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Review: Just My Type by Simon Garfield

Just My Type is a book about fonts. It tells the story behind the design of many different typefaces and their designers, and passes judgement on some of the ‘best’ and ‘worst’ fonts in common use.

I have a slightly complicated history with this book. I bought it when it first came out, having seen a number of rave reviews, including a virtually evangelical endorsement from Robert Bound. However, first time round, I didn’t get on with it. I found it dull indeed, and gave up with it after a short while.

Early in 2014, I decided to tackle it again: I could not accept that so many people whose opinion I respect had so highly recommended a book which I found impenetrable. Second time round, I very much enjoyed it, and devoured it in a couple of days. I enjoyed its humour and levity; its facts and figures; its tales of times gone by and anecdotes of contemporary life in the design community. It was a real treat, a pleasure to read. I cannot understand why I found it such a struggle the first time round. Garfield deftly brings the human spirit to a topic which, at face value, lacks any humanity. He brings type alive in the most engaging way.

Each chapter of the book discusses a font trend or another similar topic, including the history of how it came to exist, and how it progressed over time. The second chapter, which discusses the terminology of type, has a lovely quote which sums up the combination of accuracy and levity which the author employs throughout:

In common parlance we use font and typeface interchangeably, and there are worse sins.

Between the chapters, there are ‘font breaks’, in which Garfield typically discusses an interesting story relating to a single typeface. This structure might seem unusual at first glance, but it works well, setting up a predictable rhythm throughout the book. And, as one might expect, the book is peppered with different typefaces, providing illustration of the points discussed.

I found Just My Type to be a lovely book – at least on second reading – and it made me genuinely interested in a topic I’d never considered in great detail previously. It was factual, but with a real sense of fun. I’d thoroughly recommend it.

Just My Type is available now from amazon.co.uk in paperback and on Kindle.

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