Finding My Muse

July 21st, 2007

Big can o’ worms! Bigger than I could have imagined. Opened a world of shaky ground for myself when I stated with such certainty that my first rule of book design is to stand, more or less, in the shadows and simply bring the author’s work to the reader. My interior pages are merely receptacles for the author’s words and any illustrations—that has been my guiding principle for about fifteen years of design and layout work.

Pause … while I laugh and restrain myself from writing exactly the way I tend to speak—or tawk, as I was, after all, born and raised in Brooklyn, the Brooklyn—and ask myself out loud, using much less polite language: “Who on earth do you think you are, self, prattling on about making pages as if that were the same as discovering a cure for all cancers during a break from solving the problem of world poverty.

Okay, there, I’m back from making fun of just how serious I can sound about this jazz of book design.

So, like, Liz Tufte of Signature Bookworks has brought one David Carson to my attention. I have not yet checked out his book design work or anything he may have written on the subject. But Liz writes, commenting on a comment of mine in response to a blog entry of hers entitled What is Book Design?, that

Designer David Carson … isn’t interested in merely delivering the author’s message; he wants to be equal partners with the author.

And, like, that rather appeals to me. In fact, the way I put it in my last comment to her comments to my comment was:

God help me for being so egotistical—Lordy! How the notion of being “equal partners with the author” appeals to me!

There’s just a few tiny details to work out. First, what would such a partnership look like for me? I remember how when I first became aware of the expression “desktop publishing” years ago, and about when I got my first Macintosh and laser printer, I began to notice examples of a typesetting style, if you could call it that, where every variation of every font that the typesetter had on his or her computer was used—simply because they could. I see no danger of that for me. But, then, who knows what crazed way I might try to carve out my own territory in someone else’s book if I were to take that chance.

Better to take some more time reading some more background and then considering again what I mean to be accomplishing by my book design and layout work. I began a month or so back, re-reading Designing books: practice and theory. Then I picked up Jan Tschichold’s The New Typography. Next was Ellen Lupton’s thinking with type. This last one was an easy read, fun even. And after that, based on the mention by Jacqueline Simonds in her answers to my “Four Questions,” I read Colin Wheildon’s Type and Layout. She was right, by the way, that there’s a relation between the amount of laughter Wheildon draws out of you and your degree of book design geekiness.

Entry Filed under: book design,design books,freelancing

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