THE MISSING INK: The Lost Art of Handwriting. By Philip Hensher. Faber and Faber. 255 pages. $26.
More than ink is missing from Philip Hensher’s book titled “The Missing Ink.”
Readers may find his intense focus on the act of using a pen to write words on paper a good example of letting wheel bearings, hubcaps and tire treads distract a traveler from his journey. While the “habit” of handwriting is an important step in language learning and builds confidence in young writers, a writer must express ideas in those words.
Hensher begins with a predictable history of handwriting and a brief look at the pioneers of handwriting instruction. He then discusses the diminishing attention given to teaching handwriting; also graphology, writing styles and even pens and ink. Between chapters, Hensher interviews acquaintances to highlight the hidden insecurities and prejudices about handwriting.
To Hensher’s credit, he says handwriting is important because it can identify people, and handwriting identification experts are occasionally called on in court to verify an individual’s handwriting. Furthermore, just as a symmetrical face and trim figure positively influence hiring decisions, so, too, may neat, legible handwriting.
Unfortunately, Hensher fails to address more interesting points about writing, like its therapeutic benefits during a time of loss or great anger; the phenomenon of “hypergraphia,” a manic disorder manifested by the irrepressible urge to write; the “intellectual processing” benefits yielded by writing several drafts of a piece of writing; the memory aid of writing something down; and the marvel of human ability to convey potentially “world changing” ideas by converting individual thought to dispersible print.
Reviewer Hayden D. Shook teaches English as a Second Language at the Community Center of St. Matthew’s and the College of Charleston.