Book Reviews: Just My Type and more
Just My Type by Simon Garfield
Profile Books, £14.99
IN A NUTSHELL
Garfield shines a light on the tight-knit world of the type fanatic and exposes some curious stories and fascinating facts.
Back in the day, when I was design editor for a newspaper group, I would often find myself in front of glaze-eyed executives extolling the virtues of, say, Arial over Helvetica; the x-height of Nimrod; the warmth of Baskerville and the epic changes wrought on New Century Schoolbook with some kerning and a squeeze.
Nowadays, with the ubiquity of computers and increasing awareness of brand recognition, fonts are no longer the rarefied, slightly geeky obsession of a select few (who find themselves pointing out Cooper Black on posters to passers-by, and Avant Garde on toothpaste tubes to alarmed bedside companions).
And while Simon Garfield records the explosion of typefaces and the increasing knowledge of their purpose among the populace, he makes sufficient nods to the insiders to make them squeal with delight like he's tickled their tummies with a sprig of Lubalin.
He tells the story of typefaces (from the first moving type to the digital era via the despised Comic Sans) as well as the designers whose names have become legend: Adrian Frutiger, Claude Garamond, Frederic Goudy, Eric Gill.
To the closet obsessive, this is validation; to the rest of the world, this book is one of those essential little tomes that illuminate the world in a minuscule yet delightful manner.
BOOKS WE GOT FOR CHRISTMAS
Nemesis by Philip Roth
Jonathan Cape, £16.99
This is a shattering, relentless book delivered in a style so unruffled, fluid and direct that the horror is thrown into sharper contrast. Roth focuses on the devastating plague of polio that swept across America killing apparently at random. "Bucky" Cantor is the artless, good-natured lad who tries to make sense of the scourge and then, full of guilt, flees the city to join his fiancee in the country. But still no-one's safe. A small novel with a huge emotional impact.
The Shallows by Nicholas Carr
Atlantic Books, £17.99
For anyone interested in why we are now unable to focus, read books, concentrate and generally ignore the flashing buttons on the edge of the screen, Nicholas Carr's seminal work gives the simple, and complex, answer. The internet has fundamentally altered the wiring in our brain. We have evolved into another creature entirely. This profound critique drifts occasionally into too much neuroscience but its message has implications for just about everything we do.
I Never Knew There Was A Word For It by Adam Jacot de Boinod
A bit of a cheat this one because it's a bringing together of the "tingo" trilogy. However, such is the fund of information, fun and pub-bore ice-breakers within its many pages, we're prepared to forgive the re-issue. For those unfamiliar, the pitch is in the title - a compendium of words that fit an exact situation. Such as "shotclog", a Yorkshire term for a companion only tolerated because he is paying for the drinks. And Albanians have 29 words for eyebrows.