Twitter (who else) has told us the exciting news that our president has actually enjoyed a book. The man who claims to be too smart to need to read books has tweeted his appreciation of one — Reasons to Vote Democrat by Michael J. Knowles. The joke of course is that this is a blank book. Ha, ha, ha; or as he puts it “Ho! Ho! Ho!”, perhaps trying to elbow in on Santa-Clausian ratings. As The Guardian says in its “review” of this and other examples of the satirical-wannabe genre, “These blank books make the Ladybird parodies, and the Blyton-spoof Five on Brexit Island, look like Jonathan Swift.”

The fact that we are able to persuade people to hand over cash for this sort of thing (a remark which might of course apply to much of trade publishing) is a tribute to the publishing industry’s ability to make money out of moonshine. Of course a blank book does give you something in which to draw pictures, write a diary or commonplace book, take lecture notes, or in the case of my own crazy Dynasts project,* write out a fair-copy of a classic text.

Publishers used to make up dummy copies of many (maybe most) of their books so that they could make sure the jacket would fit. These dummies consisted of blank pages, in the paper and number required for by the book waiting to be printed, bound in a case using some bit of cloth left over in the bindery. Usually you wouldn’t waste time stamping the spine, so it would only be a hand-written annotation in the front that would tell what book this dummy was representing. Many of them were rather nice objects, and I have over the years accumulated quite a collection of them, many of which were passed on to granddaughters as pastime projects. (I fear they showed signs of inhibition when faced with a leather-bound volume stamped Holy Bible on the spine.) Unfortunately publishers have now managed to figure out that measuring carefully works just as well as making a full dummy and costs a lot less.

Blank books have been a staple of the marketplace since the later years of last century. Moleskine appeals to the top end of this market, where customers seem to think that writing in a Moleskine will make them write like Hemingway. But buying one of these “satirical” books with a jokey title on its spine is perhaps a less than ideal way to acquire a notebook. It often seems that people have money to burn.

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* For any who care I can now report I am about half way through, on page 359. We are up to 1809 (Part 2, Act II, Scene IV), and are now having to recognize that there may not be enough pages in my dummy OED volume to take us to the end of the drama. It’ll be a close run thing. The problem will have to be dealt with when we eventually get there. I’m having to resist the urge to use less and less illustration. Just drafted the bayonet charge of the English down the hill at Talavera. The pencil sketch is made from the camera lucida app, and then inked over, which has been half done here.

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