Today, I finished submitting all my graduate school applications, and celebrated with an exquisite slice of buttered sourdough toast. Now it really feels like the holidays!
Sourdough toast is one of my favorite simple foods. It takes so little effort to execute perfectly, but I truly enjoy every bite. It also goes well with several of my other favorite simple foods – the runny fresh poached egg, the summer peach…
Anyway, this post is actually about something else I love, and that’s font. Though I’ve always liked books, it took me awhile to realize the importance of how books are designed and printed in the way we receive them as readers. This has come up over and over again in my life, from the high school graphic design project and the college book arts class, to writing and proofreading in my daily life, to some of the thickly academic sociocultural literacy theory I’ve waded through in classrooms. I guess I just love words.
To the review!
Just My Type, Simon Garfield
Wikipedia reveals that Garfield has authored twelve nonfiction books, on topics from Victorian synthetic dyes, to wrestling, to war diaries. Is he generally passionate about British social/cultural history, or a true aficionado of each topic? Regardless, he made me believe in his typeface enthusiasm. This is a history of fonts, and it made me laugh aloud on the subway. It’s a rollicking, punchy romp.
Each page brims with facts about the history and practice of graphic design; non-design geek readers could feasibly grasp basics like, say, kerning. Garfield is a masterful storyteller, quickly orienting the reader and guiding us along the paths of type revolutionaries, branding campaigns, or fonts themselves. Each chapter explores one face, traveling between cities and into primary sources to discuss its ranging impact.
There’s certainly scandal in the history. Discovering Eric Gill’s wholly unethical sexual proclivities complicated my perception of Gill Sans, though it was my first true font love. But Garfield also describes the physical letterforms like he’s writing for high-end gossip rags, taking visceral pleasure in the richest words he can muster.
The purpose of font is to transmit language in the clearest, most pleasing way. With Just My Type, Garfield inverts the relationship, and uses his considerable linguistic chops to bring fonts to life.