While browsing the worldwide web, I found two features on the design aspects of books. One is a story about the Chinese font, a font that is much more complicated than conventional fonts in the English language.
Nikhil Sonad starts the article The long, incredibly tortuous, and fascinating process of creating a Chinese font with how the oracle bones came into being; this is where Chinese characters came from:
“The soothsayers etched these pressing questions directly onto the shoulder blades of oxen and the under-shells of turtles, which are also known as plastrons. They then poked the inscribed animal parts with hot metal rods until cracks formed. The shapes of the cracks served as omens”
Chinese characters have changed very little over thousands of years. So what about Chinese fonts?
Here’s some gyan about Chinese characters, which gives you perspective and sets perspective for how difficult a font designer’s work would be in:
“The conventional wisdom is that a reader needs to know around 2,000 characters to understand a newspaper, and about a thousand more for the average novel. One of the most comprehensive Chinese dictionaries, the Zhonghua Zihai, contains 85,568 characters.”
It’s been very hard to simplify the Chinese font for the reason of sheer scale. While for English, you need about 240 glyphs, for Chinese you need 13,053. Sonad’s insight into what it takes to get that exact combination of strokes and calligraphy right will make you think very differently about language today. When we read in English language font, we take fonts for granted, but in a language like Chinese font diversity is a hard hit. Designers are excited though, as it presents an opportunity. A formidable one at that.
Another article I came across was about book illustration. Chris Russell is an illustrator and he has tried to trace the history of his craft in an essay in Lit Hub called A Brief History of Illustration. The whole concept of manuscripts started out with pictures and text, as in illuminated manuscripts. Illustration was particularly important in the fifteenth century when “the text of the book was carved into the same block as the image.” Even adult fiction in the 18th and 19th centuries were accompanied by illustrations. Dickens’s collaboration with his illustrators is well known.
What happened to illustration in the twentieth century? The minor extinction couldn’t be because of a dearth of artists. It was probably an opinion that art in books was low brow.
I don’t see why more authors can’t collaborate with artists of the world. Graphic novelists like Art Spiegelman, Marjane Satrapi, Joe Sacco, have at least changed the fate of the visual-text communion.
Would you want to have your book illustrated? Why not?