Much ado about nothing, you must be thinking. After all, how hard can it be to choose a font? Just go to the font bar of your favorite word processor, preview from among the many options, and voila, you have just discovered the perfect font. Except that this process never worked for me.
I don’t quite remember how it got started, but somewhere in 2009–perhaps it was when I started working as an editor and looking at text several hours a day–I developed an acute sensitivity to font face. I had realized in advance that sans-serif was never going to work for me — I liked the mysteriously delightful curves of the serif type, giving the illusion of words huddling each other mirthfully. Somehow I thought the serif fonts were more elegant, more natural for reaching and writing. My hunch was confirmed when I paid attention to novels, almost all of which were typeset in a serif font. In fact, I distinctly remember the book and font face that made the greatest impression on me: it was a Penguin paperback version (orange color) of Lolita, and the font was Dante. Alas, to my dismay Dante turned out to be a proprietary font, and shelling out some $300 or so for a mere eccentricity didn’t seem prudent.
And so the witch hunt started. I began with Times New Roman, which seemed to be the standard and industry’s favorite. However, it seemed too archaic to me, like it had no personality, and it certainly wasn’t compact enough. Then I tried Verdana and Tahoma and Cambria (yes, I know these are not all serif fonts, but I tried them anyway) and Bookman Old Style and Book Antiqua and Baskerville Old Face and Candara . . . but nothing seemed to stick. I would go insane downloading and installing new fonts–only to looked horrified at the results–and deleting them.
Somewhere along the line, Georgia had slipped my attention. Not that I didn’t try it or didn’t like it, but it always struck me as too serif. It has enough curvature and compactness to tire even the healthiest eyes on prolonged exposure, in my opinion. But there wasn’t any other choice, so I stuck to it. As it happen with bad marriages, I eventually became comfortable and even started to like it.
However, I couldn’t keep the doubting voices inside me down for too long. Eventually it began to bother me that Georgia wasn’t good, too. At about that time Google Web Fonts was launched, and one of my favorite pastimes was trying out different phrases with different fonts and relishing the effect. Many of them seemed like the perfect fit, and I became convinced that I was in font paradise. So I downloaded them and installed them, and, horrors of horrors, they didn’t look good at all. Either the word processor wasn’t rendering them correctly or they were truly “web” fonts. Either way, I was sad and lost again.
A small ray of hope came in the form of PT Serif, which seemed to be equally curved as Georgia but somehow less dense. For a while I was delighted, becoming convinced that the god of fonts, whose name appears in the high heavens in the most glorious serif font-face, was smiling on me. And yet misfortune struck — after a weeks of use, PT Serif started looking too thin to me, to the point that the amount of white space that peered from between adjacent letters was an eyesore.
. . .
These days I’m back to Times New Roman. It looks like the right type of compromise: soothing, easy on the eye, and actually looks good if I set the size to 12, zoom to 120% and line-height to 1.5. But as experience has shown me, this may just be a passing phase. Or maybe not. Maybe, just maybe, like all things classical–classical literature, classical music, classic ways of living–the font requires patience to reap its true rewards. And the reward is consistency and stability: the reassurance that the next time, every time, you fire up your word processor and struggle to write something, at least bad font face will not be adding to your travails.