Monday, March 27, 2017

The Hieroglyphics Of A Publishing Revolution

For the last couple of weeks I seem to have been here, there and everywhere and had little time for catching my thoughts. Wielding my cognitive butterfly net this morning has produced the following specimens for sharing.

One of the places high up on the "there" list was a visit to Oxford and to the wonderful Ashmolean Museum. We decided to adopt the "top ten must see" approach to a task that otherwise could take weeks, and progressed from gallery to gallery in search of the rising stars of art and archeology. I well remember pausing at the nested coffins of Djeddjehutyiuefankh (as one does) and thinking about the clear similarities between ancient hieroglyphics and  modern emojis. There was a translation of some of the sarcophagus symbols next to the exhibit, and a very pleasant and knowledgeable guide who spoke about them at length; but at the end of the day they boiled down to something like "when I get to the after-life I am looking forward to a pint of beer and a bacon sandwich".  In modern terms this sentiment would look something like this:

and I am determined to leave instructions to have it imprinted on the side of my coffin when the time comes.

Still in Oxford, we visited one of my favourite bookshops in the world, Blackwell's. The link between images and words has dominated my thoughts a lot during the last few years and I was wanting to see how this relationship was reflected in the vast stock of books throughout the store. I suspect that traditional physical books full of words are rapidly becoming, like vinyl records, a niche market, in this age of the far more convenient electronic e-readers. Kindles - and their like - can conveniently deliver a library of books to your back pocket, but they have the formatting skills of a garden slug. They can cope with the complete works of Shakespeare with ease, but if you want a picture of Macbeth's wife they start to panic. At best the picture will be grainy, monochrome and in the wrong place. For frolicking along the shoreline where text and image combine to produce something which is a pleasure to look at as well as read, you can't beat a physical book.  I was keen to see how such trends were reflected in the books available in Blackwell's, and it didn't take me long to discover a perfect example of what I mean in the form of a "book" called Revolution by Philip Parker. The book itself contains no more than sixty pages and more than half of those are occupied by well chosen, and well-reproduced, illustrations. But that is only the start of things: the book also contains three bags, or folders, full of carefully reproduced source documents. Thus whilst reading of Russian Revolution and looking at some fine reproductions of contemporary photographs, you can handle a perfect facsimile of Tsar Nicholas's abdication proclamation. Try doing that with you Kindle!

Perhaps those old Egyptian kings and queens had the right idea after all. Why limit yourself to words when you can bring words and pictures together in perfect harmony.


  1. Great approach to museums. I do like the idea of emoji writing on our coffins. Mine would include something sweet, and coffee I think! Maybe some music too! I do love a good bookstore, and have pared back my purchases of in-hand kinds of books...more's the pity.

  2. What a great idea that book sounds! I have a kindle which is fine for reading nonsense, but it doesn't smell right and no, it doesn't do pictures, and in some cases the formatting is SO CRAP I have to give up.

  3. I'm one of those who prefers the feel and smell of a real book. And, as you pointed out, they're a lot less limited than one on Kindle.

  4. I recently acquired a copy of GB Shaw, Man and Superman which is beautifully bound with lovely illustrations inside. I was overcome with the idea of ridding myself of the physically ordinary books on my shelves and gradually replacing them either with Classics or books I find pleasure in holding and leafing through. You've summed up those feelings very well here. I laughed out loud at the idea of the emoji's on your coffin.


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