Friday, September 03, 2010

Doris Grumbach on Book Design

My literary judgment, which I once praised beyond reason, was no longer simply a matter of taste, honed discernment, or the result of wide reading. No, a new and curious element had entered into it: age, and its accompanying ill, poor vision. Someone sent me a new novel that is printed in what I took to be six point Obscurant, a typeface I invented to explain my dislike of the book, not to describe the contents but the size of the type. What was even worse, the space between the words was uneven and thus almost illegible. Taken out of the hands of the fine-press printer and relegated to machine setting, the appearance of the page was unpleasant, affecting my critical judgment, I feared.

The appearance of a book is no longer allowed to contribute to the success of its contents. To the contrary, a good book often gets very little aesthetic assistance from its housing.

So, either I needed to ignore the existence of badly designed books in spite of their useful contents, or shut my aged, critical eyes to their looks and pay attention only to their contents. Rarely is it possible any longer, in these unfortunate days of mass-produced, technologically ugly books, to have both.


—Doris Grumbach, The Pleasure of Their Company, pp. 16-17

Fascinating. It's a pleasure to encounter a writer who appreciates good book design. They're all too rare.

Her second paragraph here is what strongly speaks to me: The appearance of a book is no longer allowed to contribute to the success of its contents. To the contrary, a good book often gets very little aesthetic assistance from its housing. This is what I am talking about, when I complain about writers being too focused on their words to care about good book design, and publishers being too focused on their profit margin to invest in good book design. This is precisely what I am talking about. Grumbach really understands.

Labels: , ,

2 Comments:

Blogger Jim Murdoch said...

This is what I was on about in the comment I made earlier today. My daughter bought be a copy of Tamarisk Row at Xmas and when she gave it to em she said, "Rather you that me, Dad." What she was on about what how hard the thing was going to be to read. The font could have been a tad bigger and the spaces in between the line a bit wider and even the paper a bit whiter. It was never going to be an easy read - Murnane does not write easy books - but why make life harder on your readers than you have to? This is one of the reasons I think that ebooks are a good idea, a book that I can format my way, to accommodate my poor eyesight.

12:29 PM  
Blogger Art Durkee said...

That works just fine for prose, sure. If all one reads is prose, fine.

The difficulty with ebooks is that their adjustable formatting has real limitations. There have been several articles lately pointing out how badly they handle books of poems. Several poets have complained about this in print and online, too.

Of course, there's a simple solution: if an author and publisher want to retain formatting, they just need to publish their ebooks in PDF format, which is scalable like the other formats, but preserves the intended formatting.

The fact that simple solutions like PDFs often get overlooked just reinforces my opinion that most writers, and many publishers, are completely clueless about the current technical means of publishing. An ebook is fine if you don't care about the formatting, and, as many writers do, once again assume that the words matter more than the presentation.

5:44 PM  

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home