The font monopoly, Nabokov’s teapot, Shelby Foote’s Jewish family, George Eliot’s marriages, and more.
Good morning! Let’s start things off with this story about a Norwegian man finding a large cache of gold and jewels from the early Middle Ages: “A Norwegian man out walking on doctors’ advice unearthed rare sixth-century gold jewellery using a newly bought metal detector, in a discovery archaeologists have hailed as Norway’s ‘gold find of the century.’ The cache comprised nine gold medallions and gold pearls that once formed an opulent necklace, as well as three gold rings. The jewels, which weigh a little more than 100g, were found to date from about AD500.”
How Monotype came to rule the font market:
Ten years ago, Cindy Thomason was walking down the stairs at home when she heard her phone ring. On the other end was an executive from Warner Bros. Entertainment, calling to let her know that a font she designed would be featured in the upcoming blockbuster adaptation of The Great Gatsby. “I had to sit down,” Thomason says. “I’m just somebody who decided to design a font on a whim.”
A nurse in suburban Virginia, Thomason began tinkering with fonts in her free time using a software package she bought for $100. She’d listed the font, which she named Grandhappy, on an online marketplace called MyFonts. That’s where producers from Warner Bros. found it and bought it to use as Jay Gatsby’s handwriting in the 2013 film.
It should have been a dream come true, a big break for a hobbyist font designer. But Thomason’s cut for her design’s feature-film cameo was a whopping $12 — not even enough to recoup what she paid for her design software.
Thomason’s story isn’t an anomaly: Fonts are a ubiquitous commodity. Every font you see — on your computer screen, a street sign, a T-shirt, or your car’s dashboard — has been crafted by a designer. With 4.5k independent artists selling on MyFonts today, many struggle to attract customers and to make a living in an oversaturated market.
It’s only getting harder, as designers must compete with and abide by the terms of one company that’s approaching behemoth status: Monotype.
William Boyd remembers when Nabokov appeared on the French television show Apostrophes and drank whiskey out of a teapot:
Nabokov agreed to do a show dedicated entirely to himself but he had one condition. It was what music stars on tour call ‘riders’ (stipulating the type of mineral water served, the flowers and decor in the dressing room, the colour of the towels and so on). Pivot told me this himself so I know it’s true. Nabokov’s rider was that, during the live transmission of the show, he would be allowed to drink some whisky. It would help calm his nerves. Pivot said that this would be impossible: the channel would never agree. But then they found a way.
A DVD of Nabokov’s interview on Apostrophes was released (I own a copy) and Pivot explained the clever scheme they came up with to satisfy Nabokov’s demand. As Pivot and Nabokov talk (Nabokov’s French was very good), Nabokov can be seen, from time to time, reaching for a tetsubin – a traditional cast-iron Japanese teapot – that was set on the coffee table in front of him and he would carefully pour some tea into a porcelain cup. Every now and again he would pause to have a sip and the interview would continue.
Of course, the ‘tea’ was whisky. A bottle of whisky had been decanted into the tetsubin and a delicate cup and saucer provided. Once you know this, you can see as the long interview progresses that Nabokov is slowly but surely becoming gently pissed. But his responses to Pivot’s questions remain remarkably lucid and clever. This is thanks to a condition that he laid down throughout his life that pertained to the dozens, if not hundreds, of interviews he gave. Questions had to be supplied in advance and he would write his answers to them – and read them out if the interview was being broadcast . . . And this is exactly what he did on the live broadcast of Apostrophes.
Blake Smith writes about the Jewishness of Shelby Foote:
Descended, on his father’s side, from Mississippi Delta planters, including a Confederate commander at the battle of Shiloh, Foote played in public the blue-blooded raconteur. His appearance in Ken Burns’ The Civil War documentary in 1990 made him, for millions of viewers, synonymous with a genteel unctuousness imagined as typical of elite Southern whites.
Of his mother’s family—Vienna Jews who came to the Delta town of Greenville late in the 19th century—he rarely spoke, although, his father having died when he was 5, it was they who had raised him. Greenville’s small, bustling Jewish community, documented in the writing of its other most notable son, David Cohn (Where I Was Born and Raised, God Shakes Creation, The Mississippi Delta and the World), its synagogue, which he attended until the age of 11, and the inner life of its members hardly appear in Foote’s writing; he cannot be called a “Jewish novelist” in the sense meant for his contemporaries like Saul Bellow, Philip Roth, and Bernard Malamud.
He lived his Jewishness not as membership in a faith or a community but as something uncomfortable, half-secret, to be concealed or escaped.
Malcolm Forbes reviews Clare Carlisle’s The Marriage Question: George Eliot’s Double Life: “In 1855, Eliot wrote to a friend: “If there be any one subject on which I feel no levity it is that of marriage and the relation of the sexes.” Clearly. For her, marriage mattered gravely. Her depictions of her characters’ marriages are suffused not with solemnity, for those marriages are serious affairs — mainly because they are difficult or disastrous. Mismatched couples flounder in chaotic alliances or toxic unions, husbands lose control and wives duck for cover, and wedded bliss proves woefully short-lived or tragically unattainable. Clare Carlisle’s new book about Eliot’s life and work, The Marriage Question, shows how the author skillfully illuminated the ups and downs of marriage in her fiction and how she evolved and thrived within her own unconventional relationship.”
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