Thursday, October 2, 2014

Font Rant

I wish that Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and all publishers would include font size in the publication information of each poetry book they sell. Then I could avoid ordering any collection that uses a font smaller than 11. I'm attempting to read a new book now that may end up blinding me. The poems are spoiled because the physical act of reading them is so difficult. I keep misreading words that look like other words, e.g., ever for even, dirt for dart, feeling for foreleg, and so on. When the line makes no sense, I go back and discover my error, but by then I’ve already been booted out of the poem. Sure, I can get back in, but if it happens again and again, then the reading becomes too fragmented to be enjoyable and meaningful.
This seems to be a trend. I’ve experienced it several times now, almost exclusively with poetry books. I thought initially that this might be an economical adjustment, a way of saving paper. But no, it’s not. When I go back through the book, I discover that most of the poems are less than a full page and could easily accommodate a larger font. Occasionally, a small font seems to be used in order to accommodate long lines. Bad choice. There are alternatives. If it’s just a few poems that have long lines, the font on those pages could be decreased, though that's not desirable. Or turn lines could be used. Again, not desirable, but certainly better than spoiling the whole book. If many of the poems have long lines, a larger book size could be used. Another option might be for the poet to rework those long lines.
Several days ago I posted my irritation on Facebook and quickly learned that I’m not the only one who has noticed this trend and finds it bothersome. Some even went so far as to suggest that this is ageism. Some of the commenters with books said that they insist their publishers use an easy-to-read font size. Problem there is that not all publishers give that option to their authors. That’s often the role of the book design department. Who are these book designers with their very good vision?
One commenter recommended that I buy a magnifying sheet. I refuse to do that. How annoying to have to keep moving the sheet as I go from page to page, poem to poem. It’s not my job to make the book physically readable; it’s the publisher’s job.
A very small font can also present a problem for the poet at readings. I’ve seen poets at the podium struggling to read their own poems, trying to catch the light just right, misreading and then correcting.
Also there seems to be a trend to use light gray font. Combine that with the small size. No thanks!
I’ve also noticed that it seems to be in style to use a small font on covers. This means that the title and the poet’s name often cannot be read in a thumbnail image. I understand the desire to show as much of the artwork as possible, but surely the title and poet’s name are equally important?
Other commenters suggested Kindle or some other e-reader. I love the option of being able to read on my Kindle, but I do not want to have that as my only option. Also line length is still a problem on e-readers. That’s getting better, but still requires adjustment of settings. I like to mark up some of the poetry books I’m reading. I really can’t do that on the screen—at least not in the same way I can with a paper book. And I like to dogear pages. And circle favorites in the table of contents. My reading is active, not passive.

Someone sent me this article with an audio discussion on the topic. Check it out: Your paper brain and your Kindle brain aren't the same thing

So what’s a human reader to do? I order and read a lot of poetry books. I’m contemplating returning books with unreadable fonts. I’m not sure that Amazon will consider that an acceptable reason for returning a book. They’ll probably charge me the cost of the postage. That returns me to my starting point: Amazon and publishers should start indicating font size. I, for one, would appreciate that. Better yet, publishers should stop using small font sizes.

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