About the Type

November 24th, 2008 at 7:21 pm

I have just completed a totally decent collection of shorter essays by the late great George Plimpton entitled “The Man in the Flying Lawn Chair and Other Excursions and Observations.”

The Man in the Flying Lawn Chair by George Plimpton

The slim collection concludes with information “About the Type:”

This book was set in Electra, a typeface designed for Linotype by W.A. Dwiggins, the renowned type designer (1880-1956). Electra is a fluid typeface, avoiding the contrasts of thick and thin strokes that are prevalent in most modern typefaces.

Just one facet of my debilitating bibliomania is a passing fascination with meta-aspects of books. It is not uncommon for me to read the publisher/publication page. I am quite fond of dedications. I always read the About the Authors.

(The Mr. Hyde to this Dr. Jekyll of bibliobsession is that I have great disdain for reading guides and book club-geared addenda and grow quickly weary of unnecessary footnotes.)

But not all books carry About the Type pages. Why? Do some publishers take great care in selecting the proper type for a certain volume, while other much less diligent and attentive publishers throw the craft of typography into the wind and use random types with reckless abandon?

And how does knowing the type affect my reading experience? I am certainly glad to have read Plimpton in the fluid typeface of Electra, but why did its About the Type seem so caddy? As if it was taking a swipe at those other modern typefaces for having the prevalent contrasts of thick and thin strokes.

And what’s Linotype?

And a renowned type designer? We probably still have those today but I fell asleep during the documentary Helvetica and did not find out.

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