(A big storm last night knocked out our internet when I was halfway through posting. One of the many perils of country living, along with my new least favorite: chicken-pecked eye.)
This post at Midnight Ambulette reminded me how important typeface decisions can be. Some of us identify powerfully with our favored font, and a perfectly good book can seem to be ruined by the wrong typeface. I was horrified when the first galleys of my book came back in a bizarre, poofy, sans-serif type. (Or maybe it wasn't sans-serif -- that seems a bit over the top. In my memory the typeface was pink. That can't be true, but it must have been a very pinky one.) I begged for a different one, and ultimately it was set in Minion, an Adobe font designed in 1990. Which is okay. It has a slightly plaintive, antique-but-trim look I like.
My favorite typeface of all time is Bembo, which is what The World As I Found It was set in. It's small, dense, humorous, and typey -- it makes me think of the little bits of lead type pressing into the page. Another favorite is Cochin, which I used for my short-lived litmag TEACUP, and last saw in George Saunders's CivilWarLand In Bad Decline. It has small e's and a's and tall h's and l's, which makes it kind of charming. Another notable font you don't see much anymore is Bodoni, which was awfully thick-and-thin but rather handsome. DeLillo's White Noise was in it, at least the edition I had.
Do typefaces really alter the tone of the writing, as they seem to? A great book is still a great book in Helvetica, isn't it? Maybe not. A font is not bad just because it's ugly, but because it draws attention to itself and away from the writing. A beautiful but inappropriate font is no good, either. There seems to be, in recent years, a move away from fancy or unusual typefaces in general book publication, and more sticking with the old standards. This is probably a good thing for the eyes, but no fun for the font-geeks.
When I was in graduate school, each writer in my workshops had his or her own distinctive font -- you never needed a name on anyone's story, because you could tell at a glance whose it was. The typeface became an integral part of each person's voice. Later, when some of those writers published books, it was as if part of their voice was erased, or moderated to fit into the larger world.
What I want to know is, why do some books have a Note on the Type, and others don't? Every book should have one, don't you think?
*In this post I use the terms "font" and "typeface" interchangeably, though they're not exactly the same thing.