Friday, May 16, 2014

Moving In

Our kitchen! Left: as it was before we moved in. Right: as it is now. 
Gonna move away from here
You can find me if you wanna go there
I'm gonna move away from here
You can find me if you wanna go there.
—"Gonna Move," Les Dudek Band

A few weeks back I wrote about our excitement at finding a house in Muncie to rent; as of today, we've been living in said house for about two weeks, so I figured I'd post an update about the moving process.

Anna moved on May 2nd, as her apartment lease in Terre Haute ended on May 1st. She and her parents loaded the U-Haul, drove across the state (her dad drove the truck), and arrived to find the house in a state of disarray. There was no one home, but the back door was unlocked, and when they let themselves in, they discovered a home without usable toilets, a missing shower head, and new tile and carpet not yet fully installed. Anna called me, dismayed; we agreed that the house was not currently livable, and that if it didn't have at least a functioning toilet and shower by the next day, we would look for somewhere else to live.

When the landlord arrived, he explained that a family emergency had come up and prevented him and his wife from finishing the needed repairs on the house. Anna and her parents went to go stay in a hotel for the night, somewhat discouraged. Thankfully, by the end of the next day, there were both usable toilets and a functional shower head, so Anna and I agreed that we would move in and deal with whatever came after.

And we're really glad we made that choice. The homeowners are, in fact, really lovely people. Not only have they done a great deal quite quickly to make sure the house is in working order, they're just generally pleasant to be around. The husband is an elementary school principal, an extremely genial, gentle, and warm man whose worst fault, if it can be called that, is that in a fit of frustration he has been known to exclaim, "Oh, poopypants!" He and his wife have several daughters, some of whom Anna has met, though I have not.

Our front door. Left: then. Right: now.

A week later, on May 9th, Anna's dad took the train in to Chicago from Goshen, picked up a U-Haul truck, and drove it to my apartment, where my roommates and I were waiting. One roommate and I stood out in the rain, guarding the parking spot in front of our building with our bodies. Anna's dad pulled the truck into the spot, right into a puddle several inches deep and several feet wide. The ground immediately next to the truck's rear was very muddy. Needless to say, things got messy.

But for all that, the process was quick, almost embarrassingly so. Loading the truck took about 45 minutes, perhaps mainly because I moved relatively little furniture, though probably also in part because I made an effort to slim down my possessions to manageable levels (sigh, so many books left behind, though I probably never would have read most of them). The truck ended up being about three times bigger than what I needed, which was amusing in light of the fact that I'd been worried about having too much stuff to fit. Afterward, we ate a breakfast of donuts and scrambled eggs, then spent some time cleaning up the copious quantities of mud we'd tracked onto the stairs and floorboards and carpet.

The Franklin heating stove area in our living room. Left: old and busted. Right: new hotness.

My future father-in-law and I then set off on the four-hour trip to Muncie; he was the truck driver once again. I was worried about sustaining conversation with Anna's dad for that length of time, but that turned out to be a breeze; the only real trouble we faced was some really heavy storm conditions that rattled us both a bit on exiting the city. He and I share quite a few common interests (e.g., theology, politics, literature), and we were both able to pick up conversational threads and start new ones with relative comfort, so the drive was a pleasant one.

We arrived and unloaded, and Anna and I's life in Muncie together began. It's been a fun first week, and we're both very pleased with our new home. Check out a guided tour I put together this morning, in the video below.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Story Recording - Premature Adventures in Dating

I told this story last Sunday at a house show. I squeezed my story in between sets by Von Strantz and Families, though there were also excellent songs coming out of Kevin Schlereth and Up the Chain. Check out all their music and also listen to this story for like five minutes. The sound quality is low, but the story quality is high.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Book Covers - Good Design, Bad Design

In your great book,
You got the good looks,
In your great book.
—"Your Great Book," Teitur

I love books. ("Are you sure, James? Or are you just looking around your half-packed apartment and saying you love whatever you see?" "I love books. I love books! I LOVE THEM.") Today, I'm packing my books so I can go move into my new house (it's a house house!), so I decided to take some pictures of my books before they go in their boxes, to be unpacked who-knows-exactly-when.

As a way of sorting which books to take pictures of, I've decided to turn my pictures into a quick illustration of how to design a book cover (and how not to design one).


I'm not a huge typography nerd, but I am a little bit of a typography nerd. I like a good typeface; what can I say?*

The general principles of good typography are all you need for a good book cover: don't use too many fonts, don't use fonts that are ugly or generally despised (most importantly, Papyrus and Comic Sans), and when possible use the font to establish a clear window to the subject at hand.
This wonderful resource (a Bible my parents got me when I was a teenager and from which I indeed learned a lot) suffers from chronic typeface problems on its cover. There are at least three fonts, which is too many, and none of them are particularly enjoyable to look at. What's more, fonts don't really connect us to the subject of the book in a compelling way; nothing about these fonts in particular bespeaks learning, or biblicality. I think the blend of three separate photographs and the horrifying black, oval maw at the enter aren't good choices either.
This somewhat silly book, a volume that tries to find the good bits of religion and make them available to the non-religious, has some fantastic cover design. There are only two fonts here, and they are both pleasing to look at. The ornate, blackletter font used for "Holy Bible" establishes a thematic link to the ancient religious texts and tradition the author is mining, and the breaking through of the simpler, more modern font in the center visually establishes the idea of looking for something new in something old. The hole in the center also succinctly establishes the emptiness an atheist might feel is at the heart of religious traditions.


In general, visual art on a book cover should establish an implicit thematic connection with the ideas in the book, so that the reader gets a sense of what they're getting into just from picking the thing up. It needs to catch the eye, but not be too busy or distracting, and it needs to be pretty, or at least interesting. There are several kinds of visual art available to the designer of a book cover.

Reusing Older Artwork

There are any number of ways to illustrate a cover, but one common way is to pick a painting or other piece of art from the past, often used in order to create associations with that past in the mind of the reader.

If you want to reuse some old art in your cover, it needs to have a clear connection with the theme of the book, and it needs to be engaging and interesting to look at. "Less is more" comes into play here even more than elsewhere: since many paintings and other pieces of visual art are not meant to scale down to book cover size, it's important to pick something that's not too busy so it will really pop.
This image is unfocused, and its connection to the subject—poetry—is unclear. There's a dude kind of looking like he's going to read to an audience (but maybe about to get arrested?) which is a thing poets do, but there's a heck of a lot of other things going on, too, so the poet, if that's what he is, is not the focus of attention. The image is also cropped kind of weird; it's clear there was some kind of visual framing going on with that latticework peeping over the upper corners, but the rest of it's been cut off for some reason. 

This translation of the Pentateuch, done by one of my favorite authors, Robert Alter, benefits from great cover design. The title is overlaid in a beautiful typeface over the image itself, drawing the eye into its drama. The image itself is gorgeous, colorful, and dynamic; it's cropped well, so we get a clear look at the figure of Moses, who looks like he's about to smash the commandment tablets, one of the most iconic moments in the Pentateuch. This establishes a double link with the focus of the book: the person named in the title is depicted on the cover, and a pivotal scene from the events inside is shown as well. 


Same deal as above, but you know, with photographs. Less is more, establish a connection, don't confuse the viewer, etc. A major pitfall with photographs seems to be the temptation to use more than one, but in general this is a mistake; one great picture is always better than a few good ones jammed into one image. (Remember The Learning Bible's three blended photos above? Poor choice.)
You can see what they were trying to do here (the Ayatollah's creepy eye is watching you with disapproval, O girl with balloon!) but it doesn't really work. The photo of the girl is too unfocused and busy, and the connection with the watching eye above is hard to notice right away. The subtitle placed above the title and to the right is also visually distracting and weird, since there's no really obvious reason it needs to be there.
Here the subtitle is above the title, but it works because it's centered in a visually distinct area that looks like it's meant to house something, but is a little too small to hold the title, which needs to be big enough to dominate the cover and catch the eye. The many colored squares of the image, set into distinct sections of their own, call to mind both the diversity of the world's languages and the fact that they will be partitioned into different entries in this reference volume.

Original Visual Art

Commissioning some original visual art is a great, though probably more expensive, way to get something that will both relate directly to the theme or plot of the book, and be eye-catching and new. It's also a great way to get something ugly, so beware.
Cf. "ugly" above. This image represents the unraveling of the narrator's psyche and world fairly accurately, but not in a way that's visually pleasing or particularly interesting. 

This, on the other hand, is a visually arresting image that also captures the ethos of the book—a memoir told through the lens of whatever the author's favorite piece of pop culture was at the time he's narrating—through a slightly surreal, playful picture, one segment of which is boldly transposed onto the spine. 

The Winners:

What, you didn't know this was a contest? Me neither, but that didn't stop me from picking my favorite bad cover and favorite good one:

This violates all the rules, and then some. Too many fonts, a combination of two pictures (a painting and a picture, no less, and the picture is of sheep), and general busy-ness collaborate to form probably the worst book cover I've ever personally owned. 

I bought this book for the cover; that's how much I love it. It eschews type entirely, adhering rigorously to the "less is more" rule of cover design, almost to a fault. The plot of the book, in which two alternate timelines are created depending on the fate of a single aircraft in WWII, is elegantly alluded to in the repeated pattern of aircraft outlines, which could represent a group of planes or a single plane diverging into multiple universes and timelines. 
Now that that's done, I'm off to pack these books in some boxes! And other books, too.

*If I were a real typography nerd, though, I would care about the distinction between typeface and font, which I honestly can't say I do. They will be used interchangeably in this post. True typography nerds: deal with it.