Tuesday, July 2, 2013

A Fount of Fonts

Just My Type

by Simon Garfield

Published by Gotham

4 Out of 5 Stars

Drowning. Feuds. Nazis. Bestiality. Probably not topics you expect to find in a book about fonts. Granted, the drowning was of the Doves font (its creator threw the matrices and the metal letters into the Thames river instead of bequeathing his perfect font to anyone else after his death). And the feuds range the gamut from public backlash over IKEA changing its font from Futura to Verdana to the online movement against Comic Sans (the world's worst font, allegedly). And detail-oriented Nazis declared an official font--a form of German gothic--before later outlawing it because of its connections to Jewish bankers and printers.

But a dog did get buggered, good and proper--and not by a font.*

Just My Type is admittedly not a book for everyone. However, I love fonts. I'm one of those rare people who love to see the page in the back of the book that tells what font the book was set in and provides information about its origin. I'm the type of person who will sit in front of the computer screen for an hour trying out different font types and sizes until I have the perfect lettering for conveying the all important message to my students that they should "Go to the library and bring your notebook." I can spot Garamond or Courier or Verdana from one hundred paces. Yes, I freaking love font. Ergo, I really enjoyed Just My Type, although it's not the sort of book I could sit down and read in one sitting. Instead I opted to dip in and out periodically while reading other books.

Garfield writes with humor and knowledge about the history of print and the impact it had (and continues to have) on the world. It's difficult to believe the tedious and time consuming process that goes into creating a font, and equally difficult to believe is how important getting the right font is for daily routines (such as the effort that went into selecting a proper font for London's subway system). My favorite parts of the book are the "fontbreaks" that appear between chapters; these are very short stories about the origins of some of the world's most notorious or revered fonts. Also helpful is that, when mentioning most types, the actual type in the book changes so the reader can see what the type looks like (although this isn't done consistently and I would have preferred to see it done throughout). If there is a fault with the book, it would be the one I find in most non-fiction books: some information is repeated ad nauseam and there are occasionally abrupt shifts in topic. Other than that, if you're looking for an entertaining and not particularly technical look at fonts, I'd recommend giving this a go.

*Oh, said dog was pestered by Eric Gill, creator of Gill Sans. And noted ass hat.

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