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Just My Type: A Book About Fonts Paperback – September 4, 2012
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“This is a smart, funny, accessible book that does for typography what Lynne Truss’s best-selling Eats, Shoots & Leaves did for punctuation: made it noticeable for people who had no idea they were interested in such things.” — Janet Maslin, The New York Times
"Whether you're a graphic designer or a layperson with no background in this area, reading what Garfield has to say will change the way you perceive the written word forever.”
— The Los Angeles Times
“A deliriously clever and entertaining book”
— The Boston Globe
“Informative, delightful — and essential reading for word geeks everywhere.”
— The Seattle Times
“Lively […] intriguing […] a cheeky book about the human side and our reaction to fonts.”
— Seattle Post Intelligencer
“Highly entertaining … Garfield takes readers on a rollicking tour of the world of typography, from book jackets to road signs, TV shows to computers.”
— USA Today
“Reading Simon Garfield’s Just My Type can transform your daily life into an endless quest for knowledge of the typefaces in which signs, books, magazines, newspapers, etc. are set.”
— Washington Post
“Garfield’s romping history (with multitype text) is zestfully informative.”
“Funny and fascinating, irreverent and playful yet endlessly illuminating, the book is an absolute treat for the type-nerd, design history geek, and general lover of intelligent writing with humor.”
— The Atlantic
“A thoroughly entertaining, well-informed tour of typefaces”
“Garfield has a light touch and moves effortlessly among various aspects of typography past and present […] Highly recommended to all, whether or not you feel predisposed to like this kind of thing! Eye-opening and mind-expanding!”
— Library Journal
A “lively romp through the history of fonts. Garfield’s evocative prose […] entices us to see letters instead of just reading them.”— Publishers Weekly
About the Author
Simon Garfield is the author of twelve acclaimed books of nonfiction. He lives in London and St. Ives, Cornwall, and currently has a soft spot for Requiem Fine Roman and HT Galeria.
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It jumps around a good deal, and abruptly introduces people and topics with little prelude. I think is is simply because it is fundamentally derivative. Read Simon Loxley's book Type: The Secret History of Letters. We read it for our reading group as well a few years before. Better written, better illustrations, more comprehensive, and even better designed. Garfield even used many anecdotes from that book which is cited in his bibliography.
I think Garfield's book benefited from the movie HELVETICA which came out after Loxley's and from excellent PR placement, including Amazon's best of the month, but if you have done much reading on recent Typographic history it is clearly standing on the shoulders of better works. Garfield's later ON THE MAP shows the same flaws, though more clearly.
2 stars because it did introduce the topic to a wider audience.
Perhaps, this is not the subject matter for absolutely any reader- and interest or curiosity in the subject matter at hand will definitely be useful, but it does not require one to be a die-hard about type in order to appreciate it. Though the author freely admits his hard-core enthusiasm for type, he does not present information in a way that discourages someone new to the subject from jumping right in. He has definite personal tastes- ones that you may disagree or concur with at your leisure without losing too much stake in the overall book. Your feelings on Comic Sans or Papyrus are left to you without an overbearing sense of judgement- though it is interesting to learn why they hold such notoriety in contemporary society. Overall a nice mix of history and contemporary views, blended with humor and a clear love for the topic. Not structured to be the kind of book that keeps me riveted for its entirety, but rather one that I can pick up at any point and feel enjoyment. A good casual read that I feel leaves you for the better at its end.
I would not like to read pages set in any of the fonts in one of Garfield's last chapters, "The Worst Fonts in the World." On the list is Papyrus, which caused a stir when it was used extensively in the film _Avatar_. The expensive film used a free (and overused) display font, and font fans noticed. There was also a font war (also known as a "fontroversy") when in 2009 Ikea decided to change its display font from Futura to Verdana. The change inspired passionate arguments in mere bystanders, "like the passion of sports fans," says Garfield, and the _New York Times_ joked that it was "perhaps the biggest controversy to come out of Sweden." The biggest of font wars has had a comic edge to it, and it is the starting point for Garfield's book. Comic Sans is a perfectly good font. It looks something like the letters you see in comic books, smooth, rounded, sans serif, clear. Because it caught on and was quickly overused, there has been a "ban Comic Sans" movement. Even the heads of the movement, which is somewhat tongue-in-cheek, admit that Comic Sans looks fine, say, on a candy packet; but they have also seen it on a tombstone and on a doctor's brochure about irritable bowel syndrome. If you see a font and you wonder which one it is, you can take steps to identify it. Lots of people like to do this. It is especially useful to examine the lower case g. (The other character that reveals a lot is the ampersand, which, maybe since it is not a letter or a punctuation mark, appears in exuberant eccentricity even in some calm fonts.) That g has a lot of variable points; it might have a lower hook or it might have a loop, it might have a straight line on the right, or the upper loop might have an ear that rises or droops, and this doesn't even get into whether the upper loop is a circle, a long or wide ellipse, or has uniform width. Take a look at the g letters shown here, or in your regular reading matter, and you will be amazed at how variable a selection of even only a few can be. If you have your g, you can look it up in font books, but there are so many fonts now that no book comes close to showing them all. There's an application for the iPhone which allows you to take a picture of the letter in question, upload it somewhere, and then get suggestions of possible matches. Or you can go to a type forum and ask there, because there are lots of people devoted to hunting down this sort of thing. And they take it so seriously that, as on many internet forums, they get rather snarky about disagreements.
If you don't pay attention to fonts (and most of them do their work best by not calling attention to themselves), Garfield's entertaining book might get you started. There are chapters about the difficult matter of copyrighting a font, because if you design a good font it is easy to copy it, and there isn't much that can be done about font piracy. Font designers work for love, not money. There's a chapter on "The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy white dog" and other phrases that show all the letters, or particular words that display a lot of the letters most important to font design. There's plenty of history starting with Gutenberg and the historical Roman types from which are descended many of the fonts we read every day. Between the chapters are "font breaks" to praise Albertus or Gill Sans and to tell about how they came to be designed, with plenty of anecdotes and other funny or sad stories. This is a delightful, amusing book about a whole world most of us take for granted.