The Casual Optimist

Books, Design and Culture

Midweek Miscellany


A true miscellany here: letterpress to Gil Scott-Heron with a lot of meat sandwiched in between… This is quite possibly why I blog…

Ditoria — An amazing video about showing the letterpress printing process by Roberto Bolado.

The Cost of Creating — Harvard Law Professor Lawrence Lessig, author of Free Culture (and others), discussing the Google Book Settlement on NPR’s On The Media last month (via INDEX//mb):

[W]e need to once again think about what the balance should be between free access to culture and metered access to culture, because both extremes are mistakes, either the extreme that says everything is free because then lots of people won’t create because they can’t cover their cost of creating, or the regime that says everything needs to be licensed, because in that world there’s a whole range of creativity… that can’t begin to happen because the cost of negotiating and clearing those rights is just so extreme.

Stopping Saying “Innovation”Scott Berkun, author of The Myths of Innovation, in The Economist (via Frank Chimero):

Worry more about being good because you probably aren’t. If your organization struggles to make half-decent products, has the morale of a prison, and nothing ever changes much less improves, why are you obsessing about innovation? You need to learn the basics of how to make something good, that solves real problems, works reliably, is affordable, and is built by a happy, passionate well rewarded staff that believes good ideas have a chance. If you can make the changes necessary for these basic but all too rare attributes to be true, then innovation, in all its forms, will be much easier to achieve, and it might just happen all on its own.

New Type York — A (beautifully designed) photoblog by graphic designer James Patrick Gibson recording the typographic artifacts of New York City.

And thinking of New York… The NY Times is planning to spin off its Book Review as a separate e-reader product.

The Vulture Gil Scott-Heron

A Wry Return — Sean O’Hagan profiles musician Gil Scott-Heron in The Observer, revealing an somewhat unexpected connection to Jamie Byng, director of Canongate Books. I say “somewhat” unexpected because having lived in Edinburgh just before Byng wrapped up his funk and soul club Chocolate City, it seems entirely reasonable to me now I stop and think about it:

The story of how Gil Scott-Heron’s new album came to be made is a long and convoluted one. It is, among other things, a testament to the abiding power of great music outside the mainstream to spread like a virus across cultures, across decades. It begins back in 1987 in a rented house in Edinburgh when a young student is mesmerised by his friend’s collection of soul and funk music from the halcyon days of the early 70s… “I was just taken aback by the voice, the words, the poetry,” remembers Jamie Byng who, 22 years on, is the director of Canongate Books and still a fervent soul fan… “Discovering those songs was an epiphanic moment for me…” So taken was Byng by those songs that, having bought and rebranded Canongate, he tracked down his hero and, in 1996, republished his two long-out-of-print novels, The Vulture and The Nigger Factory.

And here’s Gil Scott-Heron’s painfully appropriate cover version of Robert Johnson’s Me and the Devil:

Gil Scott-Heron’s books The Vulture and The Nigger Factory were recently reissued by Canongate.

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  1. Thanks for sharing these quotes & links, some of which are highly enlightening. The point made about innovation is very valid! Innovation should be about making good products. If a company does not have the set-up to make good products, innovation will be pointless, and wasted. Why does this remind me of the Apple v. MS debate? I wonder.

  2. Gil Scott-Heron is one of my favourite authors since I was a teenager. My English teacher allowed me to borrow The Vulture and Nigger Factory during a discussion on race and Civil Rights in the States.

    Then, almost thirteen years later, I get to design the covers for the reprints. I hope I did them justice.

    Have you listened to his new work? I would be interested to know what you think.



  3. Hi Stuart. Thanks so much for your comment! I discovered Gil Scott-Heron while I was at Edinburgh University thanks to my flatmate (who now works at the Telegraph!) and the lingering influence of Jamie Byng no doubt. I haven’t heard much of his new work — maybe a couple of tracks — but it sounded OK, if not up there with the classics.

    If you’d be willing to talk about the design process for the books here on the blog, let me know. They’re great covers and I would be interested to know how they came about! Thanks again… :-)

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