Just My Type by Simon Garfield

22 Aug

I’m super excited to be a stop on the TLC Book Tour for Simon Garfield’s Just My Type: A Book about Fonts. It’s also my first ever TLC Book Tour and what a great way to start! I’m such a font nerd and when I heard about this book, I could hardly contain my excitement. I’m by no means a design professional – my font love is purely amateur but well-honed. I know what I like and what I don’t like, and I suspect that most people are like me, even if they don’t realize it. Garfield is the perfect guide for us amateur font geeks, providing an informed but not too advanced line through the history of typography and the beauty of type design. He explains the construction of font and the basics of type, like the difference between serif and sans serif, though quickly goes beyond the “what” and delves into the “why” and “how.” He takes the reader through Gutenberg all the way through modern typography in the age of the Internet.

I thought I knew a lot about typography but I hadn’t even scratched the surface of what goes into creating type. I found myself saying, fairly often and to the annoyance of whoever was nearby, “Did you know that…”

For example, did you know that despite Benjamin Franklin’s support of John Baskerville’s font, the first mass-printed Declaration of Independence was printed in Caslon?

And did you know that, according to most type foundries, the best display phrase (a phrase the shows off the style and beauty and uniqueness of a new font without listing out the alphabet, one letter at time) is Hamburgers or Hamburgerfont?

Did you also know that the (at) symbol, @, which is such a part of our digital lives now, has its origin in trade, and is called an amphora or jar, a unit of measurement? And that in other languages, it’s often linked to food or cute animals? My favorite is French – it’s called escargot.

Simon Garfield breaks down our society’s fonts in such a way that, by the end of the book, I was examining the font on the Washington Metro System and trying to determine what it is (a combination of Helvetica Neue and Frutiger, depending on what signage you’re looking at). I’d never really taken into account typography as something that is created for a specific purpose, but I discovered that many of the fonts we use on a daily basis were designed for a specific intention, usually government or corporate use. My unawareness of the exact type in everyday life is exactly what some type designers would call a success: for the font to be nothing more than a container for the meaning of the writing and that, if you notice the font, it hasn’t done it’s job. Which is to disappear.

One of the great things about this book is that at the first mention, the font name is printed in that font – and usually when a chapter is about one font in particular, the first paragraph is printed so you can examine the font and it’s readability in more detail. In that way, the book is incredibly user-friendly even if your knowledge of typography is limited.

I could go on and on about the intricacies of typography that I learned from Garfield’s book, but the book itself is a much better teacher than I am. Fonts surround us in ways we don’t even take into consideration, and design and spell out our lives (usually in Helvetica).

Thanks to TLC Book Tours and Gotham Books for the review copy – I highly enjoyed the chance to nerd out and relish in my dorkiness. Check out the rest of the tour schedule below:

The book goes on sale September 1st, and is available for pre-order here.


3 Responses to “Just My Type by Simon Garfield”

  1. Heather J. @ TLC August 25, 2011 at 11:00 am #

    I’m so glad your first TLC Tour turned out to be such a great book! I’m a font nerd as well – I love all the little tidbits you included.

    Thanks so much for being a part of the tour. I’m featuring your review on TLC’s Facebook page today.

  2. Meg August 25, 2011 at 4:22 pm #

    Yay — this sounds awesome! I’ve actually had my eye on it for a while as a gift for a buddy who is a graphic designer, but I’m totally a font nerd, too, and just might grab one for myself. Choosing the right font — for anything — is crucial!


  1. Simon Garfield, author of Just My Type: A Book About Fonts, on tour August/September 2011 | TLC Book Tours - August 25, 2011

    […] Monday, August 22nd:  A Home Between Pages […]

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