An interesting coincidence this week – or was it? On Wednesday, thanks to Twitter I picked up an interesting post on Vanessa Gebbie’s blog about the visual impact of fiction, i.e. how layout and typography influence our perception (and enjoyment) of what we read. This works at different levels, from the appearance of the page – ratio of white space, style and character of the typeface – to the detail of punctuation and spelling conventions, all of which define the character of the text. For instance, although I tend to dislike how some authors (or their publishers) dispense with dialogue tags and use dashes rather than speechmarks (because I think very few writers can sustain dialogue like this without making it harder for the reader), I can’t deny that such books wouldn’t be the same if laid out more conventionally. The visual effect is somehow germane to the character of the book.
Next part in the equation was the arrival of my copy of Nik Perring’s short story collection Not So Perfect. I won’t deny my immediate reaction was surprise – a very small book indeed! But handy for reading on my twice- weekly bus trips, so into the handbag it went. But it was only on the second outing that I realised the genius of the format, which is not its portability, but in the way it reflects and enhances these stories, some of them flash, some a little longer, but all of them snappy and arresting. Just to clarify, each story has a full title page on the right hand side (recto) accompanied by a line drawing. The following page is blank, and the text starts on the next right hand page. This has the effect of making the reader pause to take in the statement made by the title page and to appreciate its artistry before delving into the text. I particularly like when a story finishes on the right hand page, leaving blank the verso before the next title page. The shorter the fiction, the more important it it so take time reading it. And so in practical terms, the more white space between pieces, the better. The small page format is just right for the length of the stories and presumably makes the space an economic possibility. A much better choice than bigger pages with more text on each.
And finally …. I don’t have a Kindle or other e-reader (yet), but assume that at least for the moment all books are reduced (or expanded) to a similar screen size. If so, that’s a shame. Or maybe just a timely reminder of the infinite variety of printed books and why this design classic has endured for so long.