Just My Type: A mini-review

This book–Just My Type by Simon Garfield–had been recommended to me by a hiking acquaintance and at least one other person. So, for the first time, I actually placed a hold at my public library, and a couple weeks later, received the email and picked up the book. Which I finished reading yesterday…

Briefly: It’s fun, interesting, well-written, and if you care about typefaces you’ll probably enjoy it.

Now the caveats…

  • Garfield’s thoroughly indoctrinated in the “creative community” tradition that Microsoft is Evil. Thus, for example, even though he admits–and even demonstrates–that Arial is not in fact a clone of Helvetica, he still treats it as simple fact that Microsoft was wrong in adopting Arial rather than paying the license fee for Helvetica. (There are other examples–even when Garfield admits that Microsoft’s commissioned some of the most legible on-screen typefaces, it’s grudging.)
  • Garfield loves loves loves sans in general and exciting typefaces like Helvet…zzz…sorry, snoozed off there for a bit–in particular (also Univers and Futura). The book is, to be sure, actually set in Sabon, which is (ahem) a serif typeface.
  • The book admirably uses named typefaces within text when it names typefaces–but it’s not uncommon for the different-typeface insertion to be out of step with the surrounding type, usually somewhat higher (the baselines are higher than the surrounding text). I’m not sure whether that’s a weakness of the layout software used for the book or whether some of those insertions are actually graphics rather than digital type, and pasted in badly. It’s surprising, in any case.
  • The subtitle of the book is “a book about fonts” but it’s primarily a book about typefaces. He knows the difference but basically decides that it doesn’t matter. (For the record: Sabon is a typeface; Sabon 11 pt. Lt Std is a font.)
  • With very few exceptions, Garfield shows the typefaces he’s discussing. He chickens out (or the publisher wouldn’t pay the $24.75) in one case, unfortunately: Old Dreadful No. 7, the most distinctive typeface on the Bitstream 500 Typeface CD that came with Ventura Publisher back in the day. Here’s a sample of Old Dreadful No. 7 (thanks to a screencapture from this page at FontShop):

Those are mostly nits (well, that and that the American edition still has British punctuation around quotes). It’s an enjoyable book.

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