How Not To Make a Book

Research is Dangerous

This week: research! I have an idea for a chapter in the book all about Trajan’s Column so I need to bury myself in thick typographic tomes with silky paper stock. There’s so much I don’t know about this subject though that it’s sort of overwhelming.

The reason why I’m writing this new chapter for the book is sort of why I wrote anything for CSS-Tricks: sure, there is endless stuff written about this one tiny subject but nothing has quite captured how I feel about it or put things in their correct place historically, typographically. There’s a thousand ways to tell a story but in my dumb romantic brain there is only one correct sequence to a story well told. And Trajan’s Column doesn’t have that story yet; all I can find on the subject of the letters on this stone block in Rome is either too technical or too whimsical. There’s nothing that quite captures how I feel about them, which is a bit more complicated than what I’ve read.

But, look, they are undeniably beautiful:

A photograph of the letters on Trajan’s Column

To kickstart this research, today and tomorrow I’m tackling The Eternal Letter, a beautiful collection of essays about these shapes and their impact on the typographic arts. This book is filled to the brim with ideas and excellent research and names I’ve only read in the footnotes of other type books.

So this is where I’m at today: I’m cat sitting for a friend right now and I’ve piled books and notes all along her desk and this kind of messiness — pen in hand, book in lap — is how I want to spend the rest of my dang life.

A photograph of my desk with books open and notes scribbled in the margins

The Eternal Letter happens to be edited by the type aficionado Paul Shaw who undeniably has one of the best websites in the known universe. Every page of it, every little thing is what I dream for all websites. Clicking the header or refreshing the page and the title switches to a different font each time. Plus there’s the shop which I’ve now opened ten thousand tabs from and there’s this...wait..what is this? Legacy of Letters? This looks like a Craig Mod-style walking tour around Italy with visits to letterpress workshops. This looks so impossibly cool! And and and...

Gah! This is the problem with research. It’s all too easy to go down rabbit holes that look like they have valuable research buried in them but when you get neck-deep in the subject you realize that you’ve simply faffed about for several hours instead.

Research is dangerous; back to the book.