Let books be large and in charge

My library has a gargantuan large-print book collection. Here’s my question. Why aren’t all books large-print?

Guess who has got the best eyesight in the world? Children. The library has a huge children’s section. And guess what – children’s books are printed in type THIS BIG! (AT LEAST!) Yet you rarely see toddlers wearing reading glasses.

Now go over to the new-release section, and all you will see are people wearing bifocals and trifocals browsing through the books with type like this. (Imagine that the words “like this” are really tiny.) I’m not talking about a new idea. When John Hancock put his oversized signature on the Declaration of Independence he said, “There, I guess old King George will be able to read that without his blasted monocle!”

Walk through a library or a bookstore and look at the shoppers: It’s the bifocal set. The only time you’ll see a teen or a 20-something in a mall bookstore is if they’re using it as a shortcut on their way to the piercing parlor. They don’t buy books and they don’t read them.



Oh, I just heard a parent ask, “What about ‘Harry Potter’ and ‘Twilight’?” So I will inquire in turn, “What are they reading right now?” The tattoo on their boyfriend’s arm? The notes on a Guitar Hero game? The instructions on how to dye their hair blue in the kitchen sink? I like “Harry Potter” as well as the next former high school wallflower, but do you want your child to be one of those people who can grow up to say, “I read a book, once?” Besides, the more children read, the less chance they will have of misspelling their first tattoo.

Instead of having a small large-print section in bookstores and libraries, we should make large print the norm, not the exception. And I don’t mean large print the way it’s done now. If you haven’t read a large-print book yet, let me just tell you, it’s a dismal experience. The type is bigger, but the margins are much smaller. It makes all large-print books look like ransom notes from slightly incompetent kidnappers. There’s just something “off” about them. They are harder to read, not easier. I don’t want the type of a regular book blown up and printed on cheaper paper. I want all books to be designed and printed in readable 18-point type.

When I was younger, I could read an entertaining book – a mystery or a thriller – in a night. Now it takes about three pages to put me to sleep. Bifocals aren’t designed to work when your head is on its side in a pillow. Challenging books are even harder. I think part of the explosion in audio books is that the book-buying audience finds it exhausting to read books in 10 or 12-point type. That, and the fact that no one of bifocal age can stand to listen to the car radio anymore. I can plug my iPod (which has 20 unabridged audio books on it at the moment) into the car stereo and soak up “Martin Chuzzlewit” and James Ellroy and Suetonius and Vikram Chandra and never have to hear a minute of a Morning Zoo or a shock jock or Miley Cyrus. It is bliss. I’m not commuting, I’m reading. I can’t read and drive even with a book that has print the size of a plot hole in a Dan Brown potboiler.

Maybe booksellers would do better if they stopped calling those things with covers books. Call them “extra long text messages” and kids might flock to the text store. (That works in Japan, right?) Gotta go, Jane Austen’s texting me. It sounds urgent.

Jim Mullen is the author of “It Takes a Village Idiot: Complicating the Simple Life” and “Baby’s First Tattoo.” You can reach him at jim_mullen@myway.com

Copyright 2009, Newspaper Enterprise Assn.

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