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Book Review: Just My Type: A Book About Fonts by Simon Garfield

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Just My Type: A Book About Fonts by Simon Garfield is a nonfiction book about fonts. After reading this book I will never look at signs the same way again.

As the book documents the history of fonts and typefaces from Gutenberg to modern digitized versions, Garfield uses humor to tell of the impact of fonts on business and culture, while in an entertaining manner changing the way you look at the world. Like me, most people probably don’t think much about fonts, unless they’re ugly, unfitting or difficult to read.

As it turns out, there are font aficionados out there, enough to merit heavy discussions on IKEA changing its font and to religiously maintain Internet groups. That is not including those whose livelihood depends on fonts (authors, designers, advertisers, etc.).

If you know nothing about typography, don’t worry — the second chapter explains common terms which you’ll want to know because the first chapter already hooked you in by discussing font related anecdotes about Comic Sans. Between chapters there are “Font Breaks”, which praise fonts, tells of font controversies as well as great stories about dead typographers and interviews with those who are still among the living.

Just My Type comprises a quick tour around the world, not only by looking at road signs, but by including movies, TV shows, album covers, magazines, movies, computers and more. What I found even more fascinating is the misuse of fonts in movies, fonts that are used in time-period movies but have actually been created later in history.

In this lively book you’ll discover how fonts are picked for road signs (very important), how are they tested at high speeds and what fonts say about products and politicians. Of course one could make the very legitimate argument that politicians are products, but that’s a different book.

Among the many tidbits in Just My Type you’ll find some gems such as how the @ sign is called in different languages (‘strudel’ in Hebrew, ‘escargot’ in French), the secrets of Rolling Stone’s “R” and why the “T” is lowered on the Beatles’ logo. You’ll also read stories about the font makers and their curious lives.

No book about fonts will be complete without the “worst of” section. Mr. Garfield does well by staying away from homemade fonts and covering only those made by professionals; otherwise that section would prove to be unruly.

Mr. Garfield did a great job writing an intriguing book on what could have been a very boring subject. The author accomplished that feat by writing a cheeky book about the human side and our reaction to fonts. An added detail to this wonderful book is that most of the font names are printed in their respective fonts.

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