Archives for category: Book design

I guess we can call the contest for best cover of the year now — anything to be published in December will already have had its cover designed and printed.

Literary Hub does this cover round-up every year — there’s link in the story to previous years’ posts. Why 78? Or do I mean why 26? Did each selector get to name 3 choices? Doesn’t really matter: 78 remain an odd (if even) number. Why don’t I love any of them? (Or hate any, for that matter.) Not sure. I doubt if it’s got anything to do with modern design trends though.

Readers of books should ideally be unaware of the thought processes of designers and layout people, so that nobody has to stop and wonder why this or that decision was made in setting the type in the book they’re reading. The mission of design is to facilitate the smooth transmission of the message from author to reader: not to shout out, look what a beautiful job I’ve done. For design and layout people beautiful ought to be synonymous with invisible. But of course because we remain unaware of these thought processes, when we might wish to consider them we find that we remain unaware of them.

To me, the knowledge contained in the head of a book compositor was amazing. A seven-year apprenticeship can’t have been enough to internalize everything. Hart’s Rules for Compositors and Readers* Oxford University Press’ guide for workers in its printing plant (which closed in 1989) contains the following instructions on word-breaks.

DIVISION OF WORDS

Avoid division if at all possible, having regard for the requirements of good typography. [Which basically means don’t set the line with too much letterspacing — i.e. don’t set the line t o o  l o o s e just to avoid a word-break at the end.] Where word-breaks are necessary, however, the following rules apply:

(a) A minimum of two characters may be left behind and a minimum of three characters carried over at a word-break.

(b) Two successive hyphens only are allowed at the ends of lines.

(c) A divided word should not end a right-hand page.

(d) If the right-hand page is a full-page illustration or table, the facing left-hand page should not end with a hyphen.

And that’s it. Following these simple rules will avoid ugly and confusing word-breaking. Too many hyphens and your eye will begin to pick up the wrong line when flicking back and forth; too few characters and misunderstandings threaten. Turning the page is always an opportunity to loose the place, so don’t make the chances higher by breaking the word. (In this context see also Catchword.) Attention should be given to the structure of the word in making the decision to split it: don’t do pr-oductive or produc-tive. These sorts of rules are now incorporated into software, and will be applied without the benefit of human intervention. But as an overriding rule In Hart states “In borderline cases supervisors are to be consulted for a decision whether an exception is to be made.”

These rules are a distillation of 500 years of trial and error. Printers arrived at this sort of consensus by discovering that doing differently resulted in poor outcomes. Each compositor internalized the rules, which would be drummed into them when they were apprentices. Actually, the thinking about all this goes back more than 500 years, as scribes writing out manuscripts developed rules about all sorts of things, including word division.

There are some word-breaks which although they are by the rule should never be undertaken. The one that sticks in my mind is pre-gnant”

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* “Readers” refers here not to you or me snuggling up in an armchair to consume an OUP book — it refers to the proofreaders employed by all printers back then. When the type had been set it would go to an internal proof room where it was read against copy and sent back to the composing room for correction before a proof was ever sent out to the customer. I was at one time involved with the books of W. Edwards Deming, who held the view that Cambridge University Press was the best typesetter in the world because they never made a mistake. For an efficiency expert this was a slightly odd view as the reason for the apparent perfection was that the proof he was seeing had always been read and corrected before it was sent to him — not really the world’s most efficient use of labor. As the Press had closed the proof room by the time we were doing his books, we would send the proof to a freelance proofreader first, get corrections made, and then send the “perfect” proof to the author. I’m sure he went to his grave convinced of Cambridge’s infallibility.

Proof readers and compositors, whether they started out that way or become so as a result of years of experience, were often considerable experts in arcana. From time to time eminent professors of Greek or Mathematics in Cambridge would send notes of thanks to the compositor for saving them from errors in the subject areas in which they were meant to be the experts.

Alex Bray, @StGilesResident reports on Twitter on this improved jacket which has been wrapped round copies of David Cameron’s book in Foyles in Charing Cross Road. (Thanks to Dr Syntax for forwarding the tweet.)

Quite an elaborate effort, but of course color printing has become so much easier (and cheaper) to get done nowadays. Fifty years ago only the richest of commentators could have paid for a job like this. Now we almost  all have a little color printer in our homes: not that this job could have been done on your personal printer without taping several sheets together.

You’ve got to love the puff from our guy on the front of the jacket. The culprit has done flaps too, which you can see by following the link to the tweet.

Literary Hub brings us 25 covers of Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man. I just read it as an ebook and thus missed out on the whole cover experience.

Well, I don’t know about Your Thos, but My Thos is in need of some help.

You can see what’s gone wrong: the amount of space between the Y and the T is exactly the same as the space between the T and the H. This is unfortunate after the designer decided to tuck the spreading M under the top left arm of the Y. From the detail picture you can see this: a transparent ruler confirms that the end of the lavish serif at the bottom on the M’s right leg is actually about 1/32″ to the right of the similarly extravagant serif on the Y’s left arm.

This tucking in of the M sets up a conflict along the line,  exaggerating the appearance of space between T and H and especially of course between Y and T. What needs to be done to make the whole line one word again is to move the M back to the left, add a little bit of space between H and O, and maybe the tiniest amount between O and S. The rest should be OK as is I think.

Pity really because at Michael Joseph (now part of Penguin Random House) they obviously went whole hog on this cover: the title on the front and that sort of line of cloud above it have been embossed* while title and author on front and spine have been foil stamped. I don’t especially like the design but that’s no problem; in matters aesthetic opinions are bound to differ. Blame the Greeks: it’s probably the fault of Apollo, Hermes, and Euterpe. I expect Epimetheus, Titan of afterthought and the father of excuses, gets a toe in too. No designer is credited — the only credit is “Cover Illustration © Sarah Young”, which please note.

As may be seen, our copy is signed by the author. We bought it at the Shaw Festival in Niagara-on-the-Lake last year when Stephen Fry was performing/reading bits of the book on stage. The book is written in a chatty style and doubtless took minimal editing for performance. He covers the ground in an engaging and untaxing manner. The slightly jokey, knowing style ends up being a little hard to take, but whatever Stephen Fry does will forever be OK in my book as a result of this wonderful interview with a really gob-smacked† interviewer from Irish television.

If you see no video here, please click on the title of this post in order to view it in your browser.

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* Embossing a cover or jacket involves making a metal die — in this case in the shape of the word MYTHOS together with that grey contrail above it, and, after the covers have been printed, putting them through a stamping machine, thus recessing the paper in the area hit. This is really clear when you look at the back of the paper where the reversed image appears as a raised bump. This hit can be made as a blind hit (i.e. with no foil) or with some foil between the die and the image, as is the case in this instance with the word MYTHOS where a patterned gold foil has been added to the brown tints printed onto the cover.

All this requires quite careful make-ready, which makes it quite an expensive way to obtain an extra bit of texture and contrast.

† In pursuance of one of the original aims of this blog — to explain differences in terminology between Britain and America, I should perhaps point out that gob means mouth in popular British parlance. The look on the interviewer’s face is exactly as it would be if his face had been slapped.

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.