The Look of Writing

The real beauty of writing for me is its rhythm; some call it cadence.

Without ever knowing the art of rhetoric, I sensed it as a child. Maybe for me it came growing up in an era of black and white TV, where sitcoms were still in the process of creating their genre and Yiddish shtick coupled with vaudeville’s zest held sway.

For me, there’s another aspect to the ebb and flow of writing: its physical structure. A writer communicates not merely with vocabulary and syntax but with layout. Long paragraphs, short stanzas; punctuation, variation …

Line breaks.

They’re absolutely fundamental for image, voice, and impact. So much so, that I don’t think it’s yet been fully realized how quickly this essence is lost when reading moves to the medium of electronics.

Physical books, journals, and articles—they all have a tangible body. You’ve no doubt where you stand reading them. Each page is a fixed thing: structured with the reassurance of exactness. Just as the author and editor intended.

Have you ever felt the frustration when a Kindle suddenly paginates your words, changing the reading order you’ve settled into for hours? It’s sufficient to spoil not just their flow but your immersion too.

It’s equally difficult to replicate the subtleties of written structure electronically, given variations in system font, screen size, and software bias. Which all leads to a question:

In these days of web pages, social media, and e-tainment are we reading with the music that authors intend at all?