‘Just My Type’ by Simon Garfield

May 26, 2016 at 6:55 am 1 comment

This post is part of our on-going 2016 Spring Reading Spree. Kick off your own reading spree this spring by giving some love to the unread books on your shelf!

just-my-typeOnce upon a time in college, I took a class where the professor stood up on the first day of class and said, “This course will change your life.” Half of the students stifled sniggers at such a cliched pronouncement as he continued on to promise that the course would completely change the way we looked at the world.

I remember looking around the cluttered workshop in which we were meeting and, for some reason, believing him. We were in a printer’s studio and the class was an introduction to letterpress printing. And I was right to believe my professor: he changed my life in the same way Simon Garfield’s Just My Type will change the way you look at the world: once you see fonts, you can’t unsee them.

Just My Type has a great topic at its heart: it tells the story of fonts and typographic design and printing history, spotlighting specific fonts for special attention along the way. It’s hard to articulate how interesting this is until you’ve actually taken a moment to stop and look around to see all the fonts surrounding you in their nearly infinite variety. Type is everywhere this days and it says a lot more than whatever it spells out in the literal sense.

Garfield’s book explores the histories of the fonts that surround us, jumping nimbly through time from the first Gutenbergish fonts through to today’s explosion of typographic creativity. And I can’t help but recommend the book just based on subject matter alone. If you’ve never considered fonts or looked around at the typographic choices being made by everyone everywhere on a daily basis, you need this book. It will — and I know this sounds silly, but I’m serious — change your life.

That said, I’m not convinced Just My Type is the best possible book on the subject. As in his On the Map, Garfield sometimes suffers from a writing style that somehow encourages the mind to drift. The subject is plenty interesting; and yet on a few separate occasions, my mind would find itself very far away while my eyes had progressed 3/4ths down a page already and I had no idea what I just read. And I truly love the history of font, so it had to take some doing to make me wander off mentally like this.

Happily, I do think Just My Type could be a good introduction and Garfield provides an extensive bibliography at the back for further reading. I’m glad to have read it, certainly, although, in my case, I suspect it would have been more novel (and subsequently more life-changing!) had I read it before that letterpress class. Sorry, Simon Garfield. My professor got to draw back the veil first!


Entry filed under: Non-fiction. Tags: , , .

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