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HelveticaTimes New Roman. Comic Sans. Arial BoldCalibri.

We all know these are the names of fonts and that different choices have particular effects and possible uses, yet, while we have easy access to over 170 varieties, we have our favourites and generally only ever use half a dozen at most – and there are over 100,000 different fonts available worldwide.

Fonts have been getting more attention in recent years, with the documentary Helvetica released in 2007 for that font’s 50th anniversary and many sites popping up to make strong suggestions as to which fonts are best for printed documents (they suggest Times New Roman and Garamond) or documents to be read exclusively online (Lucinda Sans and Trebuchet get the nod although of course nobody agrees and others suggest Arial, Tahoma, Helvetica, or Verdana – the New York Times online uses Georgia).

just my type coverhelvetica-film

Last week on the “Colbert Report,” the writer Simon Garfield was interviewed for his latest book (On the Map) but is well known for last year’s Just My Type that tells us the story behind individual fonts, the rise of some to dominate the market, what font choices say about us, etc. For example, Garfield talks about how the font Gotham had an impact on the Obama Presidential campaign’s success and that the font Garamond is named after Claude Garamond who created it in 16th century Paris – and that this font was used to write the Declaration of Independence.

Some fonts try to mimic the look of typewriter font (Courier) or come from folios and manuscripts (Baskerville and Caslon), while others are considered more stylish (like Bodoni – the typeface of Vogue magazine -, Didot, Book Antiqua) or slightly ridiculous (Herculaneum and Braggadozio).

With all this attention on graphics, we have to consider – and wonder – what a font choice might suggest about us to others.  Verdana, Arial, and TNR, while useful, are considered conservative and a bit boring.  Comic Sans is considered youthful and casual.  Rockwell is manly.  And Gigi.  Gigi?  This one has readers feeling the writing is exciting, elegant, happy, creative, and attractive.  I’ll have to search that one out because my computer obviously doesn’t want me to be desirable!

A few days ago, I checked out The Dinner by Dutch author Herman Koch from the library, and, on the bus ride home, I examined the covers – the front image, the blurb on the back by Gillian Flynn, among others, and the detailed description of the plot on the inside front flap.  Flipping to the back pages, I read a few lines “About the Author.”  Turning the page, I was somewhat surprised to see another “About the” statement – a paragraph on the Bodoni font that the book is printed in.  Bodoni, I found, was created by the court printer of the Duke of Parma in the late 18th century and is considered to be an elegant and modern typeface.  What might this suggest about Koch’s taste?  Is there some significance to Bodoni’s “sharp contrast between thick and thin lines?”  Might the font choice indirectly affect my interpretation of the story itself?  Does it make it easier or harder to read the text?  Opening the book at random and looking at the font, I find that at first it feels a bit repellant – perhaps because I am not used to this font – but then has a strangely comfortable vibe.  Am I seeing the font for what it really is, or does my reading of it say more about me?

What’s my font?  While I am writing this post in Arial and publishing it in Calibri, I do favour Times New Roman – even if it does peg me as uninspired – given that as an instructor, I have to read stacks of student essays and homework weekly.  Yes, I am leaning towards comfort over style….

What’s your type?

– Eleni Anastasiou