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Expendable Mudge Muses Aloud

Just My Type: A Book about Fonts

Just My Type: A Book about Fonts - Rating: 4.5* of five The Book Report: The book description says: A hugely entertaining and revealing guide to the history of type that asks, What does your favorite font say about you?Fonts surround us every day, on street signs and buildings, on movie posters and books, and on just about every product we buy. But where do fonts come from, and why do we need so many? Who is responsible for the staid practicality of Times New Roman, the cool anonymity of Arial, or the irritating levity of Comic Sans (and the movement to ban it)?Typefaces are now 560 years old, but we barely knew their names until about twenty years ago when the pull-down font menus on our first computers made us all the gods of type. Beginning in the early days of Gutenberg and ending with the most adventurous digital fonts, Simon Garfield explores the rich history and subtle powers of type. He goes on to investigate a range of modern mysteries, including how Helvetica took over the world, what inspires the seeming ubiquitous use of Trajan on bad movie posters, and exactly why the all-type cover of Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus was so effective. It also examines why the "T" in the Beatles logo is longer than the other letters and how Gotham helped Barack Obama into the White House. A must-have book for the design conscious, Just My Type's cheeky irreverence will also charm everyone who loved Eats, Shoots & Leaves and Schott's Original Miscellany. My Review: I confess it: I am a type geek. I love a well-designed book. I love to immerse myself in a book and lose all sense of time and space, and then after I've returned to the dull confines of mortal reality, look closely at the object in front of me to winkle out its secrets. Often I find the design of a book can make it a better read (The Night Circus being a great example) or pop me so far out of the story there's no way for me to get back in (no names, I don't want to hear from all those shady gray twilit ladies with their dripping fangs).So this book was meant for me. Simon Garfield, not a first-time writer apparently though one couldn't prove it by me, is the perfect cicerone into the mysteries of typefaces, fonts, and typography (three separate things); he's as nutsy about the subject as one can get (did you know there's a type museum? It's not open to the public, yes the author knows about it, knows the curator...that's deep), and able with his clear and pleasant prose voice to bring the reader right along on his trip.It might not be instantly obvious, but every single thing you look at has some relationship to type. TV and movies have type in their credits, the box your microwave dinner comes in is loaded with type, the computer you're using? All type interfaces. The dashboard of your car: Type. The entire made world relates to us through type at some level. Yet many, if not most, of us are blind to its specifics, absorbing only its results and usually its subliminal messages. And they are many. Some typefaces convey authority (Futura, anyone? Helvetica! Trajan!) and others soothing calming pleasure (Optima). Some are bluntly informative (Times New Roman, Baskerville) and others whimsically amusing (Papyrus, the loathed Comic Sans).All of them, without fail, were created by crazy people called type designers to fulfill a function. For better or worse, some become standards, and some sink into the great morass of indifference. Such is, after all, the fate of most things...and most people, even type designers.The stories of the type designers Garfield profiles were entertaining, and often illuminating: Eric Gill, designer of the famous typeface Gill Sans, was a lech of the first water. He was, in fact, criminally culpable in today's world for many of his sexual adventures. Funny thing...I've never liked Gill Sans. Now I have an excuse! John Baskerville, whose beautiful solid-yet-graceful serif typeface is one of my personal favorites, lived a tough life as a type-founder and, within months of his death, was so little valued by his widow that she offered a stranger who came from Europe to meet her recently deceased husband all his fonts and tools for a song. I suppose it's my subliminal response to underdogs that makes me love the typeface so.Since type has been part of my existence from little on up, it's hard for me to gauge how good an introduction this book would make to a type-tyro, but my sense is that Garfield's obsessiveness about the topic makes him a good and reliable conductor on the train. Get on with a pleasant tingle of anticipation, alight at each small station dedicated to the history of one specific typeface, and arrive refreshed and amused at the destination, the place of expanded appreciation of the nature of your entire visible world.