Today, in the age of near-universal computer access in the United States, 42 states have stopped teaching cursive in favor of keyboard proficiency. (Massachusetts is one of the few holdouts.) The United States Postal Service teeters on the brink of bankruptcy for want of handwritten letters. That the importance of handwriting has diminished should surprise no one, but British novelist Philip Hensher’s ardent defense of it might.
In “The Missing Ink: The Lost Art of Handwriting,” published last month by Faber and Faber, Hensher presents an impassioned argument for the continued use of manual script, as well as an idiosyncratic history of handwriting’s remarkably brief tenure as an important pursuit. As the significance of handwriting dwindles, Hensher contends, the Western world stands to lose a rite of passage, a manner of self-expression, and a way to connect to one another.