The Casual Optimist

Books, Design and Culture

April 2, 2016
by Dan
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Comma Queen: The Illustrious Ampersand

Comma Queen Mary Norris takes a quick look at the origins of the beloved ampersand for The New Yorker:

February 24, 2016
by Dan
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“Awesome” is the New “Massive”

The New Yorker‘s ‘Comma Queen’ Mary Norris considers (mis)use of the words “massive” and “awesome”:

September 18, 2013
by Dan
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Holy Sh*t, Batman

Colin Burrows reviews Holy Shit: A Brief History of Swearing by Melissa Mohr for the London Review of Books: Really good swearing relies on formulaic elements, but needs to be precisely adapted to the moment. In this respect dear old Robin … Continue reading

June 8, 2012
by Dan
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Something for the Weekend

A stunning jacket design by the great Isaac Tobin for After Freud Left, published by University of Chicago Press. You can read my interview with Isaac from 2009 here. Bauhütte to Bauhaus — A fascinating overview of the Bauhaus by Frank Whitford, … Continue reading

February 23, 2012
by Dan
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TED Talks: Neil MacGregor

Neil MacGregor, Director of the British Museum and author of A History of the World in 100 Objects, traces 2600 years of Middle Eastern history through a single object:

August 24, 2011
by Dan
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Midweek Miscellany

Lumps of Language — John Sutherland reviews The Words of Others: From Quotations to Culture by Gary Saul Morson for Literary Review: We think of our use of language as ‘fluency’. There are, however, congealed lumps floating in it and, … Continue reading

August 24, 2011
by Dan
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Is That a Fish in Your Ear?

In this lovely animated book trailer by Matt Young for Penguin UK, author David Bellos talks about words, language and his new book Is That a Fish in Your Ear? Translation and the Meaning of Everything: (via @alantrotter who produced the … Continue reading

April 27, 2011
by Dan
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Midweek Miscellany

Designer Catherine Casalino discusses her cover design for Darren Shan’s Procession of the Dead at Faceout Books. 50 / 50 — An interesting Design Observer piece by Ernest Beck on the controversy around AIGA’s 50 Books/50 Covers and the changing … Continue reading

September 2, 2010
by Dan
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English

In spite of the hardcover’s beautiful jacket design (by Paola Ecchavaria), it was a citation in Nicholas Carr’s recent book The Shallows that finally got me to read Proust and The Squid by Maryanne Wolfe. It is a fascinating if, … Continue reading

August 17, 2010
by Dan
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TELEPHONEME

Inspired by The Alphabet Conspiracy and other educational films from the 1950’s and 1960’s, TELEPHONEME is a hybrid live-action and animated short created by design collective MK12 about the science of the alphabet and sinister hidden messages carried by language: … Continue reading

June 22, 2009
by Dan
1 Comment

Q & A with Nick Asbury, Corpoetics

I was quite taken with the lovely design and gentle subversion of  Corpoetics — a chapbook collection of ‘found’ poetry taken from the ‘Corporate Overviews’ of well-known brands and corporations — when I first saw it at Ace Jet 170 … Continue reading

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