Tuesday, October 24, 2006


A few pleasing trifles

In the spirit of Halloween, I'm trying to ward off a looming vampire of a cold with garlic. Lots of garlic. And I'm carrying around little baggies of vitamin c. I never thought I'd be the kind of person to carry around little baggies of pills, but there it is. A sad fact. Must be gettin' old... I carry around baggies of books, too, however. Here is the second book Ryan found for me in Boston - this one at Brattle - a slim attractive volume written by one of my favorite printers, Carl Purington Rollins, longtime printer for Yale: Some Trifles which make for Perfection: A Brief Discourse on the Details of the Setting-up of Footnotes, Bibliographies, and Indexes (George McKibben & Son 1949). The quote from which the title comes may be too small to read in the scan; it is: "Trifles make perfection, and perfection is no trifle." - Michael Angelo. The title page is so pleasing that I reproduce it here. The book is only a few pages long, and concludes, in part, with this:

"The first and most important result to be achieved in the composition of the subordinate elements in a book (as also, of course, in the text) is clarity. The presentation of the subject matter in footnote, bibliography, and index must be such as to prevent any ambiguity in the mind of the reader. Order is heaven's first law, and nowhere more desirable than in the presentation of facts.

Almost as important is comeliness. The general effect of the type page should be that of pleasant and even texture, without spottiness or vulgar mixtures of heavy and light patches of color. ..."

Good typography is one more reason books themselves are so pleasing to those of us who love them. Good typography, a sturdy attractive binding, a row of such bindings in a bookshelf, rows of such bookshelves in a tidy room, all of these things represent (to me, at least) a beautiful order in a chaotic world (regardless of whether or not I have a touch of OCD). To wit: I am halfway through Alain de Botton's new book The Architecture of Happiness, which did come in the mail yesterday, and here are a few representative sentences - if you like these, as I do, you will like the whole book:

"In essence, what works of design ... talk to us about is the kind of life that would most appropriately unfold within and around them. ... they simultaneously hold out an invitation for us to be specific sorts of people. They speak of visions of happiness. ... A feeling of beauty is a sign that we have come upon a material articulation of certain of our ideas of a good life." (p.72)

I may post a full report when I finish the book. I've already read Some Trifles and when I find myself ready to set some footnotes into metal type, I will feel sufficiently prepared and confident. Meanwhile, the book will rest next to its fellows in my typography section at home. Neatly.

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