Adventures in Type


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For the Penguin blog -

5 in Mind
Part 5
Adventures in Type

A presentation on five books that make interesting use of their type:

House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski
Lanark by Alasdair Gray
Woman's World by Graham Rawle
A Humument by Tom Phillips
The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester

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Adventures in Type

  1. is is not a list of my favourite books or of the books I enjoy as guilty pleasures. It is a list of five books that make interesting use of their type.
  2. 5 in Mind Part 5 Adventures in Type
  3. For a sense of scale, my hand is included in several of the pictures.
  4. However, I am aware that most of you have never seen my hand but many will have visited the city of London.
  5. So to give you a sense of the scale of my hand, here it is in front of London.
  6. You will have to adjust for perspective.
  7. #5
  8. A classic science fiction novel of brutal monomania, e Stars My Destination is conventionally typeset for almost its entire length.
  9. Only towards the end do things go strange, as the protagonist begins to suffer from synaesthesia.
  10. His senses merging, the text unmoors from its grid to match his confusion.
  11. So while, for the character, light is becoming movement and sound is becoming pattern, for the reader, text is becoming illustration.
  12. #4
  13. For A Humument, the artist Tom Phillips took the Victorian novel A Human Document and treated the pages - working over the top of them so that only some of the original text and none of the original meaning remains.
  14. It is more a beautiful object than a captivating read
  15. but there’s nothing wrong with that.
  16. #3
  17. More type appropriation: Woman’s World is entirely made up of (about 40,000) clippings from women’s magazines of the 60s.
  18. It isn’t an unnecessary gimmick, either – making it into an obsessive clippings book of borrowed phrases constantly reinforces the narrator’s obsession with these magazines and the womanly concerns to which they are devoted.
  19. And the ransom note aesthetic is a handy reminder of her rather fragile state of mind.
  20. #2
  21. Four books (to be read in the order 3,1,2,4) telling two very different stories (Gray perhaps combining them, the text itself suggests, because ‘the author thinks a heavy book will make a bigger splash than two light ones’) there’s plenty brilliant oddness about Lanark that could be discussed.
  22. But, as this list’s about typographical storytelling antics, I will direct you to the fourth book, where a fraught meeting occurs between protagonist and author.
  23. Here Gray inserts an embedded column indexing the works he has plagiarised, while simultaneously hijacking the running heads to narrate a condensed account of the doings of each page.
  24. God, I love Lanark.
  25. #1
  26. is might sound implausible but House of Leaves manages the neat trick of being both a lengthy explication of Derridean theory and a creepy, readable horror story.
  27. It is also an impressive exercise in typographical excess.
  28. ere are two narrators, each with their own typeface, there are footnotes referencing footnotes referencing footnotes that you have to chase around the page, there is writing mirrored, sideways or upside down and layouts that mimic the events of the story or the handwriting of a distressed, frantic hand. e word house always appears in blue, the word minotaur always in red.
  29. e story concerns a house that starts out inexplicably a quarter of an inch larger, when measured from the inside, than it is when measured from the outside, which then becomes infested with other unreliable spaces. It’s very good.
  30. I am sorry I used the word ‘Derridean’.