A Font of Trivia

When it came to choosing a font type and size for my book, I was clueless.

I’m not bad at the game Trivial Pursuit. Not great – I have friends who regularly “clean my clock” as my father used to say – but I am often a winner. Playing the Genus version only. The ultra-esoteric versions are usually more than challenging, especially the Disney one! And Harriet has the edge on The Silver Screen questions. And I won’t touch Sports. Okay, I’m not going to make it on Jeopardy! However, I have a lot of trivia floating around in this brain of mine (although I do worry about depth).

Fonts are a deep subject. A lot deeper than I expected, certainly. Fonts represent an important aspects of book production — the right font will support the story, attract readers, prevent eyestrain. Fonts are yet another subject about which I have little prior experience or knowledge; no depth.

My book designer sent me some layout samples from which I was to make a few choices. It was thrilling to get pages of the story set into a format that looked like a book! Chapter headings and page numbers; author name (yippee!) and title across the top of the pages; leading character flourishes and section break icons! It was beginning to look like a book. A real book!

But I had choices to make. In addition to the flourishes (or lack thereof), I needed to select between Garamond and Caslon.*

Okay, so I’m not completely clueless. I know that Garamond and Caslon are fonts. Typeface. Itty bitty letters that will make up the words and communicate the story. I decide on fonts all of the time in writing contracts (usually between Times New Roman or Arial) . I read someplace that Times New Roman was one of the original fonts used for newspapers. Interesting historical tidbit, but my book was not a newspaper or a contract. The typeface needed to support the story. So which was it to be?

Apparently I can’t go wrong with either Garamond or Caslon. However, Garamond and Caslon look the same to me. How am I supposed to choose between two nearly identical things?

First, I went on the internet to read what people had to say about Garamond and Caslon type. There really are people discussing these things! Typesetting is an art – and like all art forms, there are experts, opinions, and preferences. The internet emphasized the history of each typeface, which didn’t help me. I wanted information comparing the pros and cons of each type. Something like a Consumer Reports for fonts would have been nice. However, if that exists I didn’t find it. The closest I came was a blurb on Caslon typography: “Caslon types are considered warm and friendly and comfortable to the eye.” According to the same website Garamond has been popular among book designers and printers for four centuries — who can argue with tradition?

Still flummoxed, I conducted my own straw poll:

– Here, honey, which one do you like? Caslon. Why? “It’s easier to read.”

– Here, Megan, which one do you like? Garamond. Why? “It’s hard to say without sounding pompous.”

– Here, Editor Rick, which one do you like? Caslon. Why? “It is a more serious font. You have an action/historical/psychological story.” A departure from current trends. Serious and therefore worthy of Caslon.

– Here, Rita; here Brien; here Tom; here Carlos…whatdyathink?

Preferences fell primarily along gender lines (in my wide sampling of 8 people): women for Garamond, men for Caslon. Given this, I should have thrown more females in the mix, just for good measure. However, since Rita broke the Garamond ranks, it didn’t seem worth the trouble. She liked Caslon; five of the other respondents like Caslon. So Caslon it was.

And as for that depth thing: when compared side-by-side I can now correctly identify the Caslon as opposed to the Garamond. However, if you handed me a single book and asked me to identify its typeface, I would not be able to say. There is somebody out there who can — but, unfortunately, it’s not yet me. It’s a depth thing.

* The book designer wasn’t limiting my choice to Garamond or Caslon — I could choose from many other fonts. He offered these two because of their popularity. I’m really glad that he didn’t present me with more choices. I go into sensory overload in the grocery store, so I can’t imagine trying to decide from among hundreds of different models of typeface. Heck, I think there are 25 different types of Caslon fonts alone! Ooo, that’s just too scary.

Just for fun, here’s the difference

Fonts - Garamond - Caslon

Above is a picture of each of the fonts. They are both the same point size, so any differences are in the fonts themselves.

About Lori Hart Beninger

Lori Hart Beninger is a native California writer with three critically acclaimed historical novels (Embracing the Elephant, A Veil of Fog and Flames, and A Peculiar Peace) that follow two 19th century young adults as they struggle with survival and acceptance in the pivotal era of the California Gold Rush up to the American Civil War. Please visit www.ontrackpublishing.com for synopses, availability, reviews, and more.
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