Friday, January 25, 2013

More about book covers

I forget now which particular blog or web site it was that first pointed me towards the video of Chip Kidd's presentation to a TED audience, on the design of book covers -- but my hat is lifted to them, whoever it was.

Chip Kidd has worked for Knopf publishers -- which is apparently pronounced with a hard K, unless my ears are deafer than usual -- and unless, of course, Mr Kidd is just being droll -- but in any case, he knows his business and will also make you laugh, never a bad combination.

So, go take a look, is my advice. You will need twenty minutes or so.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Yum yum

Should you be planning to visit Shakespeare country. or thereabouts, be sure to visit Rebekah Owens's blog Travels with my Oxygen. Full of good advice on where to go to eat well, and how to foment political unrest, where to become the next J.K. Rowling, et cetera.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Simon Garfield: Just My Type

Just My Type is a book about fonts. And these days most people have a vague idea what fonts are, if only because they see the word (occasionally) on their word processor.

Well, a whole book about fonts may not be your thing but this is interesting enough, even for the non-professional. It's a series of short essays, about the designers of type, the folk who choose them for specific purposes, and all like that. It's a good bedside book -- you can read the odd chunk before going to sleep.

Of course you do have to be a bit weird to be interested in fonts. But if you're going to use CreateSpace or Lulu or something to produce actual printed books, as opposed to ebooks, then you're going to have to take an interest to some extent.

If you're looking for a practical book that gives you a list of suggested fonts for various different purposes, then this isn't it. But then it doesn't claim to be.

For something similar, but a bit more in-depth, perhaps, try Simon Loxley's Type: the Secret History of Letters. And for those who are actually designing a printed book, Robert Bringhurst's The Elements of Typographic Style is indispensable.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Sugar: the bitter truth

Well, well, it took a while -- actually about twenty years -- but finally Penguin did the obvious thing and reissued Professor John Yudkin's absolutely classic study of sugar: Pure, White and Deadly. This book has been out of print for many a long year, and when you could find it the price was usually in three figures. A few years ago I had to borrow a copy from my local library's county archive.

The new edition comes with an introduction by Professor Robert Lustig, who was probably the guy that twisted Penguin's arm. I'd like to think that Penguin were smart enough to launch a reissue unprompted, but then why did they ever let an important book like this go out of print in the first place? (There's no polite or reassuring answer to that question.)

And, what's more, Lustig himself has a book out. The title is Fat Chance, and it looks like a brave book to write, because it dares to criticise the food industry. Yudkin tried that, and got nothing but trouble as a result. He should, of course, have been supported by his university, but wasn't, which is a disgraceful story in itself.

The fact that sugar is the source of half our health problems is not new. The journalist William Dufty wrote a classic expose of it in the 1970s, in Sugar Blues, which is still in print. But scientists who are prepared to put their head above the parapet and let Big Food fire cannon at them are not thick on the ground.

If by any chance you haven't yet realised what pernicious stuff sugar is, and how determinedly it is forced upon us in almost everything, then Lustig's new book is the one to go for. Those of us who've been paying any attention to food in the last 40 years probably won't learn a lot that's new -- except of course that we shall be given a host of new examples of how little the food companies care about their customers' health, and how committed they are to making profit no matter what.

Friday, January 04, 2013

German Army? No worries...

Englishmen of a certain age -- let's say over seventy -- tend to have a grudging respect for the German army. I'm not quite sure why, but it probably has something to do with two world wars, the flower of English youth slaughtered in the first, 20 million dead, worldwide, in the second. And we tend to remember incidents such as the invasion of Russia in winter (Napoleon did it and lost), the battle of Stalingrad, and so on.

One way and another, us old guys have a mental image of the German army as a vast assembly of bullet-headed thugs, with masses of first-class ordnance made by world-class German engineers. And even now we keep seeing these history documentaries showing the inexorable advances made by these relentless buggers.

It's worth noting that even when it came to the Battle of Stalingrad, when everything conceivable was against the Germans -- the weather, the lack of supplies, the sheer number of the Russians launched against them -- even then the Germans were hard to shift. Stalin's approach was to send boat after boat across the river, where they were machine-gunned down to one or two survivors, as often or not. But one or two was enough. Stalin sent another boat. And another. He had lots of peasants at his disposal.

All of that being the case, we ancient Limies tend to think of the German army as a hard-nosed bunch. Jeez, we mutter to ourselves, I hope we don't have to fight those buggers again -- not till I'm safely dead, anyway.

But you know what? We can sleep easy! Yes, there is absolutely no cause for alarm. A report in today's Times says it all. The link may not get you through Rupert's firewall (the strategy isn't going to work, Rupert, I keep telling you), so I'll give you the gist of the report here.
It was once dreaded for its military might and unfailing discipline. But the German Army is now struggling to hold on to recruits, with almost one in three dropping out after six months of basic training.
See, what happens is this. The recruits turn up cos they rather fancy themselves in one of those uniforms -- a real girl-puller. But then they're a bit surprised by what they find. They have to share a room with other men. They have to polish their own boots! They can't smoke except during certain times. And there are all these bossy types strutting about and expecting recruits to do what they tell them! Whatever next? Result: 30.4 per cent drop out within six months.

So, I think we can all relax. If and when the German army invades somewhere uncomfortable, such as Russia in winter, or even Manchester on a rainy day in August, the recruits are going to take a long hard look at what they can expect. And if the Generals can't guarantee of supply of the young men's favourite hairspray, the great German war machine is going to say, 'Nah. No way. Fuck that for a game of soldiers.' And then they're going to piss off home.

For those of you who would like to read in detail about the glories of the once-unstoppable Wehrmacht, and just how difficult they were to batter into submission, William Shirer gives the best overall picture in The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich.

For a painfully detailed account of one battle, go to Antony Beevor's Stalingrad