This afternoon I popped into the Ransom Center and came across a wonderful little section showcasing interactive design elements in early paper books. Above is a “volvelle” (from the Latin word volvere, a verb meanting “to turn”) made around 1575 by Leonhard Thurneisser. (Hand colored!) If I understand correctly, it’s basically gigantic “horoscope calculator,” designed to show readers how the heavens will influence their lives. (A visual echo: Brian Dettmer’s book autopsies.)
Below is a 1570 printing by John Day of Euclid’s The Elements of Geometry, complete with foldable diagrams. The book is open to the point where Euclid explains what makes a pyramid a pyramid. (Looking at both these books I was reminded of my friend, the paper whiz, Kelli Anderson, and her new book.)
Across the room, perhaps not as visually spectacular, but no less beautiful to me, was this pocket notebook that belonged to Sam Shepard:
“Paper is a wonderful technology for the storage and retrieval of observations,” writes Walter Isaacson. In his recent biography of Leonardo da Vinci, the penultimate item on a list of lessons he draws from the artist’s life is: “Take notes on paper.”
Five hundred years later, Leonardo’s notebooks are around to astonish and inspire us. Fifty years from now, our own notebooks, if we work up the initiative to start writing them, will be around to astonish and inspire our grandchildren, unlike our tweets and Facebook posts.
I went home and wrote in my notebook. My paper notebook.