Next up in my challenge to read 25 books in 2018 is Just My Type by Simon Garfield. Hey Book nerds, this one is right up your alley!
One of the things I do when starting a new book is to check if there is a ‘Note on the Type’ somewhere at the start or end of the book. Sometimes it’s just a sentence like ‘Set in Times New Roman’, sometimes though the book provides a detailed history such as this from a reprint of a Dashiell Hammett book I have:
‘This book was set in Janson. The hot metal version of Janson was a recutting made direct from type cast from matrices long thought to have been made by the Dutchman Anton Janson who was a practicing type founder in Leipzig during the years 1668 – 1687. However, it has been conclusively demonstrated that these types are actually the work of Nicholas Kis (1650 – 1702), a Hungarian, who most probably learned his trade from the master Dutch type founder Dirk Voskens.”
This Note on the Type goes on like that for another couple of sentences. I find it interesting, but then again, I’ve worked in Publishing since 1988.
This is the type of non-fiction book that provides an overview of the subject, without using too much technical information and jargon which might bore the reader with just a casual interest in the subject. There’s lots of historic anecdotes on the development of typefaces and bios of type designers. Garfield profiles some of the well known historic designers like Berthed Wolpe, Hermann Zapf, Eric Gill, William Caslon, Adrian Frutiger, and a few more recent designers like Zuzanna Licko. There are stories about how governments have used typefaces for various forms of propaganda, like the Nazis who started off using very traditional German gothic black typefaces but changed to more modern sleeker designs. Or the story of how a United Nations organization released posters and ads discouraging the use of pirated media, but was found to have used a typeface that they had not asked the designer permission to use. Of course there are stories about specific typefaces, such as why did Helvetica become so universally used here in the U.S? Coke, it’s the real thing! Helvetica! Or how Cooper Black is an awesome typeface to use when you need enormous, readable words, such as how EasyJet used it on the sides of their planes. Then again, Cooper Black is not so readable when it’s used in a much smaller font, it looks great as the title of The Beach Boys ‘Pet Sounds’ album, but it’s just about unreadable when used to list the song titles on that album.
A feature that seemed novel at first but obvious after a few pages is that the text will briefly appear in the type being described. So when he is writing about the dreaded Comic Sans, the words appears in that type, though thankfully very briefly. (I’ve found that it’s not that easy to change the typeface in WordPress, so I’d do it here, but from reading the directions on how to do it, it looks like it would take too long!) At least one thing I learned is that the name of the typeface that I’ve always admired, which I’ve seen used on a lot of book covers from the 1950’s – 1960’s, is Albertus. Here’s a few examples below, Faber & Faber used this typeface a lot for their book covers during this time.
I’m sure that I’ve bought books that used this typeface just because I liked the cover. It’s also used on the blue plaques describing historic sites in the UK.
I’ve worked in publishing a long time, but I’m no expert on type, so I learned a lot from the book, but it did leave me wanting to know more. There’s not much of a conclusion to the book, there’s no speculation as to where typography is going, and the emphasis really is on the designs of the 20th century. I would have liked a bit more information on how typefaces are chosen by designers, there’s a little of that, but a few interviews with current designers on how they use type would have been interesting. And how about that cover! That white on black typeface used is just about unreadable, why did the designer use that? Is it even an official type? Doesn’t even look like it’s a book on type at all. Overall though it’s a fun, quick read.
So that’s two so far of the goal to read 25. It doesn’t help the ‘To Be Read’ pile though as this one was a library book. Getting library books helps me in getting the book read though since I have to return it, instead of letting it sit in a stack for months.
Mr. C read ‘The Incorrigible Children of Aston Place’ by Maryrose Wood. He was quite proud that he read this since his school lists it as a fifth grade level book, and he’s just in the third grade. I’ve read some of it, its pretty funny in a very wry way, maybe “deadpan” or “straight faced” could be other terms to use to describe it:
“Miss? Miss? The conductor stood in the aisle next to her seat and spoke a bit louder than he normally would, in order to be heard over the screechy din of the train’s brakes being applied.
“Is it bandits?” Miss Lumley cried, half asleep, “For, though unarmed, I will fight!”
The most recent book that Ms. J has read is ‘Red Scarf Girl’ by Ji Li Jiang, which is a young adult book that adults would like it too. It’s a memoir of how the author was told to renounce her parents by the Communist party during the “Cultural Revolution”, she refused and still managed to survive.
Ms. J has somehow managed to read eight books so far this month. How is this possible, I wondered. Turns out that she has been finishing a lot of books that she had abandoned earlier. A finished book still counts to her goal of fifty, I guess. I have to catch up!