June 24, 2017

Remarkable Life Memoirs recently celebrated its first anniversary! (And, yes, we bought ourselves a cake to mark the occasion.) We spend a lot of time preserving other people's stories and thought it would be fun to record our own as we hit this milestone. The tale begins with a polite email:

Susan: I got a list of new members [of the Association of Personal Historians] and emailed you to say welcome.

Samantha: In that first email exchange, I admitted that I bought fonts for no reason except that I liked them. I felt silly saying that, esp...

June 4, 2017

My grandparents were married in Columbus, Ohio, on June 4, 1917, one hundred years ago today. Following the ceremony, they were given a beautiful oversized document commemorating the day, showing lovely typefaces, ornamental swashes, and soft illustrations. Their marriage, blessed by this certificate, lasted 67 years.

It's interesting how documents—created by individuals but representing institutions—are meant to convey more than the words on paper. To give one example, banknotes are essentially type and decorative elements printed on dur...

May 11, 2017

I went to the Metropolitan Museum recently to look at a closet. 

This is not a joke about the high cost of Manhattan real estate, although the closet in question is pretty small.

The installation shows the belongings of a woman named Sara Berman. Nearly everything in it (and there’s not much) is hyper-organized, perfectly folded, and white.

You’d think that someone with such a pared-down existence would be pitiable, probably poor. But Berman was no ascetic; there were luxuries, too. A half-empty (or half-full?) bottle of Chanel No. 5, an or...

April 21, 2017

Girls, the HBO series loved and loathed in equal parts, just came to the end of its six-season life span. Here’s what surprised me:

1) that I liked Girls at all; and 

2) that a last-minute plot line could have anything worth saying about my profession.

For those of you who didn’t watch (or hate-watch) this series, I’ll just say that it portrayed a group of millennials learning how to be adults. The critical consensus was that all the characters were annoying narcissists, which was true. 

Even fans regularly used the word “cringe” in the...

March 31, 2017

It was probably in the early '80s when I wandered into a local bookstore a few blocks from my little apartment in New York. I had nothing but time then and seemed to spend a lot of it poking around second-hand bookstores and thrift shops. I walked out of the store that day with a baby book from the 1920s—partially filled out—commemorating the first year of a child's life. Entitled Our Baby, it was smudged and a bit tattered; its beautiful illustrations and type brought to mind a different era. Handwritten notes listed celebratory telegra...

February 27, 2017

My new client poked at the blurry photocopy with one elegant fingertip. “Look at that!” she said. Another poke. “I had no idea! He never mentioned any of these!” She seemed truly bewildered.​

Army discharge papers from the World War II era have a certain look. I could tell immediately what she was referring to, although I could barely read the typewritten text under “Medals.”

Her husband of many years had received a long string of honors. And she was bewildered because he had never mentioned them. She said he never talked about his years...

January 13, 2017

What’s the difference between a book design that’s plain and one that’s elegant? How do we keep a design with a retro theme from slipping into one that looks corny? The approach that’s worked for me is to strive to reflect the essence of the manuscript.

October 22, 2016

You know that scene in The Wizard of Oz where Dorothy opens a door and suddenly her black-and-white world turns Technicolor? Well, that’s what happened to me this year.

There I was, cheerfully copyediting memoirs (and other things) but, I admit, feeling that something was missing. Monochromatic, you might say. I would have soldiered on forever, except that I met Susan Hood. And then my work life just kind of . . . bloomed.

If you’re reading this far, you probably know I’m a proud word person. I love everything about language and the way pe...

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