Thursday, January 20, 2011

Get in touch with the inner geek

Even when you get to the advanced age of [redacted], it’s rather thrilling when a relative even older than yourself gives you a book token for Christmas.

Because your modern book token is a clever thing: a plastic smart card as opposed to a cardboard folding one.

It’s got a magnetic strip and a barcode and a PIN and all that stuff, and you can go online and type in the numbers and it’ll tell you how much you’ve got left to spend on it.

Although the glacial reaction time of the National Book Tokens website suggests to the suspicious mind either that everyone else in the UK is trying to look up their balance at the same time, or that nobody’s ever actually tried it before, and the server is having a hard job remembering how it’s supposed to find out.

You can stuff your card into your wallet next to all the other bits of plastic, having read the dire warnings on the back about it expiring after 24 months and how you’re meant to treat it like cash.

(The difference being that cash, in this columnist’s hands, tends to expire in far less than 24 months. More like 24 hours, if you’re lucky.)

And then you can forget about it for three weeks, until suddenly one lunchtime, inspired by the brief appearance of a big shiny thing up in the sky, you decide to drag yourself away from your desk and go for a stroll.

Just like cash, the card starts burning a hole in your pocket, and before you know it you’re drawn as if by some eerie magnetic force through the door of Mr B’s Emporium of Reading Delights.

What to buy, what to buy? Fact or fiction? Words or pictures? Hardback or softback? So much to read, so little time to read it.

It’s time to get back in touch with your inner geek. And Just My Type by Simon Garfield looks just the thing.

It describes the difference between fonts and typefaces. (Don’t ask, read the book.) It tells you why the real geeks call fonts “founts”. It explains why Gill Sans is the “most British of types”, despite its designer, Eric Gill, being an out-and-out nutter. And it even tells you why you shouldn’t use Comic Sans for corporate communications.

Just the book for a newspaper office, you might think. To quote the typographer Beatrice Warde: “FROM THIS PLACE WORDS MAY FLY ABROAD/NOT TO PERISH AS WAVES OF SOUND BUT FIXED IN TIME/NOT CORRUPTED BY THE HURRYING HAND BUT VERIFIED IN PROOF.” (She wrote in ALL CAPITALS before it was considered SHOUTING. And she was more than chummy with Eric Gill.)

But a Tuesday afternoon at Chronicle Towers is clearly not the place for such musings.

The book gets a couple of sideways glances, before the banter (conversation is too grand a word) turns to more mundane matters such as why your columnist has never watched a single episode of Friends and the curious blob on a very senior executive’s elbow.

It isn’t easy having an inner geek. But with books like Just My Type, at least you know you’re not alone.

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