Fantastic Fonts

On the flight to Cyprus, I read Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan. Without giving too much away, it involves a fictional 16th century font called Gerritszoon. It’s a nice little book and moves along well enough to be a single-sitting read.

The fictional font at the middle of the story is particularly interesting because – again this is a bit of spoiler – the font ends up revealing something very personal about the author and publisher of an early book. It got me thinking about the story of Doves Type and recent documentary, Helvetica

This is not profound, but fonts provide a connection between the computer interface, the printed page, or the mobile device and the reader. In an era when our personal devices – whether sleek silver laptop or glass and aluminum phone – are increasingly adhering to rather efficient elegance of industrial design, a font is something that reminds us of the intimacy of personal design. It was nice to see that connection made in a work of fiction, set largely in bookstores and libraries. While I rarely patronize either these days, I do miss the attention of the bookstore clerk or the experienced librarian who helped guide me reading and scholarship. Like fonts, they formed the interface between orderly world of books, shelves, bindings, and margins and chaotic world of the individual.

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