Just My Type
I am assuming that many of us don't pay much attention to type fonts. I'm old enough to remember choosing an IBM Selectric typewriter because there were multiple fonts available, welded into little balls that you could snap in, so if you wanted, you could dash your pages off in ten or twelve pitch Courier, Bookface or Artisan. On the early Apple which only had one font, finding Bert Kersey's "beagle bros" fonts library—a program would allow you to change the fonts on your printouts with the addition of some simple html-like commands—was a gift from the font gods. In an early job of mine, preparing negatives to make offset masters for an ABDick 360 Printing press involved hours of typesetting with the dry transfer letters, painstakingly manipulated with red gum, grid paper and exacto knives. The year I had of graphic design did not touch on fonts at all.
Simon Garfield's Just My Type picks up right where my graphic design classes should have. The book is not a dry history of type, but a popular history of fonts such as the much maligned "Comic Sans." (Everyone who uses/overuses/loves/hates Comic Sans should read Garlocks rendition of the tale of Vincent Connare, Microsoft and Microsoft Bob.) Garfield has written an interesting guide to fonts. It is both charming and fascinating, and full of tidbits which are "news" to us. Who knew, for example that authors of type become famous or infamous from their skill with type, just as Mozart is for his music, or Warhol, for his art?
Just My Type touches on the stories behind type, exploring everything before Gutenberg's first fonts, well past Steve Job's now famous introduction to calligraphy at Reed College. Whether you're interested in serifs and san serifs, the Guardian's April Fools Day Independence of San SerriffeHoax, the creepy sexual experimentation of Eric Gill, the blink test, or IKEA's battle between Verdana and Futura, etc. there are dozens of stories here which are fascinating, and which you will probably recognize have brushed against your life without your realization. The book analyzes font examples from magazine covers, to advertisements, to television shows (like The Office) to album covers, and tells us why and how the fonts work, their purpose and how they affect us.
Just My Type is a rich, readable design backstory behind type, a book which ought to be a must for any typographer's toolkit. And for non-typographers among us, after a little exploratory guided voyage touring in, through and about fonts let by Garfield's clever eye, we just might become a little more discerning, more informed and certainly more entertained typophiles in our own right.