The Sunday Salon: Fonts

Part of my distaste for digital readers comes from the ability for a reader to change the font of the book they are reading. Something about taking that artistic choice out of the hands of the publisher and the book layout design team rubs me the wrong way. It’s certainly not a deal breaker; after all, I’m most interested in the content of the text itself. But I do prefer to see a novel or a book the way the entire team behind it intended it to look. Presentation is important, be it books, clothing, or dinnerware, and I don’t like being able to customize that intent.

The presentation of text is very important. For instance, my copy of The Lord of the Rings is very straight-forward; because of the page size, the text is fairly condensed. But the centenary editions are so big that the text is spaced much differently and it’s a little easier on the eyes, as well as much prettier. But that’s just spacing–what I want to talk about today are fonts.

I’ve been having a very difficult time finding a list of specific fonts that are commonly used in publishing, actually! While there’s plenty of variation, as my futile search has proven, nearly all fonts used in books are serif fonts. Serifs are the little decorative bits on letters in fonts such as Times New Roman and Palatino. In contrast, text that’s not used for bodies of text can often be sans-serif (without those decorative flourishes), like Arial and Impact (the font of LOLcats). So you’re going to see more fonts like Times New Roman in your average paperback than Arial, which, because it lacks serifs, can look too simplistic or childish for pages and pages of text.

One such font is Garamond, one of my personal favorites. It’s the font used for several Dr. Seuss books and the American editions of all seven Harry Potter novels. It has a storied history; it was created by Claude Garamond for Francis I in the 16th century. There’s even a case of mistaken identity–when a typist in the 17th century, Jean Jannon, had his office raided by the French government, Cardinal Richelieu (for some of you, that’ll be Tim Curry) declared a typeface found in his office the official font of the Royal Printing Office. Two centuries later, the French National Printing Office adopted the same typeface and declared it as the work of Garamond. In fact, the various types of Garamond on the market and available right now are based on three different designs–the original Garamond, Jannon’s “Garamond”, and Tony Stan’s digital version. The Harry Potter books, wonderfully, use Adobe Garamond, which is based on the original Garamond dies and and matrices.

Of course, not all fonts are created equal. One of the most overused offenders, in my eyes, is Papyrus. (My feelings are summed up here.) Papyrus has enjoyed a hate renaissance recently, with the release of James Cameron’s Avatar, which uses the font in its title. While I’m sure people who love fonts much more than I do can explain why they don’t technically like it, I’m not fond of it because it reminds me of the overly pretentious poetry I wrote in middle school in that font. The only place it’s appropriate, I feel, is on the side of a spaceship named Serenity.

In other news, I got through The White Plague yesterday, which was thoroughly disappointing, and I’m going to start on Guy Gavriel Kay’s The Summer Tree. Both books are from my library and have something wonderful nineteen eighties about them. I also went to a casting call yesterday, which was a lot less painful than I imagined. If the weather holds, I’m going to try and attend the Georgia Renaissance Festival today with some friends of mine. (Yes, I have a costume and a character for RenFest. She’s an elf named Dogwood and she’s kind of a klepto.) It’s the beginning of my second week back home for summer, so I hope I can start my fitness regime up again tomorow.

What are your favorite or least favorite fonts?

4 thoughts on “The Sunday Salon: Fonts

  1. This post is such an example of why I love the book blogging community. I’m reading this post and totally seeing the import and the interest of the topic. Most of my friends would think we are nuts for caring about stuff like this!

    • Aw, thank you, Trisha! I really appreciate that. I’m fascinated and a bit awed by how graphic designers can instantly tell apart fonts and dissect them, to be honest, but fonts do have an impact on what you’re reading. God forbid any blog is written in Comic Sans, which is not a font to be taken seriously!

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