(Warning: This review shows signs of self-indulgence.)
Life Changing. This is seriously The Coolest Book Ever. (Hey Jodi! I liked it!)
"How many of us r...more(Warning: This review shows signs of self-indulgence.)
Life Changing. This is seriously The Coolest Book Ever. (Hey Jodi! I liked it!)
"How many of us really stop to consider what a true miracle letter-forms actually are? ... "Twenty-six purely abstract symbols that in and of themselves mean absolutely nothing, but when put together in the right combinations can introduce into the heads of readers an infinite variety of sounds, smells, tastes, feelings, places, people, characters, situations, feelings, ideas. In the right hands entire universes are born out of just a few sentences, and can be just as quickly destroyed." (in the Foreword, by Chip Kidd)
I have long had a love affair with words. Sometimes I don't treat them as well as I should, but I love what they do to me and what a master can do with them. And while what's on the inside is important, this book has drawn my attention to the way we clothe words. I can no longer sit back and ignore the way they look.
Subconsciously, though, I've been paying attention the whole time. I am a product of typeface.
My memories from Days of Yore are full of evenings tracing card stock letters onto poster paper, and then cutting around the lines, leaving scraps of paper on the table and floor and smearing glue stick on the back of each letter and positioning it onto the banner for a church advertisement, a school science fair project or a campaign poster. (We had a few fonts to choose from. Sans serif was always easier to cut around.) Those who use dye cut machines today are cheating and will never know the true satisfaction of the blisters one gets around the thumb and forefinger knuckles after hours of holding a pair of old-fashioned metal scissors!
Another memory was with my obsession with the movie, Annie, and how I would imitate and duplicate the movie title writing it over and over until I knew every nuance of its form. I knew how the legs of the A serif'ed out (can 'serif' be a verb?) and the way the 'n's were connected by the feet, and the little curl on the finish of the 'e.' (As soon as this memory returned to me, I sat down and tried to draw it out, and it came right back. I am proud to say that I can still write "Annie" just like the 1982 movie poster!) I'd never thought, though, what font this might be. By reading this book, I think CooperBlack comes close, but my investigations online have come up empty.
I have spent plenty of time on free font websites searching for that perfect font for the astronaut birthday party (Nasalization), or the Chinese New Year dinner (Nixon), or a quirky tea party (Sunshine Poppy). (Allow me to defend myself in stating that for any non-celebratory documents, I'm partial to Garamond.)
Fonts have ruled my life - and probably have yours without your knowing it. In our day to day lives, type faces are all around us. In virtual reality, we breathe them. Have you ever wished for a sarcastic font for social media? Did you know that the Goodreads logo is the ubiquitous Helvetica? Have you noticed the switch from Helvetica in the edit box to Georgia (at least, I'm pretty sure it's Georgia) for the posted review? There have been moments when I was unnerved after having looked at the review I had written, then posted it and it felt unfamiliar and emotionally changed in another font.
Or, maybe it's just me.
This book is delightful and fascinating. Simon Garfield has smoothly combined a whole bunch of technical terminology and history and made it snarky and humorous and captivating for the layman. (My only complaint is that I wanted more complete displays of the fonts referenced. Upon reflection, though, this would probably increase the size of the book by at least a third.)
He masterfully explains what makes a good font ...
"Such readability will be aided by regular paragraphs and sufficient margins, and by an acceptable line length (this is naturally dependent on the size of the text, but is ideally considered to be between ten and twelve words). The space between letters and their relationship to each other is as important as the space between lines (leading or pointing). There should be a contrast between thick and thin strokes, and letters should be in a regular proportion to each other. Variety in width is particularly important, with the upper half of letters being more readable than the lower half. The weight of letters in a block of text should generally be medium - too light a type will cause letters to appear grey and indistinct, while too dark will cause the letters to appear overly thick, wrecking distinguishing details and blocking out the background (p. 55)."
"[Beatrice Warde's] simple and sound theory was that the best type existed merely to communicate an idea. It was not there to be noticed, much less admired. The more a reader becomes aware of a typeface or a layout on a page, the worse that typography is ... 'The most important thing,' Warde said, 'is that it conveys thought, ideas, images, from one mind to other minds' ... The book typographer's job was building a window between the reader inside a room and 'that landscape which is the author's words. He may put up a stained-glass window of marvelous beauty, but a failure as a window; that is, he can use some rich superb type like text gothic that is something to be looked at, not through. Or he may work in what I call transparent or invisible typography. I have a book at home, of which I have no visual recollection whatever as far as its typography goes; when I think of it, all I see is The Three Musketeers and their comrades swaggering up and down the streets of Paris' (p. 58)."
...and how small details of similar fonts can change their feeling and why this should have any importance to us.
I was taken with his example of the man who was determined to go a day without the use of Helvetica, but found it nearly impossible to avoid (pp. 126-7).
I was pleased to meet the woman who invented the British 'children crossing' sign (p. 144) (She also came up with the the men at work sign) as I had noticed during my studies in Europe that they varied from country to country (Italy's is still the most charming).
I was entranced with the several comparisons of the lower case letter "g" (p. 174) and intrigued by the discussion about the ampersand, the interrobang, and what to call the @ symbol.
"...Yet despite its current usage, the @ is not a product of the digital age, and may be almost as old as the ampersand. It has been associated with trade for many centuries, known as an amphora or jar, a unit of measurement. Most countries have their own term for it, often linked to food (in Hebrew it is shtrudl, meaning strudel, in Czech it is zavinac or rollmop herring) or to cute animals (Affenschwanz or monkey's tail in German, snabel-a, meaning 'the letter a, with a trunk,' in Danish, sobaka or dog in Russian), or to both (escargot in French) (p. 269)."
Finally, I have discovered a curious new necessity of checking the colophon of each book I read in search for the typeface biography.
Epistolary in structure, and definitely NOT a children's book (content and language) though I most closely equate it with my daughter's book Angelina'...moreEpistolary in structure, and definitely NOT a children's book (content and language) though I most closely equate it with my daughter's book Angelina's Invitation to the Ballet in that each page contains either an envelope with a removable folded letter inside, or a postcard.
Deeply intimate letters sent between two people who have never met but whose connection and love is undeniable. Powerful.
"It's only your cards and letters that keep me going. I was finding it hard to get over the idea of there being other men in your life when I reached the part in your letter about my drawings. I stopped being jealous. We were lovers and I hadn't realized it. The drawings weren't of Sarah; they were of you. How strange to have a paper love."
The artwork of this book is a mix of tribal and surreal drawings and paintings which, though not to my taste, added to the haunting tone.
**spoiler alert** "If you are reading this, then you exist. (Is that true? I mean, it should be bloody obvious to me, but it isn't.) If I invented you...more**spoiler alert** "If you are reading this, then you exist. (Is that true? I mean, it should be bloody obvious to me, but it isn't.) If I invented you, then you don't exist. Right? But how then can you still write to me? (I've got to trust logic or I'm nowhere).
If I didn't write your letters and you did, then you're real or I'm crazy. I am certain that when all this began I was making you up. Now, you say you are coming here. You scare me -- who are you? Are you my lover or are you that dark angel whose picture came through my letterbox yesterday? I cannot stay here to find out. Do you understand? I want you to be the woman I have dreamt of, to see you, to touch you, to be with you, and yet the possibility that you are a malevolent creature grown from my insanity appalls me. So I am running away.
As I'm writing this, I presume I must believe you're real. Will you wait for me? Stay in my house, be my guest and live here till I return. I'm running from you, but I'm also searching for a way to accept my fate, which I know to be bound to yours. I desperately need your help -- I will write with a forwarding address, and if you forgive me my cowardliness, maybe you will write back. Like Ariadne holding the string for Perseus while he enters the Minotaur's labyrinth, your words might keep me from going hopelessly astray..."
So begins the odd but enticing continuation of letters begun with Griffin and Sabine. This sequel still has the powerful force of the original, but I partially wished that the original were left to stand on its own, leaving the reader awed, perplexed and enamored with the mystery of this relationship, questioning the future of the writers. (less)
A creative exercise with expert writers producing a wonderful collection of short stories. A few were lackluster or slightly contrived, but many were...more A creative exercise with expert writers producing a wonderful collection of short stories. A few were lackluster or slightly contrived, but many were profound and touching.
Another Place, Another Time, by Cory Doctorow, is thought-provoking and tender (and made me eager to research dimension and Time-Space Continuum theory). The Seven Chairs, Lois Lowry, is a simplistic yet fantastical tale that left me asking more questions than it answered. Just Desert, M.T. Anderson, is an wonderful amalgamation of science fiction and psychology, which I nearly missed because of the fury (fury.) I felt reading the title and hoping it was an attempt at making a play on the phrase "just desserts." The beginning of the second paragraph misspells the phrase a second time. (Seriously. Who is editing this?) There is some clarification towards the end of the story, but the effort here to use the word "desert" in place of "dessert" was poorly executed and sloppy. I got over it in the end. Captain Tory, Louis Sachar, is haunting and lovely. Oscar and Alphonse, Chris Van Allsburg, is humorous with a wonderful touch of irony.
*These images remind me of one of my favorite card games, which is becoming more and more popular, Dixit. The images on these cards could also be the stimulus for an exercise in story writing by those who want to write, including those who are less expert.(less)
I've been searching for some quality Thanksgiving Season children's books ... because, I know this may sound hard to believe but, there aren't many ch...moreI've been searching for some quality Thanksgiving Season children's books ... because, I know this may sound hard to believe but, there aren't many choices. This one, though, may be a winner. It MAY be a winner. I bought my copy used through Amazon. When it arrived, my children gathered around my knee and we began to test it's pages. Being a used copy, I expected a little wear and tear, but cute little "Amy" simply wrote her name on the inside flap. The pages were perfectly crisp and clean...Good job, Amy! Your parents have clearly shown you the correct way to handle a book!
The story is quite cute (though slightly repetitive...I will allow for some of this in children's books) and the pictures are sweet. The story builds up to a climax as we worry about what will happen to this mouse when...
Augggggh! Bad Amy! Bad Amy! Why have you ripped out the final and most important page in this most promising book?
Until further notice, I have assumed the best ending and based my rating on how I think this book should end.(less)
Cute pictures. Fun. But *clearly the Department of Education is using public education as a tool to usurp the sanctity of this family-oriented holiday...moreCute pictures. Fun. But *clearly the Department of Education is using public education as a tool to usurp the sanctity of this family-oriented holiday and force vegetarianism on us all.
*It's pathetic to have to spell this out, but I am being facetious in this comment. Please do not send me angry, bitter and hateful e-mails. See my review of The Very Hungry Caterpillar if you don't believe this could happen.(less)
Hmmmn. I may not be cut out for Post-Modern lit. I have great fondness for Stravinksy and LOVE The Rite of Spring, but I should have learned after sit...moreHmmmn. I may not be cut out for Post-Modern lit. I have great fondness for Stravinksy and LOVE The Rite of Spring, but I should have learned after sitting through a performance of Eight Songs for a Mad King that most Post-Modern works just end up making me mad.
Such it was with this.
I wanted to love it. I loved the cover after all; orange with hundreds of pin-pricks poking through. Texture you can't pass up without touching. I patiently waited through the patched together narration (while appreciating the creative word play), but it felt like the execution of the novel had priority over the plot. The plot was somewhat engrossing, but the character development was hollow. Overall, I just didn't appreciate the process.
*My husband (who loved it) is chiding my review and warning me that in the distant future when this avant-garde work is considered a classic, I will have to come back and delete this review. It'll be like our parents' generation: Everyone (says they) voted for Jack Kennedy.(less)
Oh, Mr. Eco! If I could understand what you have written I would worship your god-like abilities to write!
Knowing that Umberto Eco is not easy reading...moreOh, Mr. Eco! If I could understand what you have written I would worship your god-like abilities to write!
Knowing that Umberto Eco is not easy reading and, thinking that this "brief" "picture book" would be a light (ha!) introduction to his style before attempting The Name of the Rose, I picked it up with the intention to finish it in a couple of days.
Don't let the concise chapters and the numerous photo-filled pages fool you; this isn't an easy book to get through.
The motivation behind this book is ingenious. Mr. Eco elaborates on the artistic/poetic method of list-making. Having before studied this method in scripture, I was familiar with his intentions and directions, but I found his brilliance overwhelming. In addition, what truly knocked my socks off was the combination of artwork with literary lists. Yes, exaggeratedly long lists in literature help the reader understand the idea of eternal and perpetual amounts. Combine this with the study of art work that contains thousands (?) of repetitious figures (think Bruegel), or concourses of nobility(think David's Coronation of Napoleon) or angels (Harry Anderson's The Second Coming) or odd combinations (think Dutch still-life), or a simple repetition of an idea (think Warhol's Campbell's Soup Cans) (or this list!) and you begin to see how these lists affect our ability to interpret the idea of Never-Ending.
Here are a few samples:
"With his catalogue of ships, Homer does not merely give us a splendid example of the list (all the more effective as it is contrasted with the form of the shield), he also presents what has been called the 'topos of ineffability.' Faced with something that is immensely large, or unknown, of which we still do not know enough or of which we shall never know, the author proposes a list as a specimen, example, or indication, leaving the reader to imagine the rest (p. 49)."
"Just as Homer was unable to name all the Argive warriors, in the same way (and indeed even more so) Dante was unable to name all the angels in the heavens, not because he did not know their names but their number. And so, in Canto XXIX of the Paradise, we find another example of the topos of ineffability, because the number of angels exceeds the possibilities of the human mind (p. 50)."
"The fear of being unable to say everything seizes us not only when we are faced with an infinity of names but also with an infinity of things...Sometimes they are poor and essential, such as the collection of flotsam that enables Robinson Crusoe to survive on his island, or the poor little treasure that Mark Twain tells us Tom Sawyer put together. Sometimes they are dizzyingly normal, such as the huge collection of insignificant objects in the drawer of Leopold Bloom's kitchen sideboard in Joyce's Ulysses...Sometimes they are simply smells, or stinks, as in the city described by Süskind (p. 67)."
"There would be nothing incongruous even about a list that put together a broom, an incomplete copy of a biography of Galen, a foetus preserved in alcohol or... an umbrella and an anatomy table. It would suffice to establish that this was an inventory of objects relegated to the cellar of a medical school (p. 116)."
"Without getting involved in logical subtleties, defining a man as a featherless biped means seeing him as a particular species (without feathers) of a larger genus of bipeds, which in its turn is a species of the genus of the animals, in their turn a species of the genus of living things. Likewise, defining man as a rational mortal animal means seeing him as a species of the mortal animals (members of which include donkeys and horses), which are in their turn a species of living things (p. 217)."
"Around 1660, a manuscript by Athanasius Kircher was produced (Novum Inventum) which explains how it is possible to reduce the various languages of the world to a single code which produced a dictionary of 1,620 'words,' and in which the author attempted to establish a list of 54 fundamental categories that could be written down through iconograms. The 54 categories also constituted a remarkably heterogeneous list, including divine, angelic and celestial entities, elements, human begins, animals, vegetables, minerals, drinks, clothing, weights, numbers, hours, cities, foods, family, actions such as seeing or giving, adjectives, adverbs and the months of the year. In these lists, the lack of a systematic spirit testifies to the effort made by the encyclopaedist to elude an arid classification of genera and species. It is this still disordered accumulation (or barely ordered...under the rubrics of the ten categories and their members) that would later allow the discovery of unexpected relations between the objects of knowledge. The 'hotchpotch' is the price we pay not to attain completeness but to avoid the poverty of all arborescent classifications (pp. 237-238)."
I've known this Hans Christian Andersen story since I was eight when I auditioned for the theatrical production at a local playhouse. I didn't make th...moreI've known this Hans Christian Andersen story since I was eight when I auditioned for the theatrical production at a local playhouse. I didn't make the cast, but a friend of mine won the lead. She performed it beautifully and her interpretation has since stayed in my head.
The artwork in this version is nice, though not exceptional.(less)
This book has overturned my theory that good writing is more important than good subject matter. Don't get me wrong; What better subjects are the...moreSigh.
This book has overturned my theory that good writing is more important than good subject matter. Don't get me wrong; What better subjects are there than Art, History and Paris (and Art History in Paris)? What's more, the gorgeous cover art had me chomping at the bit to begin (I've never learned my lesson by that old 'don't judge a book' adage). So. The writing was grand. The subject sublime. The cover exquisite. But what should have taken a week or two, took me months to get through. It felt like those dreams I've had where I'm trying so hard to get somewhere, but my feet are just so heavy I can't pick them up.
Master McCullough has sought to give us understanding into the mixing of lives and the fitting together the cogs of these contemporaries (and the overlap of two generations). Unfortunately, it was not executed as skillfully as Erik Larson did in The Devil in the White City.
I came to the conclusion that the protagonist of this work is Paris with the people passing through becoming simply events in her life.
The greatest impact this book leaves with me is the story of Samuel Morse. He yearned so much to be a great artist (and had the makings of one) but it was not to be.
"But when word reached Morse from Washington that he had not been chosen to paint one of the historic panels at the Capitol, his world collapsed. Friends and fellow artists wrote to express their disappointment and sympathy, and if possible to lift his spirits...He 'staggered under the blow,' in his words. It was the ultimate defeat of his life as an artist... Morse gave up painting entirely. He abandoned for good all his dreams of accomplishment and recognition as an artist, the whole career he had set his heart on since college days. No one could dissuade him...The 'one thing' henceforth would be his telegraph, the crude apparatus for which was also to be found in his New York University studio apartment. Later it would be surmised that had he not stopped painting when he did, no successful electromagnetic telegraph would have happened when it did, or at least not a Morse electromagnetic telegraph (pp. 150-151)."
This thought, of having a life's work to do and wishing it to be one thing when God's intent is for it to be another, will stay with me.
This was truly an ambitious work, but not nearly the caliber of McCullough's other writings. Perhaps leaving the medical field out may have helped, though once I passed that section, I still felt bogged down in a milieu of which I am usually enamored.
(I was also miffed at the absence of many images of art which were discussed)