Beginning what I hope to be a lifetime of editing books, I have begun to notice what is “normal” in book format. How should they look and feel? How many blank pages between the acknowledgement and the title page? What size font for chapter titles?
Jonathan Safran Foer and Nicole Krauss are a married couple living in New York and are among my favorite living authors. Their bestsellers include Everything Is Illuminated and The History of Love, respectively. Like many of their readers, I was shocked to learn that they were married, followed quickly by a smack to my forehead. It should have been obvious. Their themes are so similar: love, European immigrants, precocious child narrators, elements of magical realism, and an obvious penchant for all things nature.
Many readers have complained of the “gimmicky” or “tricky” typography. They describe it as being an interruption, or trite. Purists have even argued that it’s a cop out – that the Foers should use the power of words rather than visualizations.
I reread Krauss’ The History of Love most recently. Despite the title, you don’t have to be a romantic to enjoy the novel, although I’m sure it helps. It is driven by three narrators: a melancholic old man, a teenager coping with her own grief and that of her mother, and a third, omniscient narrator, whose prose made me close the book at times to form philosophical renderings in my head. Just as Krauss nontraditionally explores some of the same themes as her husband, she also employs some of the same post modern devices. Unlike almost any other novel, it would be impossible to suck the words out of their books, spit them into an ebook, and result in the same book. This is because both authors use methods such as blank pages, condensed typography, different paragraph spacing for different narrators, or just a few words on a page to prove their point. One particularly poignant example from Everything Is Illuminated: