My book is out!

Hello, TypeDrawers community!

I thought some of you might be interested to know that my book Standby, which I've been working on for eight years, is out today. The book is not about typography — it focuses on a different form of design — but it's relevant to this forum chiefly because, after much negotiation, my publisher permitted me to design and typeset the volume myself. This, of course, is practically unheard of. I worked on the design for over a year, and then set the type in a couple of weeks, with constant correspondence with and input from the publisher.

There is much that I could say about the design, and indeed I've considered writing an article about it at some point, but I won't go into too much detail here.

Sample pages from the book can be seen here, and more information about the book itself is here.

My best to all of you,



  • Marc Oxborrow
    Marc Oxborrow Posts: 220
    Congratulations! That's quite the opening chapter, too. Now I'll have to buy the book to find out how the "Cradle Will Rock" situation played out.
  • Craig Eliason
    Craig Eliason Posts: 1,416
    Looks great, and hooray for thorough colophons!
    Did you consider alternating book title and chapter title on the "running feet"?
  • Scott-Martin Kosofsky

    Very well done—congratulations! Some remarkable coincidences here: My late friend Mordecai Bauman, the singer closely associated with Marc Blitzstein, and his wife, Irma, were intimately involved with the original production of The Cradle Will Rock. Irma was then Irma Israels, the wife of Carlos Israels, who owned the Mercury Theatre. Tim Robbins based much of his movie on his conversations with them. Mordy and Irma operated a summer arts school for teenagers in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, called Indian Hill, which I attended for four summers. 

    I’ll buy the book straight away!

    Rongel, the typeface by Mário Feliciano based on 18th-century Spanish types, is a gem and I’m delighted to see it used by someone other than me! How did you come to it? It is the principal Latin type of the large Sabbath prayerbook Siddur Lev Shalem, which I designed and produced. 

  • John Nolan
    John Nolan Posts: 47
    Looks fantastic!
  • Joshua Langman
    Thank you all for your praise and support. It means a great deal.

    I should perhaps note, for those of you who intend to buy the book, that although I am proud of and pleased with the design, you'll see that the typography is let down somewhat by the quality of the digital printing. I happen to have entered the field of scholarly publishing at the moment when many academic presses are switching from offset to digital, and yet the digital printing technology is still not quite good enough. The theatre people, by and large, will not notice — but the type people will. I intend to see whether I can persuade the publisher to switch over to offset for future print runs.

    Craig — Thank you. I sweated blood over that colophon. The fact that the printer could not tell us ahead of time what specific paper stocks would be used certainly complicated my trying to write the part of the colophon that addresses printing and binding. As far as running feet, the chapter title on recto and verso is the standard for my publisher, and I had no strong feelings about doing anything different. Given that I had been so adamant about so many small editorial and design issues throughout the process, by the time we got to running feet I think I was pleased just to be able to go along with their house style (for once).

    Scott-Martin — That is a remarkable connection. Wow. I've just finished reading John Houseman's memoir Run-through, which turns out to be the definitive chronicle of the productions of the WPA theatre units, the Mercury, etc. If I had had Houseman's book a couple of years ago, I would have written the opening to the first chapter somewhat differently. The story as I tell it is factually correct, but there are some nuances and greater context that I was unaware of when I wrote this section. Alas. That's what second editions are for.

    I have known for years that I would set the book in Rongel. I consider it to be, hands down, one of the most beautiful typefaces ever made. I probably first discovered it in Bringhurst. As an author who is also a typographer, I naturally spent quite a lot of time while writing the book considering how it might finally look, and I knew that I needed a face with character, poise, some sense of individuality as well as something literary, classical. Rongel marries a certain kind of upright, almost staid formality with an unusual sharpness and tension in the letterforms. It has "stage presence." It is a fully convincing typeface. And yet, it feels not quite of this time, which was an added attraction. It's not too pretty — its sharpness suggests some analytical distance, which is also appropriate to my book. Its provenance played into it as well. There were not many faces that I seriously considered, and I had settled on Rongel long before I knew anything else about the design.

    One of the attractions of the face was, in fact, its uniqueness. I gravitate toward faces that are not widely used, and I had never — until I just now looked up the Siddur Lev Shalem — seen a book set in it. I had wondered, though it seemed unlikely, whether my book was the first. I'm glad to see that it's been used so well by someone else.

    The typography of Standby is deceptively simple. The book appears to be set, almost exclusively, in a single face in a single size. And yet, there is a bit of trickery that goes into creating this illusion. Various characters are borrowed from other faces as needed. The superscript note numbers are borrowed from Fontwerk's Romaine, because Rongel's superscripts are tabular, which wasn't working for me.

    The design is meant to be a somewhat updated interpretation of classical Renaissance book typography. Almost everything, including extracts, headings, and chapter titles, is in a single size. There is no bold anywhere in the book. The typographic palette consists of roman, italic, small caps, and full caps. Extracts are italicized rather than set down in size. Even this "simple" design approach required somewhere in the range of a hundred paragraph and character style sheets to account for all the minute variations.

    A few other typographic choices, all of which contradicted the press's customary way of doing things: All delimiters () [] {} are roman, even in an italic context. All ampersands are italic, even in a roman context. I shortened the em dash and put word spaces around it. I made my own ellipsis with my preferred spacing. Things like subheads are capitalized "European style," meaning only the first word is capped. All acronyms and roman numerals are in small caps. Many of these choices were the subject of conversations with the editor, proofreader, head of design, etc.

    Thanks again to all of you for your comments. It's nice to know the book may acquire some readers, even outside (or tangentially connected to) the world of theatre.
  • Joshua Langman
    Joshua Langman Posts: 65
    edited April 2023
    Hello again, TypeDrawers!

    I wanted to share with this community the exciting news that my book has been selected for the 2023 Association of University Presses Book, Jacket, and Journal Show, on the strength of its typography. You can view the selected entries in my category here. More about the show is here.

    There will at some point be a coffee-table book featuring the selected designs. Designers were asked to submit some text describing their work, and I adapted my explanatory text from comments that I made above in this thread.

    Anyway, this is very gratifying to me. I labored assiduously over the typography, and it's nice that someone noticed.

  • John Nolan
    Congratulations! Well deserved.
  • Claudio Piccinini
    Great work!