Archives for category: Book design

I went to an event on 28 March at the Grolier Club about hi-tech library work at Cambridge University Library. The talk was held in the same room as the exhibition “Alphabet Magic: A Centennial Exhibition of the Work of Hermann and Gudrun Zapf”. The exhibition remains open till 27 April.

I had a brief look round the Zapf show after the Librarian’s talk. Hermann Zapf was the creator of well known typefaces such as Optima and Palatino (used in the transcribed poem below). One of the more amazing survivals are pencil-sketched layouts and paste-up rough designs: who keeps those things? Both Zapfs were born in 2018: Hermann died in 2015. Gudrun, a type designer, calligrapher and artist in her own right, is still living.

This poem was one of the items on display and I thought I’d transcribe it and even try to translate it.

What’s the point of those red caps down the sides  — they just seem to be there as a Zapfian design element, with a bit of an indexing function? Is there any significance in the omission of C, D, J, Q, V, and X from the poem? Y isn’t really a member of the German alphabet: it figures in German only as part of a loan word. I cannot discern any sort of anagram hiding in those red letters.

Transcribing the poem is a breeze, but this is a hard translation nut to crack. So much of the ode’s point is to use the letter being held up for attention in the words used to exemplify it. “Tot”, death, is a good example, that “terrifying word, ringing out like a tuba tone, formed of that double T, most striking, deepest word: death”. Maybe we could say “tomb” but that kind of changes things, and certainly makes nonsense of the “double T” point. Next Mr Weinheber assures us of God’s good will to us as evidenced in his giving us the soft letter W. We Anglos must be specially favored: after all the W in English is even softer than its German cousin/ancestor.

Here’s a preliminary go at the start:

Dark, grave-dark U, like a velvet June night!/ Bell sounding O, swinging like red bronze:/ Greatness and weightiness you represent:/ Sleep and sleeper, need and death/ Higher-goal driven I, heaven in noon light./ quivering tirili pouring from the lark:/ Love, ah love, your sound thunders with flaming tongue./ E as in woe and snow 

“E as in woe and snow” just about sums it up. Maybe woe could become weeping and snow change to sleet which isn’t quite the same thing, but insofar as Mr Weinheber has brought any wit to his ode, it’s clobbered over the head by this sort of English. Ode an die Buchstaben may not be great poetry, but it may be untranslatable.

Aida Ylanan, an intern at The Los Angeles Times, put together this digital analysis and appreciation of the covers used on the classics series from New York Review Books.

Do click on the link: this slide show is a thing of beauty.

And here’s NYRB’s version:

 

BuzzFeed submits their round up of 2018’s most beautiful covers (there are 42), and the insatiable Literary Hub comes up with 75 of them. To me the New York Review Books Classics collection covers look better.

The first edition, 1843

Open Culture brings us two readings of A Christmas Carol, one by Neil Gaiman and the other by Monica Dickens, the author’s great granddaughter. Both of the readings pay tribute to the author’s histrionic delivery. Atlas Obscura has a story about Dickens’ constant revision of the text in performance.

To get the Neil Gaiman reading at Free Live Radio you have to click on the link above and follow the instructions there. The Monica Dickens version is at YouTube, below.

 

If you don’t see a video here. please click on the title of this post in order to view it in your browser.

That should keep you busy over the holidays.

Here also is a gallery of covers over the ages from BookBug. The picture at the top comes from there.

And, Happy Christmas to all our readers.

To celebrate the publication of Branding: A Very Short Introduction Oxford University Press made a video on branding featuring the author of the book, Robert Jones.

If you don’t see a video here, please click on the title of this post in order to view it in your browser.

With a neat circularity the book is published in what is probably the best branded academic series around nowadays. The covers of Very Short Introductions to a, b, and c all look the same but are all slightly different. They have their own Wikipedia page which lists all the books in the series — though it hasn’t been updated since July. To whomever it is in the OUP marketing department whose job this is — wake up! OUP’s series page tells us that one of the recent (locally relevant) titles is Paul Luna: A Very Short Introduction to Typography. In bookstores the books live in spinners and present themselves as the best way to find out quickly and authoritatively about . . . anything.

Spinners, those metal racks holding a bunch of books which you spin to see yet more titles, are difficult. They do make it look like the books are popular, but they are the devil to keep up-to-date (they also cost quite a bit to make). Allow customers to root around in your stock and they’ll put them all out of sequence immediately, so finding gaps in your holdings becomes very difficult. In the olden days the publisher’s rep would go through a spinner and order up replacements for books which had been sold. But nobody has time for this sort of thing anymore, not even booksellers, so spinners  can be frustrating if you are looking for a specific title. For serendipity they’re great of course. See my earlier post, A very, very short introduction to intellectual property, on my struggles with these very spinners. The series has been (is) successful, and therein perhaps lies its major problem. All the books, which are little paperbacks with French flaps, are printed in the one plant in south England, which tends to result in out-of-stock notices over here much too often. For example Amazon US is today showing Branding: A VSI as out of stock, and it’s been published for over a year now.

Link via David Crotty at The Scholarly Kitchen.

This Vimeo video — a little odd perhaps, but thought-provoking, takes you on a tour through some modern approaches to graphic design. The openness of New York encourages experimentation, the connective thread throughout this international journey from the theory of glitches, via computer aided graphics (“it’s hand drawn by a machine”), to manipulations of the typeface Bembo (“the sort of typeface you’d want to print every f-ing book in”) to printing the output at Kallemeyn Press, a letterpress shop in Greenpoint, Brooklyn.

If you don’t see a video here, please click on the title of this post in order to view it in your browser.

David Crotty at The Scholarly Kitchen sends a link to this YouTube video.

If you don’t see a video here, please click on the title of this post in order to view it in your browser. You might prefer to watch this without the sound.

The Scholarly Kitchen post provides a link to a previous cover animation video.

Designer Sarah J. Coleman provides, via Spine Magazine, this accelerated video showing the drawing of the cover for Dreadful Young Ladies and other Stories by Kelly Barnhill.

If you don’t see a video here, click on the title of this post so that you can view it in your browser.

Erik Kwakkel’s blog medievalbooks has an informative post on the design and layout of medieval manuscript books, entitled Architecture of the Medieval Page. When you are looking at a richly illuminated book you have narrow your eyes to detect behind the text and illustrations surviving evidence of the indentations of the grid pattern the scribe would start off by ruling into the surface of the parchment. Later on a lead “pencil” would be used and these lines might subsequently be erased.

The grid pattern is especially obvious in these examples.

This is sort of like that ruled sheet you used to get in a pad of Basildon Bond letter-writing paper. If you stuck one of these behind a sheet of parchment though you wouldn’t be able to see through to it. I am in fact using just such a ruled sheet from my insane handwritten version of The Dynasts. (Not as much progress as should have been has been made on this since my last update. I took the last winter off for one reason or another. This has to be a seasonal activity: I don’t know if scribes were troubled by drops of sweat from their brows — but this is obviously incompatible with pen and ink production. Thus activity has to stop during the humid summer months in New York. I think it should be safe to start up again now.)

A vignette was originally just an ornament with a intertwined vine tendril motif. In books the vignette started out as a border of twisted vines, and, shedding its vine motif, came to mean a repeated illustrative element placed at the beginning or end of a chapter. One most commonly comes upon them at the end of chapters in older books where they often seem to play the role of filling all that empty space which many printers seemed then to abhor.

Building on that meaning a vignette can effectively mean any illustration without a frame. For example this wood engraving by Thomas Bewick:

Ralph Waldo Emerson

After the invention of photography it took on the additional meaning of a design in which the central element (often a portrait) was highlighted by removing the background. In the days of photoengraving this was a highly skilled process, involving an air-brush, a paint brush and white ink/paint. You can see this being done towards the end of the first video at Engraving a halftone block. (Even more incredibly in this video you can also see the artist/artisan creating the type by hand using only his paint brush.)

Vignette has now evolved to mean also that effect created by a camera lens whereby the center of the image tends to be brighter than the corners and edges. Your computer’s photo software probably gives you the ability to adjust this if you need to.

Metaphorically the vignette’s meaning was extended in the late 19th century to mean a brief, tightly-focussed written portrait. This meaning has spread out to mean just a sketch in words.

Drop initials always look nice. Well, I like the look at least. Magazine Designing tells us “Drop caps and initials are an effective way of grabbing readers attention because they add personality and visual strength to the page.” To me, they have a sort of old fashioned, quality appearance. We can see an origin in those illuminated and historiated initials in manuscripts.

The Missal of Cardinal Angelo Acciaiuoli. Fitzwilliam Museum

 

Magazine Designing also tells us that drops dropped out of favor in the early 20th century under the influence of Bauhaus typographical rigor. That may have had something to do with it, but I’d bet that the main reason was economics. Drop initials add cost, and as labor costs went up publishers found themselves less and less willing to pay for “frills” like decent paper, generous margins, good book cloth, footnotes, drop initials etc.. Therefore if you are going to pay for drop initials you probably ought to do them right. Here’s The New Yorker doing it wrong:

Took me a moment or two to figure out that “live” isn’t being used here as an adjective. Here’s Hart’s Rules showing us how it ought to be done.

As you may see, Hart (the Bible of Oxford bookmaking) also disagrees with The New Yorker‘s handling of the open quotation mark.

I would also argue that good book composition manners demand that the rest of the word be set in letterspaced small caps or at least caps. That alone would have helped a little in the “live” confusion.

Adding negative space in hot metal days used to involve getting a saw and cutting out part of the type to allow the rest of the word to tuck in next to the top of the “A”. In modern computer setting it’s much easier — you just have to have your system programmed to apply a rule which you need to define in code. But “Hey — it’s not worth the (tiny) hassle — nobody’ll notice.”