Thursday, August 4, 2011

Book Review: "Just My Type"

Type and fonts surround us, but many people give them little thought. Luckily, there are others like Simon Garfield who are not just fascinated by font and typeface but are willing to share their passion with the rest of us. Garfield’s interest and enthusiasm for his subject are evident throughout the book. Furthermore, he does a good job making his explanations accessible and engaging for those who do not share his awareness and knowledge of font.

Just My Type provides a history of typeface and printing starting from Guttenberg up until present day. It also dissects different fonts, such as the much maligned Comic Sans, and provides stories about the fonts and their designers. Garfield also includes lots of graphics and examples from history and popular culture to help illustrate his points, which contributed a great deal to my understanding and enjoyment of the text. In addition to his lively account of the IKEA controversy that arose after the company changed its typeface from Futura to Verdana, I also appreciated his explanations of such issues like the use of period inappropriate fonts (often found in film) as well as the differences between legibility and readability (using the record cover of The Beach Boys’ “Pet Sounds”).

That said, given the myriad of topics included under the general umbrella of font and type, the book can be very uneven, and some chapters undoubtedly will have more appeal to the general public than others. I would have preferred to see more discussion on the use of type in branding and advertising rather than the chapters dedicated to minutiae like the ampersand. However, after the first few chapters, it is easy to go skip around in the book and focus on your interests without sacrificing understanding or consistency.

In a similar vein, the text is sometimes so information-rich that it can seem overwhelming for the typeface neophyte. Though I consider myself a fast and avid reader when it comes to most books, I often found myself reading a single chapter and then taking a break from the book to prevent font overload. Garfield does guard against this somewhat by mixing shorter, lighter chapters with the more dense ones, but even then all of the ideas still seem to mix together.

The final problem and caution I have about the book has nothing to do with Garfield or the actual text and everything to do with the medium. Although I understand the cost-saving measures involved in providing electronic copies to people for review, this is not a book that lends itself well to reading on a device. The number of graphics and the different fonts used make this book almost impossible to read on most e-readers. I tried reading it on my Nook Simple Touch before realizing the incompatibility between the device and the content.

Overall, although this isn’t the type of book I would read on my own, I was very pleased to have the chance to read such an informative and pleasant treatise on font and typeface. For people who are interested in knowing more about font and print, this would be an excellent starting point (just try to get a physical copy rather than an electronic one!).

Full Disclosure: I received this book through LibraryThing's Early Reviewers Program.