01 March 2010
A Note on the Type
The first thing I learned to love about a book was its colophon. As the son of a librarian mother and a father as committed to the life of books as only a largely self-educated son of a Kentucky coal miner (the model of Lincoln was hazily present, though my father is anything but tall) could be, I grew up surrounded by books, ranked most impressively on the shelves built into the wall of the den. There I came to know titles and authors' names, cover and spine designs, long before I was ready to read the books themselves. Many of those books I still have not read; my parents divorced and their library is no more. But when, at six or seven, I would pull over a chair from the kitchen table to reach down a book with a particularly intriguing design on the spine and a title that didn't seem too forbiddingly foreign—I am sure it was one of Camus' novels, The Fall or The Plague or The Stranger—there was only one short section of the book whose challenge I felt equal to: the very last one, the colophon at the end which described the typeface and the design of the book. Wondrous people with odd names like Bembo, Dwiggins, and Garamond, adjectives generous with descriptive power, a whiff of impressive industrial technology, and dates that stretched back into the realm of Important History: for me, growing up in the shadow of those shelves, those short-short stories were fairy tales.