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Book Review: Hands: What we do with them - and why

August 30, 2019

 

Nearly everyone has hands, which is why we don’t pay much attention to them. They’re such an essential part of our lives that we incorporate them into our language. ‘Lending a hand’, ‘forcing someone’s hand’, ‘getting out of hand’... Hand-related idioms pepper our everyday speech and written texts, and this is common across multiple languages.

 

And that is how Leader’s book caught my attention. When something is such a core part of who we are, we don’t necessarily think about it, and that to me means there is a lot I can learn about it. The book examines what we do with our hands and why, as well as how these functions have been viewed in different times. Some of the tangents he runs off on make little sense to me, but I liked most of it. What I enjoyed in particular was him highlighting the contradictions inherent in the use of our hands: we grab and throw, catch and release, push and pull, hurt and comfort, plead and compel... Two hands, infinite possibilities.

 

I primarily use my hands to communicate. Outside of typing and writing, I use gestures to emphasize or explain. I try to ‘shape’ my thoughts with word and movement. In fact, I think that if my hands were bound, I’d find it exceedingly difficult to talk. I think that’s true for a lot of people!

 

And that leads me to wonder how I can better incorporate the expressiveness of hands into my writing. I am a writer who loves dialogue. Yet, I also value silence, the words not said. Conveying what isn’t said aloud and giving it meaning is not an easy task. I feel that, in order to deliver the weight of a pause, the weight of silence, I will have to go beyond describing the face and eyes, and look to how people communicate when speech is not an option. Babies reach, grasp, drop; we push away, pull closer; our fingers rub, twist, lace together; clenched fists, open palms... The hands of our characters may be more revealing than their words.


Hands is a fairly easy read. I hope there will be a sequel or an extension, examining the use of hands or the perception of hands across different cultures - this is very Eurocentric - as there is a lot more to explore.

‘As we are worked by language, as our thoughts pull and push us in different, often painful directions, do we use our hands to try to generate this balance? And if words require an embodiment via the use of our hands, is its ultimate form the act of writing?’

 

 

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