Loads of Learned Lumber

Monday, July 8, 2013

Font Dissonance

I HAVEN'T FINISHED a book in a while--I keep starting on new ones. I must be up to a dozen or so. Well, soon enough there will be plenty to report.

In the meantime, here is an observation on an odd coincidence.

Two of the dozen or so books I am midway through are My Bright Abyss by Christian Wiman and May We Be Forgiven by A. M. Homes. Two quite distinct reading experiences, to say the least, Wiman's book being a collection of very short essays or journal entries about his religious/spiritual life, Homes's being a novel about a deeply fucked-up guy in a deeply fucked-up family in ever-more-deeply fucked-up circumstances.  Apples and oranges, in other words. Chalk and cheese.

Yet--the running heads of both books are in the same font--that is, "MY BRIGHT ABYSS" shows up at the top of every other page in exactly the same font in which "MAY WE BE FORGIVEN" shows up at the top of every other page, in their respective volumes. It's a fairly distinctive font: sans-serif, but with contrasting stroke-widths, and the upper-case "W" looks like two overlapping "V"s rather than two adjacent "V"s. I haven't been able to find out the font's name, but it's quite handsome.

I doubt I would have noticed the coincidence, but for my reading the two books at the same time--still, having noticed it, I keep thinking about it.  How did this happen? Different publishers--Farrar Straus Giroux for Wiman, Viking Penguin for Homes--so presumably different designers. It can only be coincidence, yet the coincidence seems meaningful, as though Wallace Stevens and Kierkegaard somehow share a wavelength with characters who say things like "I want your cock in my hole" and kill each other with lamps.

Some of the greatest literature of the 19th century navigated a secret, subterranean river that connected the sordid to the sacred: Baudelaire, Dostoevsky. This deep, dark river has been mostly unexplored since--though Flannery O'Connor and Mary Gaitskill seemed to know it was there. And maybe some designer-for-hire also knows, and planted a clue in these two could-not-be-more-different books, wondering if anyone would even notice. And I have, and the sacral overtones in Homes's title suddenly seem all too appropriate....

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