Geeking-Out on Fonts

I used to think it pretentious that the authors of certain literary novels (or more likely, their highfalutin publishing houses) would devote space to discussing fonts. (Here’s why we specially designed this unique font for you, oh discerning reader.) Really? If your story can’t stand on its own once the e-book homogenization process gets hold of it, then you’re not going to win my fervor, as a reader, by putting on artistic airs about the shape of letters.

That’s what I used to think. Then I wrote an actual book. And formatted it, and fussed with the format. And fussed some more. And finally published it. Here. And in the process, I began to care a lot about fonts. Why? In Covered With Snow, the story demands it. No spoilers here, just some quick context.

We here in the twenty-first century are inheritors of sensibilities Apple began to instill thirty-seven years ago when it rolled out the Macintosh. (I was one of their first customers, in college.) Overnight, everyone was crazy to play with fonts. (Thank goodness real graphic artists have reined in the worst of that madness.) Anyone younger than their mid-forties now takes fonts for granted. Don’t like defaulting to Times New Roman? Then switch. Play. Change your mind fifty times before lunch. My three-year-old grandson loves doing this sitting in my lap, changing fonts, colors, sizes, caps-lock, you name it.

In 1970—the era in in which Covered With Snow is set—it was not so.

You either wrote longhand or used a typewriter. The clacky little metal bars with the letters on them struck an ink ribbon and, through it, a sheet of paper. Everyone knows the sound from movies at least. Roommates stopped being friends if final drafts were left until too late. Depending on how it was used, a typewriter’s mechanisms would gunk-up and wear down in small, idiosyncratic ways. And typewritten communications have a certain look and feel. Today we might call the typeface distressed—or at least distinctive: a typewriter font.

So, without giving too much away plotwise, I felt it important, in Covered With Snow, to use a ‘messy’ typewriter font for the chapter heads and the chapter-start drop-caps: just enough to remind folks that 1970 was a very different era. The specific font is called “My Underwood”. The main body text is Garamond (light on the eyes, I hope).

If you’ve read the book, especially the print edition, please let me know what you think: my first name at the name of this website, or else my first name at my full name (all run together) dot com.

By Art

Art’s writing career burst forth at age eight when he won a creative essay contest at his local public library. Shortly thereafter, he learned about paying bills. Leaving the famous leafy Boston suburb he’d always called home, he earned his BA in geology at a bucolic, erudite college not too far away where he met and hung out with guys talented enough to actually climb the big mountains that still intrigue him. After that, he embarked on a career telling CEOs what to do. Over several illustrious decades—maxing out on frequent flier miles, but never quite mastering jet lag—he penned countless corporate treatises, each of which seemed weighty and potent at the time. Mercifully, that part of Art’s literary oeuvre remains cordoned behind non-disclosure agreements. He has published in places as diverse and obscure as Computer Reseller News and Ultrarunning Magazine. Shortly after 9-11, without ever really intending to, he became a Christian. Art and his wife of 30+ years remain planted near Boston where they walk their dogs alongside an expanding flock of grandchildren. Covered With Snow is his first novel.