Just My Type: A Book About Fonts

Simon Garfield, Author
Simon Garfield. Gotham, $26 (370p) ISBN 978-1-592-40652-4
Reviewed on: 05/23/2011
Release date: 09/01/2011
Hardcover - 352 pages - 978-1-84668-301-5
Compact Disc - 978-1-4526-0451-0
MP3 CD - 978-1-4526-5451-5
Paperback - 356 pages - 978-1-59240-746-0
Book - 490 pages - 978-1-84765-292-8
Paperback - 352 pages - 978-1-84668-302-2
Pre-Recorded Audio Player - 978-1-61637-135-7
Audio Product - 1 pages - 978-1-4526-2451-8
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Printed type is no mere neutral conveyor of ideas but an artistic medium in its own right, with psychological, social, and even sexual overtones, according to this lively romp through the history of fonts. Garfield (The End of Innocence) surveys fonts from Gutenberg's dour Gothic and the elegant classicism of Garamond to the childlike faux-naïveté of Comic Sans, now so widely used for everything from medical brochures to tombstones that a movement has arisen to ban it. Along the way he revisits the sometimes lurid lives of the great typographers—incest and bestiality included—and explores the legibility of highway signs and the subliminal messaging of presidential campaign fonts. There's much pop psychology here—heavy, angular fonts seem male, apparently, while thin, curlicued ones are female—and a lot of engaging connoisseurship that occasionally goes overboard, especially when comparing look-alike modern sans serif fonts: you have to strain at gnats to distinguish the ubiquitous corporate cordiality of Helvetica from the "slightly softer and more rounded tone" of Arial. Regardless, Garfield's evocative prose—Cooper Black is "the sort of font the oils in a lava lamp would form if smashed to the floor"—entices us to see letters instead of just reading them. Photos. (Sept.)
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