and promises to deliver the same sorts of discoveries as his previous books, but in a more structured format. LJ spoke with Schott recently as he worked to complete the U.S. edition, his voice brimming with enthusiasm for the discoveries he has made. Reviews of his work have tended to focus on his antiquarian tastes the cream colored paper he selects for the book jackets and interior pages, the line drawings illustrating the covers, the small print and absence of color or trendy flourishes, the ribbon bookmarks. What hasn't been remarked on, however, is that he is as influenced by contemporary theories of information design as he is by the format and subject matter of the 18th-century almanac. He designs his books himself and draws inspiration from Richard Saul Wurman, inventor of the concept of information architecture, and Edward Tufte, whose books on visualizing data have influenced numerous graphic designers. Schott often uses the Internet for research, although he considers it "a faster cab to the library." Clearly, he's inspired by the library milieu, the pleasure of laughing out loud when he makes a discovery, and the excitement of being sidetracked by the "book next to the book" he set out to read. He finds the Internet useful for downloading government reports or reading the current newspaper, but he's obviously in love with the tactility of the printed page. "When you can scuff the Internet, when you can write in its margins, when you can drop it half read in the bath when you can lend it to a friend and never see it again, then the Internet will come into its own." Schott is very much interested in how to use design strategies to manage the ocean of data and information that we all swim in, and he designs both the page layouts of his books and the graphs that appear in them. Fearful of "design inflation," he strives to use the "least ink" he can to impart the information and considers the best book design to be that which doesn't call attention to itself as design. Many of his graphs not only effectively convey information but also bring a good deal of wit to a medium one doesn't think of as being especially witty: bar charts and tables. For example, the back cover of the UK edition features a play on something called an astrometer ("a device used to measure the apparent relative magnitude of the stars"), but Schott's astrometer measures the rising and falling fortunes of celebrities and political figures. A different kind of almanac While he thinks the best design should step aside so that information will be visible, Schott also believes the process of editorial selection should clearly announce itself. Schott considers the choice of subject matter, emphasis, and word order to be highly political in nature and argues that editors should state their positions frankly. The best editor, he maintains, is the one who says "This is what I think." In a way, Schott is staking a claim for a different type of reference book, not one that claims authority because its editors are self-effacing but one that asserts a highly individual voice. Schott's voice has the nuanced feel for time past that one would more likely associate with a historian or novelist than an almanac editor. Without detracting from its value as a reference work, this sensitivity for time past lends his work depth. He describes reading old newspapers and being more intrigued by the odd product advertisements than the political events noted in the articles. He says he hopes his almanacs have the same kind of pull, combining high and low culture, giving, in a sense, equal weight to both the small and the prominent, recognizing that what people remember best about years past isn't always the larger political events but the footnotes that accompany them. In the process, he's working toward creating a new type of almanac, one that recognizes each year past as people are likely to actually remember it: as a mix of both trivial and significant events, "the serious and the footnote," occurring simultaneously and in succession. Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
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