It could be the time of year and the fact Ballarat hasn’t reached above 7 degrees this whole week. Or perhaps the latest lockdown has increased the need to escape into the pages of a good book. Whatever the reason, I'm happiest in front of the pages of an opened book, so much so that I find myself serving dinner earlier and earlier just so the kids will go to bed, then I can take up my position on the floor in front of the heater and read!
Earlier this year we removed the TV from our home after a particularly ridiculous breakdown from Frank, our 5 year old. He was so fixated on the telly that when I asked him to clean up his room, he got so upset that he threw up - all over the toys he was meant to have cleaned up. Needless to say there were repercussions. I decided (much to Matt’s dismay) that we would remove the TV during the school term. The kids were gutted.
I on the other hand was stoked! Not having a TV meant that my evenings would be filled with listening to music and reading books. It’s peculiar that sitting in front of the heater undisturbed, reading a book for a few hours should feel so much more indulgent than watching a Netflix series, but it does.
I haven't always enjoyed reading as much as I do now - it's kind of like exercise in that regard. The more you do it, the more you want to find space for it in your life. Coincidentally this week I was reminded of my journey with books when Frank picked up a reader from school that I had re-designed for the French Canadian market probably over 10 years ago. ‘Meg’s tiny red teddy’ became ‘Le petit ourson de Kim’.
My second ever proper job as a book designer was working for an educational publisher that produced these readers. My initial role however was to redesign the books for international markets that brought the series. I have these vivid memories of painstakingly going through each letter and making sure the kerning (space between the letters) was perfect. I remember being so frustrated that we didn’t just use a font that had better default kerning so I didn't have to create all of these extra character styles in Indesign that were +1, +2, +3 tracking! Every time I see an instance of a comma, followed by quotation marks (,”) I still wince.
Being on the receiving end of these books, as a parent, has given me a new appreciation of the lengths we had to go. When kids are learning to read, the spacing and fonts used are incredibly important. For example, the shapes of the lower case ‘a’ needs to be the same as the one they are learning to write or they can struggle to connect the two.
Books themselves are something I’ve always delighted in, even before I had any inkling that I was going to design them for a living. When I first moved to Melbourne I would go to this tiny second hand book store on Flinders street and buy as many books as I could for $10. I absolutely judged a book by its cover and always went by design rather than author! Happily, I discovered Kurt Vonnegut through this method! The cost versus hours of entertainment gained by this exercise was remarkable!
Libraries are another important part of my life. I’m reading ‘The Library Book’ by Susan Orlean, which is a true crime story wrapped in a love letter to libraries. Reading this has given me a new appreciation for my local library. Every town I’ve moved to I pretty much get a library card straight away. It’s the quickest way to connect to a new community.
Libraries are one of the only places in a city or town that are open to everyone, all the time, for free. The idea that libraries are just shelves of books is no longer the case with most libraries acting as communal hubs for all sorts of services for the wider community - check out the video of the week for the amazing Finnish libraries! Story time at the library is quite often a new parents' first solo venture out into society. Visiting the library of a town we are holidaying in has become a great family activity as well.
I’ve taken the kids to the library since they were tiny babes. It has only been in the last few months that I’ve been able to get books out for myself again (the kids will now finally stay put in one space while I meander). I love looking through the shelves of a library - I always walk away with a book(s) that I have never heard of or wasn’t planning to get out that day. That’s the beauty of visiting the library rather than just looking up a particular book online.
The unexpected discoveries.
One of my latest accidental discoveries was ‘Just my Type’ by Simon Garfield. It's a book about fonts and it's wonderful. As someone who can spend hours going down internet worm holes on typeface research, this book is a great history of all the big hitting fonts we use today. I strongly recommend this book to anyone who thinks twice about the font they chose to use!
I also read anything that has been recommended to me by someone else (friend, family, podcast host, youtuber…). I write it down or borrow the books straight away. The latest loaner was ‘The Performance’ by Claire Thomas. Claire goes out with my one and only ex-boyfriend and a super cynical, shallow part of me was hoping that the book was going to be average, but it wasn’t. It was great! The story is set around a play in Melbourne and follows three women's thoughts during the show. The characters span generations and show the inner workings of the women's lives. I loved it!
Reading is something I’ve built into my everyday practice as a designer. I consider it to be an important part of my personal development and I need to make space for it during the 9-5. I read for fun in the evenings of course but I like to think of reading like my computer usage. Sometimes I’m doing work and sometimes I just ‘googling’ what you can make with half a cauliflower, a zucchini and a tin of lentils.
I love books. I love designing them, I love reading them, I love that my kids love them and I hope that you love them too! One day I may even write a book so I can relish in the design of it! Please let me know if you have any book recommendations, nothing like an endless reading list to keep oneself occupied. My only problem now is that I have to fight the children for the best spot in front of the heater!