Saturday, January 1, 2011

A Better Pencil, Again

I said I would report on Dennis Baron, A Better Pencil: Readers, Writers, and the Digital Revolution. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009. I have read it, and I have little to say. It's not the kind of book I would have expected from Oxford University Press as an academic press. It's the kind of stuff I expect from more commercial presses.

If you are looking for stimulating theses about the influence of "the digital revolution" on writing, you will be disappointed. If you hope for stimulating theses about the relation of writing implements and writing, you will be equally disappointed. I was ... What you get is well-written but very superficial accounts of the history and workings of clay, papyrus, printing, pencils, erasers, typewriters, computers, word processors, email, blogs, IM, wikis, etc. There is some emphasis on early criticisms of these devices. You also get advice on what to do or not to do with email, wikis, blogs, etc. ... but no more than you could find out easily on the Web yourself.

I thought his report on how he has his students make and use clay tablets for writing was mildly interesting (though my first impression was that the human guinea pigs were actually high school students, but apparently this goes on in a university class). I found the account of the history and use of pencils completely uninteresting, as I had read Petroski already. Nothing new about typewriters. Even if you wanted to find out more about Ted Kaczynski and other enemies of the computer, there seem to be better sources. (But this is a guess, as I have no interest in Kaczynski's delusions.)

In other words, these $10.00 (and the time reading the Kindle Book) were not well spent.

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