Without paper, we are nothing. We are born, and issued with a birth certificate. We collect more of these certificates at school, and yet another when we marry, and another when we divorce, and buy a house, and when we die. We are born human, but are forever becoming paper, as paper becomes us, our artificial skin. Everything we are is paper: it is the ground of activity, the partner to all our enterprises, the key to our understanding of the past. How do we know the past? Only through paper and all it records — and through architecture, of course, though architecture, as we shall see, rather depends on paper. So. Paper wraps stone.Lively writing, yes; I especially admire the wit at the end of this passage. But here and elsewhere, Sansom makes absolute claims and large generalizations that defy plausibility. Is it really the case that we know the past “only through paper and all it records”? Archaeologists and anthropologists and cosmologists and geologists and paleontologists would be surprised to hear that. Assyriologists too would be surprised.
Ian Samsom, Paper: An Elegy (New York: William Morrow, 2012).
Reading Paper: An Elegy reminded me of an experience I had many years ago: a tour with a guide who did not stop talking. It was an eight-hour tour. Paper: An Elegy is often entertaining, but the book ranges so broadly and digresses so freely that it feels, finally, haphazard and a little exhausting. Best borrowed from a library.
[A book about paper that says almost nothing about diaries and notebooks and letters: kinda haphazard.]