Monday, May 31, 2010

Angus Trumble's "The Finger: A Handbook"

Angus Trumble was born and raised in Victoria, Australia. He is a graduate of the University of Melbourne, and of New York University’s Institute of Fine Arts, where he was a Fulbright Scholar in 1994–95. From 1996 to 2001 he was Curator of European Art at the Art Gallery of South Australia in Adelaide, and since 2003 has been Senior Curator of Paintings and Sculpture at the Yale Center for British Art in New Haven, Connecticut.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Finger: A Handbook, and reported the following:
I was not aware of Ford Madox Ford’s page 99 test, but in the case of my own new book The Finger: A Handbook (Farrar, Straus and Giroux) it seems to work nicely. My page 99 brings the reader into the middle of an extended, but hopefully fruitful discussion of old British nursery-rhyme naming conventions for the fingers that obviously relates to the more fundamental concept of learning to count, and count moreover to the power of ten—a habit that obviously came into being because of what primitive mankind discovered wiggling helpfully at the most conveniently proximate extremities. My page 99 is also picaresque, because among the rhymes is one that in the 1940s an old Englishwoman recalled her gloomy Scottish nurse reciting to her many decades earlier, in the flickering light of a candle: “Thumb, Black Barney; / Finger, Lope Dake; / Finger, Steel Corney; / Finger, Runaway; / And Little Canny Wanny who Pays All.” This and many similar rhyme schemes appear to account for the activities of four bucolic thieves, concluding with the little finger that almost always bears the cost.

My page 99 fits snugly into the early part of the fifth chapter (of ten, naturally, all of which shun footnotes). That chapter is entitled “The Finger and the Economy,” and in it I have some terse words to say about modern theft, and the present fiscal madness, but the book as a whole is about fingers in the broadest possible sense: about the nuances of gesture, about nonverbal communication, about finger imagery in art, and (inter alia) about fashions in gloves and colored nail polish—a phenomenon that crash-landed in the field of cosmetics in Paris in the 1920s, initially in the form of highly toxic green fuselage paint for aircraft. My first book, A Brief History of the Smile, began its life as a talk at a conference of dentists, but The Finger: A Handbook started off as a lecture for orthopedic surgeons. It is wayward, discursive, exploratory, and personal in outlook. I suppose I really wrote it as an entertainment, and I fervently hope that my readers will derive some enjoyment from exploring its digital byways. Why, for example, were the Victorians so obsessed by the concept of “filbert nails”? What is a filbert nail?

I should also mention that my page 99 is a beautiful page, set in magnificent Bembo, and brilliantly copy-edited for me by John McGhee, and designed (along with all the rest) by the estimable Jonathan D. Lippincott at Farrar, Straus and Giroux, who clearly has the nimble fingers of a true artist.
Learn more about The Finger at the publisher's website and Angus Trumble's blog.

--Marshal Zeringue