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The typographer’s nightmare

By October 5, 2020No Comments

Would you read a book where the unnumbered chapters (except the first and last) can be moved around in any order?

Or where the book was made up from various texts sliced up and put together at random?

Or where the type changed colour, size, font, or was even printed upside down or on a slant?

There are more books like this than you might imagine.

For example, BS Johnson’s ‘The Unfortunates’ has 27 sections unbound, with a first and last chapter specified: the 25 sections between them, ranging from a single paragraph to 12 pages in length, are designed to be read in any order.

William Burroughs’ ‘cut-ups’ took texts and sliced and rearranged them to make new texts.

And Mark Z. Danielewski uses a myriad of typographic devices in his debut novel ‘House of Leaves’, as shown in some of the pages from the book above.

Although ‘randomness’ is built into the making of these and many other books, the authors have a definite purpose behind their creation.

For Burroughs, ‘cut-ups’ provided a possible glimpse into the future, an act of divination.

For Johnson, his work is about capturing the imprecise recollections of memory and their ordering.

While for Danielewski, his typographical experiments allow him to create emphasis, mood, switches in narrator, time and place, as well as turning the written page into an artwork.

Just three examples, drawn from the avant-garde and post-modern canon  –  there are many others.

You couldn’t call these ‘easy reads’; they force the reader to move away from traditional ways of reading.

But they certainly make an interesting change.