropriate the life story belonging to someone else and if so, what is the obligation (if there is one) of the writer to that someone during the process and afterwards (in terms of literary success etc.)?

There was one particularly interesting panel about a young journalist (actually on the panel) who had made a colossal mistake with a story, an error which may have played a role in the source’s eventual suicide. Who should have stopped the error? The journalist himself? His editors? In the end, twelve people read the story prior to print and no one said anything to stop it being published as it was written. How did that occur?

Another panel discussed the rights and wrongs involved in Rolling Stone’s wrongly reported fraternity rape case at a Virginia university. So many people were involved in the process, but somehow the source’s story didn’t get fact-checked… How? Why?


It was a very thought-provoking two days and I learned a great deal, one of the biggest being that every lit NF (whether it’s a book or a short-form article) has a formal structure to it (thanks to good editors if you have one) and I’m slowly deconstructing essays and other documents to see how they are built within these structures.  I think that you have to know the rules to break the rules (re: grammar and other writing bits and pieces). This deconstructing process reminds me of diagraming sentences so if you liked to do that, then you’ll probably enjoy deconstructing essays. It’s great fun on long plane rides, if you ask me.

So – not only was the conference worthwhile, but being in Dallas meant that I was pretty close to lots of friends who live in the area so I managed to catch up with some of them in the scant free time there was. I might also have found a bookshop very close to the hotel. I can neither confirm nor deny that books were bought on this trip.

Anyway, a good trip and well worth the time and effort. You should look it up if you’re interested in lit NF, reading or writing it.