Tuesday, August 14, 2007

The Elements of Typographical Style

Almost a year ago I posted about The Solid Form of Language by Robert Bringhurst. The Elements of Typographical Style is by far the most famous of his books, and I had long been interested in reading it. My wife is now taking courses in graphic design, which gave me a perfect excuse to buy and read the book. After all, what dedicated husband wouldn't want to find out more about his wife's fields of interest?

Bringhust is a renowned Canadian poet, and it shows in his prose. Though the title portends little but fussiness, pedantry, detail and drudgery, the book is actually a delight to read. Here are a few samples (not necessarily the best):
  • on typography "Like oratory, music, dance, calligraphy - like anything that lends its grace to language - typography is an art that can be deliberately misused. It is a craft by which the meanings of a text (or its absence of meaning) can be clarified, honored and shared, or knowingly disguised.
    "In a world rife with unsolicited messages, typography must often draw attention to itself before it will be read. Yet in order to be read, it must relinquish the attention it has drawn."

  • on case "The union of uppercase and lowercase roman letters - in which the upper case has seniority but the lower case has the power - has held firm for twelve centuries. This constitutional monarchy of the alphabet is one of the most durable of European cultural institutions."

  • on notes "Relegating notes to the foot of the page or the end of the book is a mirror of Victorian social and domestic practice, in which the kitchen was kept out of sight and the servants were kept below stairs."

  • on proportions "The proportions of a page are like an interval in music. In a given context, some are consonant, others dissonant. Some are familiar; some are also inescapable, because of their presence in the structures of the of natural as well as the man-made world."

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