Book cover I put down 50 bucks at Pages, which unaccountably had a copy of this, senior type designer Gerard Unger’s latest book. It took me ages to get through it, despite the fact that, with its giant type, the book seems rather padded.

The publisher’s blurb states: “This book is about everything that happens while you’re reading – in front of your eyes and inside your head.” I really don’t think the book succeeds at this claimed goal. First, though, who is the target audience? A curious nonspecialist? They’d read popular-press books like Thinking with Type, which I see people reading out in public all the time, or the very solid Complete Manual of Typography. And how many people are really “curious” about type? Most people just use Word for Windows.

If not, then who is the audience? Typography pros? We kind of know all this business inside out already. What little exposition While You’re Reading gives us is rather thin gruel for the expert crowd.

Unger didn’t set out to write a book like the following, but we desperately need something nice and simple and concise that explains the facts about reading – and does so for Average People, many of whom will be shocked to learn that we read by skipping the eye across a line of text, not by scanning one word after another like printing with a labelmaker. Something like this has been on my to-do list for essentially ever. I pledge now to actually work on it if somebody sets up a standards-compliant site with a viable URL, like FactsAboutReading.com.

Typical of design books, the book has bizarre design. Gerard Unger is the designer.

  • The hardcovers are a beautiful indigo and there’s a nice vellum frontispiece.
  • But chapter break pages are almost illegible, since they begin with catchwords from the last graf of the previous chapter – and the first few words of the present chapter, looking for all the world like a heading. Those items fade in using grey type. Then all of a sudden the chapter starts up as normal in black type, repeating the opening words. (Would that be clearer if I showed you a picture? I tried it that way and it isn’t. It doesn’t work visually or when described in words.)
  • Citations are given as sidenotes that are too big and too close to the main text.

The translation from the original Dutch (by Harry Lake) kept getting in the way. Or maybe it was the copy-editing.

  • I assume that a certain cake was decorated in lemon yellow, not lemon cello.
  • Optical character recognition is OCR, not ITC (that’s who gave us the world’s worst Garamond).
  • Something that appears to mean “original year of publication” is given repeatedly as oorspr.
  • A shake-up is a shake-up and not a shake
  • Unger’s countryman is Wim Crouwel, not Wil (Crusher?).
  • A tricky word in any dialect is flatly misspelled as manoeuver, and I’m finicky about the spelling of that word (one N, not two).
  • The č in háček is in the wrong font.

I know I tend to blow details out of proportion now and then, but it’s a bad sign when all I can really report about a book about a topic of great interest to me is the font used for a single letter from the Czech alphabet.

The foregoing posting appeared on Joe Clark’s personal Weblog on 2008.10.13 15:52. This presentation was designed for printing and omits components that make sense only onscreen. (If you are seeing this on a screen, then the page stylesheet was not loaded or not loaded properly.) The permanent link is:

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None. I quit.

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