Reading is different things to different people. For some, it is a necessity. For some, it is a hobby. For some others, it is an escape. And for yet others, it can be the whole world compressed into a few pages. This list isn’t exhaustive, not by a long shot, for every reader has their own way of looking at reading. Everyone’s experiences are different and everyone’s expectations from reading are different.
But I think we can agree on one thing: reading should be accessible to everyone who wants to read. And one important part of making reading accessible is making sure that a book’s font is readable by all audiences.
When we pick up a book, excited to read it, we’ve already given part of ourselves to the journey that’s before us. The anticipation makes us want to zoom through the pages, late into the night, giving us the dark circles that we may or may not be proud to flaunt. But then, we open the book. And what do we see there? Ants crawling across the page. Tiny, tiny letters that we must squint at to even make out. By the time we’ve gathered the story and understood what the author is trying to say, we’ve got a raging migraine and the urge to raise the book to the sun in the hope that maybe some divine photosynthesis will make the font grow larger.
I am one such migraine-prone specimen. I very recently reviewed a book on YouTube, which I did enjoy. But it took me weeks to finish because of how tiny the font was. I ended up wishing I had asked for the Kindle edition instead, so that I wouldn’t have had to subject my eyes and my head to it. This was a situation where I couldn’t have changed the format since I realized this a little late. But otherwise, I resort to doing this: Every time I pick up a book and open it, if the font is tiny, I put it back down. It doesn’t matter if that book is by one of my favorite authors of all time or by an author who I am looking forward to reading. Tiny font almost always means me backing away from that book.
This is because the small fonts seem to me to have a greater impact on the brain and take more effort and energy to take in. So, the tinier the font, the more difficult it gets for a brain like mine to read it without descending into a full-blown migraine attack. And I don’t want reading to become something of a chore. I don’t want to be taking 2 days off every time I finish reading a book. I mean, I wouldn’t mind that, but I do mind the pain that causes it.
It is understandable that sometimes publishing has to compromise on certain things to actually get a book published and out to the public. And I get that if it happens for books being published by smaller publications with minimal funding. But when it happens to books published by large publishers who pay hundreds of thousands in advances to writers and celebrities who we hardly want to read from, it makes it all the more frustrating that they think funneling that money into those kinds of books is more necessary than making the said book accessible. And then they say publishing doesn’t have money. Hah. As if.
And it’s not just about small fonts. It’s about all those fonts that cause distress to readers, especially to those with disabilities. Reading needs to be inclusive. For this, we must do away with fonts that cause people pain, be it the thought of reading the small font or the actual process of forcing oneself to read it because of various reasons. It would be so much better for every reader if at least the publishing font size was standardized.
It is also one way for publishing and related companies to fill the market with different products they claim make our reading life easier. An example in this context would be magnifying glasses for reading. If you had made the book itself easy to read, you wouldn’t have had to dump this cost on the reader, would you? But that is how capitalism works, I guess. By saying that they make our life easy, they’re saying, “We’re going to keep churning out books like this and products like these because our love for money is greater than our concern for your comfort.”
Now, there will be people who say, “Why don’t you just not buy such books instead of complaining?” Ah, my lovely friend! Such snobbery! Why does it itch you so much when someone asks to be let into a world that’s new for them? Why the gatekeeping (for lack of a better word)? We aren’t preventing you from reading anything, are we? We just ask for better accessibility for people who cannot afford the pain that comes from reading such texts.
And then there are people who say: “Why don’t you get an e-reader instead?” Agreed that Kindles and Kobos and the like make reading a little easier. But can all of us afford it? Isn’t this another strand of capitalism at work? “Buy a 10,000-rupee Kindle to alleviate your pain or forever suffer in silence.” The people suffering are the ones who pay, most times. And more often than not, the ones who create the suffering are the ones living in luxurious ignorance.
These are the kind of people who say that audiobooks don’t count as real reading. Another stuck up, problematic, ableist take that shames people. This is exactly what I spoke about in my post about reader shaming. To insult people and make fun of them for how they consume books and stories is just plain bad. It doesn’t make one a hero. It doesn’t mean one is better than everyone else. It’s just – like, I mentioned before – plain, stark, snarky snobbery. That’s all.
All I wanted this FONTain of Thought to say to publishers was this: Please DON’T make the fonts tiny and call the book short. I’d rather read a 400-page book with a larger font than a 150-page one with ant-like font because 1) it’s easier to read and 2) it won’t give me a migraine.
Now tell me, do you want to be associated with headaches, migraines, and reduced visions forever?