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Old 03-04-2007, 09:14 AM   #1
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Location: In Connecticut, on the Housatonic River near its mouth at Long Island Sound.
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Default Teeny, tiny, itsy-bitsy type

I was going to comment on three books on type or typography I got recently but all I can think to say is that despite being chock-full of information, they are almost impossible to read!

One is a revised (2004) edition of Lewis Blackwell’s 20th-Century Type. I have two earlier editions of this book, and all three are annoying to read, with wide lines of small sans-serif type. But the 1998 Remix edition was set in 8-point sans; this 2004 one is in 7 (both on about 9.5 leading). I really cannot read it for any length of time, especially as the book is large enough (8-1/2 X 11 inches X 216 pages) that it is difficult to read anywhere but at a desk or table. There is a lot of good historic information in this book, and the frequent editions keep it up to date, but anyone with eyes older than about 25 probably will not enjoy it. Great illustrations, though, and lots of them.

Next is not really a book, but issue 321 of Idea, the Japanese design magazine, all 226 pages of which are dedicated to Jan Tschichold. It is set primarily in nice large Japanese characters with English translations set in 6 or 7 serif type on 11-point leading (the captions and sidenotes are even smaller). To add insult to injury, the type is either badly drawn or the inking uneven, which makes the little letters seem to sparkle. Ouch! Poor eyes. Again, though, really great illustrations.

Finally, We Make Fonts, which comes from France. The French text is set in almost readable 8 on 9-ish sans-serif. (I can read French, but slowly.) The English, though, appears to be 5 point on 5.5 leading. This book is about type design, and its illustrations are great — especially a series that show letters “drawn” in chain-like lines with slightly open books inserted in each other, photographed from above. Then we see attempts to refine this crude bitmap into letters, and the resultant font. Nice stuff. On top of being physically hard to read, though, the text is also full of long gobbledy-gookish words — like the small print on a contract but even more impenetrable, one way or another.

Sigh. Need they all be books on typography? Do they give us any faith in that craft? Why are all the lessons learned in the first 500 years since Gutenberg being discarded? (Rhetorical questions; never mind.)

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