Aesthetic Sensibilities, Advertising and The Familiar

Disclaimer: As of this afternoon, I am only on page 358 of the novel. I also recognize that the version I have received to read is not a final version of the book, and that the published version will be in color and on higher quality paper. That being said, I want to discuss some thoughts I’ve been having about the book’s design.


As a graphic designer, I’ve grown accustomed to a linear process when I’m working on a new project. I receive the information and I translate that information into something that an audience will (hopefully) look at. Not only does the information need to be presented clearly, but it has to be done in an engaging and organized way to entice people to view it.

That being said, The Familiar does not obey the same graphic design philosophies that I do. There are wild variations of kerning, leading, and tracking (the “rainstorm” section from pages 62-69 is a good example of this). The font changes as the narrative changes. There are graphics and text mingled on numerous pages. There is a liberal use of justified alignment (Isandorno’s sections, for example).

As I read at sections that contain copious amounts of text, graphics, and text-as-graphics, I find myself stifling the tiny designer in my brain that’s shouting, “Wait, what?

I think that The Familiar is a novel that’s meant to be viewed as much as it’s meant to be read. Early in the novel, the reader is exposed, in full force, to the ever changing format. For example, “Tom’s Crossing” is set in a serif font with thin boxes surrounding the text. There are graphics of a heart monitor included as well. The layout is angular and throws traditional composition sensibilities out the window. In contrast, however, “Tom’s Crossing” also utilizes one of the most traditional type tropes: the drop cap. I don’t think that was a coincidence.

Since it seems like everything in the book is necessary and oh-so-deliberately placed, I feel that Danielewski is not only attempting to remediate television but that he is also trying to remediate advertising. Perhaps by not including visual tropes of the day (I’m thinking of the “Keep Calm and ______ On” movement, mustaches, chevron print and others) he is remediating the visual world too.

But if that’s the case, why not make one of the character fonts Comic Sans or Papyrus? Would it be too heavy handed? Would people just drop the book and run if they saw that any of it was done in Comic Sans? Believe me, I would probably drop it and run. Comic Sans would be a bad move.

Has anyone else thought about this? Advertising seems so integral to viewership; I don’t think that this would be something that Danielewski would leave out of the conversation.


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About chelseamaki

Weber State University. Major in English with a Creative Writing emphasis, minor in Art.

2 responses to “Aesthetic Sensibilities, Advertising and The Familiar”

  1. ktoney2015 says :

    I think one of the many things that this novel does so well is to completely destroy the notion that reading is a singular task. The part of your post that really resonated with me was when you said that this novel is “meant to be viewed as much as it’s meant to be read.” When you engage with this book, to really get the full experience of it, you have to both delve further into it and reach outside of it. The graphic elements and the text both tell stimulating stories that transcend the binding of the pages. In conjunction with what you say about advertising, this aspect of the novel gains even more power. The distinct fonts that mark the various stops on our literary journey through the worlds of The Familiar help to “advertise” them to us. The intense visual design is weighted just as equally as the literary content, and so they work in tandem to entice the readers to keep turning the page, or “to buy into the product.” The connections we form with characters and their plotlines may indeed be tied subconsciously to the way their story, or “product,” is presented to us. We use the fonts to differentiate between perspectives, and based on these perspectives readers may form certain attachments to those involved in the narrative. That’s why we oftentimes have favorite characters. So, when we finish one of their chapters, we cannot wait until we see that font or page structure again because it means that we get to be a part of that world again. The fonts aid in the development of the characters’ identities and help us to remember them in a certain way, much like products on a grocery store shelf. I think this is especially pertinent when you mention the graphics at the beginning of the novel. In our class, we previously discussed how they could be title cards for television shows or movies. These title cards could also be considered advertisements for the show. Thinking of highly publicized shows like The Bachelor or Supernatural, it is the image of these title cards that first comes to my mind. This is why I find what you say here to be so fascinating. Advertising is another form of connection between producers and consumers, or simply between people. By taking such great care to individualize, or one might say “iconify” each separate narrative sphere, Danielewski suggests the importance of care and consideration of audience and product in the crafts of both writing and advertising. After all, no matter page or screen, there is always another person on the other side of the media we consume every day.

    • chelseamaki says :

      Exactly. Your points embellish so much of what I had in mind when I wrote my original post. Thank you for adding your sentiments.

      For me, the experience of reading “The Familiar” has been holistic. If you were to isolate the text and read it strictly on a literary basis, I don’t think you would get as much out of it. But when the reader starts to consider the graphic elements (layout, imagery, font choice, etc.) then it becomes multifaceted and layered. It is important to engage with this text multiple ways because it engages with the reader in multiple ways.

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