Mark Fox

Graphic Designer / United States / Design is Play; California College of the Arts

Mark Fox’s Book List

I learned to read at an early age by singing hymns at church. The repetition of this ritual—we sang the same small selection of songs three times a week—seems to have created for me a linkage between the act of reading, illuminating content, and the power and musicality of the vocalized word. Whenever I write I still read my work aloud to hear it and refine it.

Although I am no longer religious, I am nonetheless drawn to books that are, in some manner, revelatory. Insight and beauty—this is what I seek when I read. To experience revelation through art is to invite joy into your life. All of the books I recommend below have brought me joy.

5 books
Susan C. Piedmont-Palladino

Part history, part celebration, part elegy—this book explores the evolving relationship between technology, drawing, and architectural renderings. (Did you know that a German carpenter, Friedrich Staedtler, established the basic form of the modern pencil in 1662?) In particular, I recommend the essay by architect Paul Emmons, “The Lead Pencil: Lever of the Architect’s Imagination.” Emmons takes care to distinguish imagination in general from what he terms “the material imagination,” i.e., imagination informed by physical engagement with the material world. One intriguing passage: “Systems such as computer drawing programs threaten to eliminate the material imagination in their production of simulacra. Since computer-aided designers know only through sight, not through touch, they cannot understand the differences between the visual and physical world and project between them.”

Memo to the book designer: reversing text typography out of full-bleed metallic silver spreads does a disservice to both your readers and authors. To avoid the glare as I read I find that I must continually tilt the book like some kind of dowser looking for water. In addition, I am one of those readers who likes to mark my pages and underline passages; silver ink resists any attempts to do either.

Scott McCloud

Ostensibly a comic book about comics, in this work McCloud broadens our understanding of symbolism, the relationship between words and images, narrative, time as a function of narrative, and communication. I share his concept of “amplification through simplification” with my graphic design students every semester.

Hermann Zapf

This compendium of 78 of Zapf’s book and title page designs is less about reading than it is about seeing. The American paperback edition, Typographic Variations, is quite good and worth owning. The original German casebound edition, however, is a revelation and my comments relate to that version. The German edition is letterpress printed and, at 8 3/8 x 12 1/8 inches, is around 130 percent larger than the American paperback. The generous margins of the original page design present the work in a way that invites study; the extra space also allows Zapf to blind deboss the folio and rules indicating the original title page trim sizes. The resulting hierarchical effect is wondrous. The synthesis of type design, page design, paper, and printing as realized in this work is a paean to German book arts. The experience of reading/touching/seeing this book produces pleasure, certainly, but ultimately it induces reverence (and joy!) because it reminds us of what a book can be. The introduction by Paul Standard celebrates what he terms the “courteous typographer” whose craft serves “the book, and so of civilization.”

Adrian Frutiger

This exhaustive work by typographer Adrian Frutiger examines symbols in their myriad forms, including the history of writing and writing’s origin in drawing. Frutiger is persuasive in arguing that every mark has meaning, and that “emptiness does not mean ‘nothing.’”

Alastair Reid

Poet Alastair Reid exploits the often tenuous relationship between words and meaning in Ounce, Dice, Trice. He takes particular pleasure in the musicality of words—whether real or invented—and so this is a book best read aloud. Ben Shahn’s illustrations are a delight.

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