A couple of days before I left England for the last time, on my way to Australia, I "did the rounds" of the local town, saying goodbye to various shopkeepers I had known. In the bookshop, the proprietor insisted that I should buy a copy of "The Fatal Shore" by Robert Hughes. I had actually seen a television programme related to the book and had been quite impressed – I fully expected to enjoy the book. 8 years later I have, despite a few attempts, not made it past the first few pages. Something that I couldn’t quite identify really bugged me about that book.
Skipping ahead to the present, I have a stack of 3 books beside my chair in the living room. They are: "The Selfish Gene" and "The God Delusion", both by Richard Dawkins. The third (a little more esoteric) is "Dæmonologie" by the man I think of as "Loony King Jimmy Stuart", more formally known as King James I of England. (Anyone wondering at the disrespectful epiphet should read the book and draw their own conclusions.
I can rarely sit and read a non-fiction text at one sitting (unlike sci-fi and fantasy) but am getting on quite happily with "The God Delusion" and "Dæmonologie". "The Selfish Gene", however is giving me some trouble – I really struggle to read it.
Why do I find two books by the same author so different to read? I don’t think that Dawkins’ writing style is so much different between the 2 books. The language of "Dæmonologie" (especially the spelling) should certainly make it a more challenging read than something written just under 400 years later.
Yesterday, I looked at all 3 books and realised where my problem lies. "Dæmonologie" is printed in a font which I guess to be about 13 point. (A point, for those unaware, is a printers’ measure – 1 point being equal to 1/72 of an inch.) "The God Delusion" appears to be about 12 point, with a line spacing of 1.5. "The Selfish Gene" and – now I look at it – "The Fatal Shore" are both printed at about 10 points. I do believe that my problem is simply that the offending books are printed too small.
As I suffer from diabetes and have high risk of glaucoma, I have thorough eye checks every 6 months. I know for a fact that my vision is "perfect", despite having one eye stronger than the other. I have spectacles for when my eyes are tired – generally from sitting too long in front of a computer. Why then, do I have trouble reading books with small font sizes – even when wearing my spectacles? Am I looking at an issue of inaccessible print content? At least when viewing a web page with a font that is too small, I can always (and frequently do) increase the size to something that I find comfortable – not something that I can do with a paper-and-ink book.
Now that I appear to have identified my problem, I would like to conclude this article with a solution. Unfortunately, I do not have one. I will certainly bring this issue up the next time I see the optometrist and will check any books that I might buy in a bookshop before purchase. This helps me little though as the majority of the books that I purchase come from quickest and cheapest source – Amazon.com.