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Dear friends and colleagues,
On Wednesday, February 16th, my first e-book was published on the websites of Tablet Magazine and Nextbook Press. It's a small volume--a chapbook, really--of thirty-five poems by the greatest Jewish poet of Middle Ages, Yehuda Halevi. The poems appear both in Hebrew and in splendid new translations by Hillel Halkin, Halevi's biographer. Though many of you know Nextbook as an imprint of Random House/Schocken Books, it is, in fact, a privately funded non-profit publisher that's been the source of many of the brightest and best books on Jewish subjects in recent years.
This e-book is an auspicious event for me, as it marks the debut of the new Hebrew types I made with Matthew Carter, after originals by Guillaume Le Bé. These are the types (there's a display size [the "gros double canon"], which was rendered by Matthew, and a text size [the "texte"], which was rendered by me) that first appeared in Christophe Plantin's great Polyglot Bible, published between 1569 and 1572. The colophon tells a bit more about them. (Yes, e-books can have colophons, too!) These new fonts were the impetus for this publication, and in their honor, Nextbook also made a video, at my office, of me talking about the types and explaining something about how they were made. I warn you in advance that there some small errors, as the 5-minute video was spliced together from over an hour of talk, so the second clause of a sentence might have been said twenty minutes after the first. They also had a delightful visit with an original copy of Plantin's Bible at the Harvard Divinity School. (Unfortunately, we couldn't get access that day to the Houghton Library's copies, which are from the best part of the run, on the better paper.)
http://www.tabletmag.com/arts-and-culture/58585/letters-lost-and-found/ The e-book link is below the movie, or:
An advance warning: the movie that's online now doesn't play on iPads or iPhones. They plan to change the format. The e-book is in PDF, so it will play on just about anything.
Types aside, the e-book has an interesting feature: the pages vary in depth to accommodate each of the poems, even the longest ones, on one page. I don't know if this is an altogether new idea--it seemed like an obvious path to me--but I've never seen it done before. I'm curious to know your reactions to it. For one thing, it places the book outside the realm of printing, though that wasn't my agenda. What I intended was to alleviate the disorientation one often feels in e-books, which, regardless of whether the pages are numbered or not, give no sense as to the page before or after--something that, in a paper book, we can grasp very easily. While this might not be a big issue in prose, it certainly is in poetry, especially in poems like Halevi's, which vary dramatically in length. It seems to me that, to get into the rhythm of a poem, one needs to know its extent. We're hoping the whole package, book and videos, will become an iPad app later this year.
One more thing: those of you in or around New York might be interested in a talk I'll be giving for the Type Directors Club, on March 10th, at 6:00 p.m. Cribbing a bit from Oliver Sacks (with whom I had the honor to work last year), I entitled it "Tales from the Borderlands of Typographic Experience." I plan to speak about my work in complex books with on-the-page commentaries and annotations, multiple languages (combining left-to-right with right-to-left), making special types to suit specific purposes, how all these things relate to the future of print and of electronic forms, and their relationship to the printed Talmud and glossed texts of the past. I'll show numerous drafts, breakouts, and final examples from Mahzor Lev Shalem, the forthcoming Reform mahzor (in progress), the new Halevi e-book, and more.
You can find information about the event here: http://tdc.org/ The event is being cosponsored by Nextbook/Tablet Magazine.
With all good wishes and Shabbat shalom,