Tuesday, 26 June 2012

This Is More Than A Page - Penny Dolan


Last weekend I was having an idle time, away for a joint family birthday. 

I took a moment to look around the room.

 In my bag was very new kindle with its covetable green leather cover.  

Nice, eh?

  Meanwhile, on my lap, was a just-opened present: a 3D real-world copy of “Just My Type” by Simon Garfield, a book about the design history of fonts. I have always loved the subject and heard the book being read on BBCR4 back in December.

 The two things seemed almost opposites, in their way.

One artefact – the kindle -  uses a fits-all-genres font, apart from variations in size. The standard page layout makes no attempt at beauty, beyond the words in the reader’s mind - and sometimes that can be or should be enough. The kindle doesn’t attract or distract me with presentation skills What it offers is portability and choice, no matter how far away I am from the book hills of home.

Meanwhile, the "Just My Type" book explains how fonts and layouts can be purposeful, sympathetic, arresting, calming, historic, modern, dominating, overwhelming and more. 

Fonts even give away too much about personal choice, or so he suggests, according to the blurb. 

The pages inside this partiular book offer b&w photographs and old engraved images and font samples and there are wide satisfying borders and headings and some stylish page numbering. 

This book's design has added pleasure to the content. The layout adds much to the words, makingthe whole the book more than just the text. And it's barely even trying!

Oh, they are such hidden heroes, all these clever book designers! I love and admire them for their many skills but also because as a writer, they can be my best friend. I want my words to look as good as possible on the page because it matters. The layout, size and choice of font, size and shape of pages, even the quality of paper all work together to enhance the words and help the reader.

Such things matter, especially to the young reader as well as to the writer. There is something soul-destroying about a story appearing on thin, poor-quality paper in a font so small and dense that it  repels any but the most keen and competent readers. 

Text needs a sense of space.  Although this classic picture book had Helen Oxenbury's wonderful illustrations and Michaele Rosen's rhythmic retelling, I am convinced that the generous, airy layout of "We're Going on A Bear Hunt" was also a reason for its success with grown-ups and children alike. 

I've got, somewhere, the earlier, traditional "Lion Hunt" version in a cheap and nasty anthology. Only the thought of the fun you could have reciting and acting the words with groups of kids made those pages useable.

Nearly forgot. Back to my weekend.   Close by, on the cupboard was a copy of "The Marlowe Papers", a historic novel by Ros Barber, written in poem form. It was graced by a beautiful hardback cover whose colour, texture and old-fashioned titling suggested both “this is an important work” and “timeless quality.” In more than a hint.

Beside that lay a copy of Philip Reeve’s highly noticeable “Goblins”

The publisher’s choice of bright emerald page-edging, completing the bright green covers, transformed the book into a block of noticeably brilliant green. “Pick me up. I’m an exciting container and I’ll fit right in your hand,” it screamed.

Both items demonstrated the entire “bookishness” of the object. “This is not an e-book,” they were clearly stating. “This is more than an e-book. Hold me. Read me.

Meanwhile, there’s another present: Leonard Cohen’s “book of longing”

Those pages are full of poems and motifs and drawings in various media along with handwritten lettering. It is a paperback for slow and occasional reading, an object that a man could stuff into his pocket and take to a bar.  

(Grrr! I won’t go into the uselessness of women’s clothing here.) 

But I can only skim through Leonard’s poems quickly. Nearby is a much younger person who wants to start reading a new book. I don’t recognise the new cover. 

Then I do. It is “The Magic Faraway Tree”.  Here we go.  
Hello, Enid.

The world of books feels like an ever-expanding galaxy just now, don't you think?

But now, decision time. 
Where's that Comic Sans???



Sue Purkiss said...

Read in haste - but a lovely post! Have thought for a long time that the way for print books to go is to make them beautiful - and your post confirms this feeling.

Joan Lennon said...

A luscious post - thank you!

Susan Price said...

A truly lovely post, Penny - thank you. Makes even a devoted kindle-lover like me rather wistful..

Ms. Yingling said...

I'm glad I'm not the only one who loved this book. Had no idea Comic Sans was so reviled! The Nook is okay, but I will always read a paper book first if one is available!

Penny Dolan said...

It's now about three weeks since the Kindle arrived. I like it for a) making it possible to take around a choice of books for odd moments. Also b) for letting me download something I want to read so enticingly quickly - need to be wary of that! - and c) letting me get hold of material I otherwise might not get any other way. For example, I'm currently reading Len Deighton's "Bomber", which was reissued as an e-book. But I do miss the paper page and the pleasing book - and I seem to have a touch of RSI in my little finger from holding up the kindle too long and late into the night.

Dianne Hofmeyr said...

Brilliant post Penny. And interesting your comment about successful picture books having airy space in them... a sort of I can breath this story in. The Archie book on my post today has the same airy feeling. Do you think space and good lay-out in a book just make us relax into the story?