When I was a kid I used to play office, school, or library. For me this didn’t really equate to having pupils or play acting an office or library situation. What it essentially boiled down to was playing with paper. But not just any paper, you couldn’t give me some scratch paper, or a pad of paper or a fresh envelope or anything like that. To have any sort of value to me it had to be something that had once had a real, adult, purpose.
And I wasn’t the only one, my older sister and even some neighbor kids got in on the act as well. We would go dumpster diving at the school near our house and pull out anything that looked official. One time we found the holy grail of school-related paper: A grade book. A red, hardcover, spiral-bound, grade book with lots of ruled rows and columns and cut-out tabs. We would also collect unwanted mail from our parents and trade the best pieces back and forth as if they were baseball cards. Our favorites were envelopes with windows and things that were, or looked like, bills. Junk mail was not our thing. I’m guessing the 2 or 3 others in that small social circle grew out of their interest in playing with mail and other sorts of papers, but for me it went the opposite direction. My fascination wasn’t just with paper, pretty much any office supply or equipment could hold me in thrall. In the early 1980s I even cut out and pasted pictures of the earliest home computers and taped them to my nightstand. I didn’t care what computers could do, I just liked the way they looked.
Flash forward 35 years and I have worked in lots of offices with lots of paper, typewriters, and computers, and I have to say, I still kind of love it. For sure office work can be mundane and soul-crushingly boring, but I do still love the trappings of an office–at least an office of a certain era. Not much interesting to me about the sleek, nearly paperless, offices of today. Give me something pre-1980s with typewriters and real phones, and paper, and rubber stamps, and perforations, and carbons, and files, and index cards, and tape, and staples…
What has me thinking about all of this? I’m currently reading The Intercom Conspiracy by Eric Ambler. A spy thriller from 1969 that centers around a right-wing newsletter called Intercom. There is plenty of nail-biting intrigue involved but there is also lots of paper. Reference books and libraries and mimeographs, mailing lists, telegrams. I could read about that stuff all time.
I would love these books for other reasons but the paper/office details in other literature also pleases me. Wilkie Collins’s The Woman and White, so much letter writing. The scenes in Howard’s End (movie version) where Leonard Bast works in the Porphyrion. Many of Barbara Pym’s characters, indexers and what not. Fanny in Look at Me by Anita Brookner works in a medical reference library.
You really need to follow this link to see the entire Marks and Co in LEGO created by someone who loves the book.
I keep thinking of books and movies where I can indulge this fetish. When Emma Thompson breaks the case in In The Name of the Father by getting a big old file in the police archives. Even the directory research in the the movie Spotlight. I could go on and on…