Sunday, 19 July 2009

Font of all evil

Last week I picked up a copy of the new David Szalay novel, which I'm reviewing later this month. It's a quite different beast to his debut, London & The South East. Set in the testosterone and cigarette saturated sales-halls of the capital, it was a deft and utterly believable novel let down by a weak last third. Nonetheless, it seemed the novel of someone to watch keenly - so it's a real shame that just thirty pages into it I can't stand it.

It's not that I don't like the writing or the plot. On the contrary, everything is shaping up nicely; a dual narrative exploring one man's changing attitudes to the Communist world around him, his relationship with his best friend that is not quite as strong as it once was, a patient he is treating for total amnesia. All tautly written, all strong material. The problem is that half of the thing is written in Courier. And I hate that font. I fucking hate it.

There is no excuse for writing in Courier New. It's ugly and bruising, a bully of a typeface. It's also got a touch of arrogance about it, a swagger from its lineage: it positively growls, look at me I'm like a Remington typewriter, you know like fucking Hemingway used to use. It's nasty and there is simply no excuse for it.

In fairness to Szalay, I think he's trying to suggest that we're reading a typewritten journal. But since when do we need a special typographic reminder to let readers know how the document would have originally looked? If that was in any way necessary then Richardson's Clarissa and every other epistolry novel would have to written in some kind of handwriting style just in case we dumb readers couldn't get the concept.

Why Szalay has decided to butcher his novel in such a perverse way, I don't know. All I do know is that if I'd flicked through The Innocent at a bookshop, I'd have put it down like a flaming turd. Without a word read either, all because of an unnecessary stylistic tic. And while I'm enjoying what I've read so far, I can't help but feel that Szalay's going to have to take some staggeringly good literary wickets to get past the swathes of that clunky, typewriter-mimicking font.


  1. Like Dave Eggers, who publishes all his (and McSweeney's) books in it, I like Garamond, though it can look crushed in smaller sizes. What about Sylfaen, and similar alternatives?

  2. I agree with your comments on Courier - it reminds me of my Canon Wordprocessor, which may I add I was given for my 17th birthday and not the car that I had imagined...

    My personal choice are Tahoma and Verdana for documents that I write, although my work's font is Arial.

  3. I concur that a font can have a negative effect on your reading. I disliked the CJ Sansom Shardlake novels for many reasons but high on the list was the fact that the font used had an upwards pointing hyphen - sacrilege!.

    In nerd circles the use of Computer Modern (the default font in LaTeX) is the equivalent of a masonic handshake and for me raises the writer from "someone to be scorned" to "someone that I should respect"

  4. lol love the way u right so jokes! and so true, Courier is a stinker.. the contours of the glyphs just really bug me, especially the small 'a' cuz its the most often glyph i look at when deciding if i like a particular font, but all the glyphs suck ass.
    im taking this programming course now and they use Notepad++ and the default font is Courier and the instructor doesnt feel need to change it to atleast Consolas, a more progammer-friendly font, and i feel stupid asking him to change it cuz he might thing i appreciate more the "look" of the code rather than its function haha!