Just My Type by Simon Garfield

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I was probably ten when I first began experimenting with WordPerfect’s fonts on our family’s personal computer. I typed the name of each font, highlighted it and selected the font from the list (because, of course, this was before you could see the font on the menu) and then I’d print out the list of all the fonts. I loved comparing them. I still do. When I was in college, I enjoyed printing each English paper and draft in a different font. I thought it made it more fun. I also loved watching the documentary on Helvetica last year, although I must admit I still struggle to determine the difference between Helvetica and Arial.

So, I fully admit that while I’m not a discerning or well-educated user of fonts, I simply adore them. I’ve been hearing about Just My Type: A Book About Fonts by Simon Garfield for a few months around the blogosphere. I had to find a copy of it. I borrowed an ARC from nearby friend and fellow blogger Suzanne.

I was not surprised that I greatly enjoyed Just My Type. I had briefly studied fonts in a design class for a semester during college (I loved Robert Bringhurst’s Elements of Typography, although I remember little now), I must admit that I learned a lot of fun facts from Mr Garfield’s book, as well as some general information about font usage that I hadn’t known before.

Mr. Garfield approached his subject with obvious love for fonts in general. Each chapter focuses on some issue surrounding font usage. As I survey the chapter titles having now finished the book, I’d suggest that Mr. Garfield focuses on the popular uses of fonts throughout history. More specifically, he talks about fonts to avoid because people have strong feelings against them (*cough*Comic Sans*cough*). He addresses readability of fonts on signs and the waxing and waning of popularity for different types of fonts. He touches on the frustrations when great fonts are copied by unauthorized users (it takes a long time to design a font), and he looks at some examples of good ways to break the font “rules.” It’s definitely a popular look at the history of font usage, rather than a technical tome.

In between these issue chapters are brief interludes describing the history and/or the designers of specific popular fonts. Just My Type was previously published in England so I was pleased to find discussions of less popular American fonts, such as Frutiger, which I hadn’t heard of in America. It was so fun to compare the fonts, and now that I’m finished, I find myself constantly looking in books to see the front matter mentions which font it was set in (Maisy Goes to the City, for example, is set in Lucy Cousins font, and a few children’s picture books are hand lettered).

In the end, I can only surmise that there really aren’t strict rules to font usage. Preferences change over time, but there is a multitude of ways to use fonts to your advantage, and I’m so glad I live in a world of font abundance.

Just My Type was great fun for the untrained eye of a font nerd like myself. However, in preparing this post, I came across this review which criticizes the book because of inaccuracies in terminology and even examples. If you are well-trained in typography, make sure you check that post out. This may not be the book for you.

P.S. I really wanted to have the type faces appear in their type face, as Just My Type did. With the complexities of the Web, however, I couldn’t figure it out!

Reviewed on October 18, 2011

About the author 

Rebecca Reid

Rebecca Reid is a homeschooling, stay-at-home mother seeking to make the journey of life-long learning fun by reading lots of good books. Rebecca Reads provides reviews of children's literature she has enjoyed with her children; nonfiction that enhances understanding of educational philosophies, history and more; and classical literature that Rebecca enjoys reading.

  • I adore fonts so this book sounds just up my alley as well. Secret about how anal I am – I hate HATE !!!HATE!!! new times roman. And most emails come in that font, as well as memos, etc. I’ve been known to highlight those lengthier e-mails and change it into a more pleasant font (Century Gothic) before reading it.

    • christina » yes, I think the default fonts are the ones that get most of the HATE. I love the new default in Microsoft — Calibri — so I hope it isn’t hated anytime soon…

  • This sounds really interesting. I enjoy playing around with font type, too! It’s also not something I would normally read, so it would be nice to have a different experience. 🙂

  • I’m really glad you enjoyed this book, since when I requested it for Tony I thought it looked like a lot of fun. I am nowhere near as geeky about typefaces as Tony is (with good reason, since he is a graphic designer by trade), but even I thought this book looked like something I would enjoy (and for the record, I am really particular about typefaces, but I’m not able to identify typefaces just by looking at them, for example).

    I did notice that there were a few errors that even I picked up on based on a quick perusal, like Garfield using “typeface” and “font” interchangeably, even though Tony has educated me on the different things those words mean in the graphic design world, so I was surprised to see Garfield persist in the incorrect usage… but I think that this book is written for the general population, not those with a specialized knowledge about typography, and so while an expert would likely find many things to take issue with (as that article does that you linked to), I doubt his concerns are ones that would bother most readers.

    • Steph » yes, see I can’t tell you the difference between typeface and font so this was an okay book for me. I’d think the more geeky typeface fan would be rather annoyed…

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