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Jewish World Review
January 8, 2009
/ 12 Teves 5769
You know the type
As those of you with a literary bent have probably noticed, in recent years book publishers have begun including on the back page of many hard cover books a short description of the font used in the book you've just finished. These paragraph-long explanations usually sound something like the following:
"This book was set in Spumoni, a typeface designed by Florentine typesetter and amateur shadow puppeteer Giacomo Pugliesi in 1827 (or possibly 1829 for a typesetter, Pugliesi had notoriously sloppy handwriting). Pugliesi's design is based on the original letter forms of the legendary 15th century monk Luigi Bolognese and is, in fact, an exact copy of Bolognese's work, except for the addition of happy faces to dot the 'i's.' It remains unclear whether Pugliesi named the font for his favorite Italian frozen dessert or for Gina Spumoni, a popular burlesque dancer of the day to whom Pugliesi sent hundreds of hopelessly romantic and meticulously typeset love letters."
I have no idea why publishers started doing this, except perhaps in an effort to confuse mystery readers who might be tempted to skip to the last page to find out how the story ends.
Reader: "Oh, the suspense is killing me, I just have to find out who murdered the Viscount. It was… (flipping to the back page of the book) Lucida Grande! That scheming tart - I knew it all along! Wait, which one is she?"
This curious addition to books is yet another of the many inexplicable and sometimes downright objectionable developments of modern life that we've simply stopped questioning, and just go along with like a bunch of lemmings. Other examples include:
The "shoes off, shoes on" routine that turns anyone going through airport security into an amateur Mr. Rogers impersonator
Retail stores that "check" our receipts as we exit to reassure us that we're not stealing anything
Application of the term "artist" to refer to people like Britney Spears
Increasingly widespread use of the phrase, "The thing is, is that…"
Recently, after finishing a book and coming across yet another of these font descriptions I couldn't help but express my befuddlement. "Who cares what font the book is printed in?" I said to my wife. "What's next when you finish a book, lengthy descriptions of the paper stock used, page-long explanations about the binding process and some concluding remarks on the history of the ISBN number?" I quipped.
My wife was similarly incredulous. "Since when did you ever finish a book?" she asked, then noted that she, in fact, appreciates that books often include this extra information. "I think it's interesting," she added.
Of course, it's just like her to take the publishers' side. Although she has a point that they're probably just responding to an increased interest in fonts that's occurred since the advent of word processing. Why, thanks to the ability to highlight a section of text in a document and experiment with the look and feel of dozens of different fonts, writers have discovered an invaluable new tool in their ongoing efforts to keep from doing actual work.
Lord knows there was a time when I took a great interest in fonts myself. Specifically, in high school when I discovered that with a little judicious monkeying around with the font type and size, as well as the margins, of the paper I was working on, I could often generate a five-page research paper out of little more than a title sentence. I just wish I had thought to include a paragraph about the font I was using as well that would have given me enough material for a 50-page thesis.
So now I've come around and, in the interests of self-preservation, have decided to support these end-of-book font descriptions. After all, as my editors never fail to point out to me, as soon as people start losing interest in reading random, pointless information, I'll be out of a job!
JWR contributor Malcolm Fleschner is a humor columnist for The DC Examiner. Let him know what you think by clicking here.
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07/19/06: Just Singing in the Brain
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© 2006, Malcolm Fleschner