Day: December 4th, 2006

The Art of the Book

Monday, December 4th, 2006 | All Things, Books, Events

On my way to this evening’s event, I stopped in to view The Grand Central Kaleidoscope light show. Every half hour from 11:00AM to 9:00PM, a seven-minute show accompanied by synchronized music illuminates the walls and pillars of the main concourse in a huge kaleidoscope of color and light.

As if there weren’t excuse enough for visitors to Grand Central to look anywhere but where they’re going — and to hold up traffic by snapping photographs! The brilliant, shifting display nonetheless offsets some of the frustration of late trains and crowded platforms.

Grand Central Kaleidoscope

Grand Central Kaleidoscope

Grand Central Kaleidoscope

Back at the 92nd Street Y for “The Art of the Book: Behind the Covers with Dave Eggers, Chip Kidd and Milton Glaser,” part of the Unterberg Poetry Center Reading Series. The night was organized around three presentations focusing on cover jacket design by luminaries Milton Glaser, Chip Kidd and Dave Eggers, with introductions by Michael Bierut of Pentagram.

A capacity crowd filled the Y auditorium that night, to the surprise of each of the presenters. Who knew graphic designers could be such a draw?

And so funny? Glaser — best known outside the design industry as the founder of New York magazine and the man behind the “I (heart) NY” logo — was dryly witty and low-key, presenting highlights from his decades-long career. The prolific Kidd, longtime art director at Alfred A. Knopf, presented his covers from the past year. He was deliciously bitchy in his description of the design process: slaying the audience with his comments, at times made at the expense of the authors with which he was tasked to work: John Updike apparently — and distressingly — “studied typography briefly in college”; Cormac McCarthy suggested that his name be left off on the cover of The Road. Eggers, the last presenter of the evening, received the loudest applause, as the speaker whose name recognition furthest extends beyond the design world: as novelist, editor, publisher, and teacher at the writing workshop 826 Valencia. His talk was less about covers than about the process of designing and making books: selecting layouts, binding, materials, etc. One run of McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern was printed in three different colored versions (blue, brown, yellow) when a printing deadline loomed and the Icelandic printer didn’t have enough yardage of one cloth for an entire run of covers. For Issue #7, the rubber band binding the story pamphlets had to be run through a home washing machine before shipping to eliminate any powdery residue after the post 9/11 Anthrax scare. The youngest presenter of the evening, Eggers is apparently also the most technology-averse, claiming he relies almost exclusively on the Garamond font because he can’t quite master the type feature in his circa-1999 version of QuarkXPress.

Wonder what the assembled group would think about the DIY My Penguin series: six classic novels published with blank fronts, for readers to design their own covers.

I would have blogged further about Glaser’s misguided feminism during the post-presentation panel, but Gothamist beat me to it. Again — I guess that what comes of being a couple weeks behind in your entries. The mood of the crowd shifted tangibly, and there were a few muted hisses, after Glaser stepped into the thicket by attempting to answer one audience member’s query about whether a glass ceiling exists for women in graphic design. Glaser was clearly foundering when Chip Kidd attempted to lighten the mood by interjecting, “As Larry Summers once said…” referring to remarks made in 2005 by the then-president of Harvard, suggesting that women are handicapped as scientists because as a group they are innately deficient in mathematics, compared to men.

At the post-event reception, Eggers’s line was the longest by far, but half an hour later, I got my copy of What is the What  signed by the friendly author. This week, I started reading the riveting “autobiography” of Sudanese “Lost Boy” Valentino Achak Deng, who recounts stories of the journey from his destroyed village in Africa to a sort of refuge in Atlanta, Georgia.

Milton Glaser

Eggers Kidd and Glaser

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