"He Wears Black and Has a Beard"

Book Review: Just My Type

Toby Roworth

Feb 17, 2014

Disappointing Christmas presents can be assumed most years, especially when they come in the form of books - for reference, I don't do a lot of reading, because I find books require too much investment of time. Give me a couple of hundred pages of prose and a ten-minute YouTube video on the same subject and I'll take the video hands down. Except design books - these tend to be mostly pictures, with the text optional, such as Graphic Design Referenced.
So when I opened a book from my brother that claimed to be about fonts I briefly got excited, then flipped open a page and saw hundreds of words. My heart sank...
However, I gave it a chance, and thank goodness I did. "Just My Type is a book of stories", the back cover proclaims, and it's right. A history of typography is presented, from the dictatorial blackletter days of Gutenberg to the modern democracy provided by digital type design. But it's presented non-linearly, giving the book a perceived speed and edgyness, never feeling like a novel or a history book.
Each chapter tells the story of something to do with type, with witty little titles, such as "Road Akzidenz" and "The Ampersand's Final Twist". The content is very varied, describing fonts, their designers and important lessons in typography, all in equal measure.
And to break up the chapters there are occasional "Fontbreak"s, which describe an individual font in a little more detail. They're also set in Univers, rather than Sabon for the main copy, a subtle little twist that keeps the eye from getting too bored of the same typeface.
Simon Garfield, the author, has a very light style of writing, making the book very easy to read. And the book is pitched perfectly, gently explaining the basics to the uninitiated whilst never leaving the die-hard type-geeks feeling patronised. A t 352 pages, it's a fairly hefty tome for light reading, and yet it never felt too long, such that I read it in 6 weeks (which is quick for me).
The only place the book really falls down is its usefulness as a reference. It has all the information to be a goto book when wanting some assistance picking a typeface, but it's layout doesn't lend itself to this. Some respite is given in the form of an index at the back, but fonts are best found visually in most cases.
So, to summarise, go and buy this book, and you'll almost certainly not regret it, especially given that it's only £6.99 from Amazon. I should probably thank Edward for getting it for me too - good shout!