‘If the book is a necessity then one has to overlook any technical deficiencies, of course.’ (Jan Tschichold, 1991)

Two constants reign over the proportions of a well made book: the hand and the eye.  A healthy eye is always about two spans away from the book page, and all people hold a book in the same manner. The format of a book is determined by its purpose. It relates to the average size and the hands of an adult. Children’s books should not be produced in folio size because for a child this format is not handy. A high degree or at least a sufficient degree of handiness has to be expected: a book the size of a table is an absurdity, books the size of postage stamps are trivialities. Likewise, books that are very heavy are not welcome; older people may not be able to move them around without help.¹

Those who want their books to last and who want them to be found again will neither make them excessively wide nor forget to put the title on the spine. Legitimately wide books, those with large and valuable plates for instance, are a different story. The owner of these usually has a special place for them. But on the whole, one should not make books unduly large. One rarely encounters the reverse case: books that are too small.¹

Of course, some authors will genuinely produce 700-page monster novels. (…) The publisher’s production team are left squinting at page proofs, trying to work out how small they can make the typeface without blinding readers, or being forced to produce a book so colossal its spine snaps the first time it is opened, fluttering irreplaceable pages from its vast interior. (…) ²


square books

(…) there are three arguments that speak against books whose format approaches the equal-sided rectangle.

The first is simply handiness. It is difficult for an unsupported hand to master a square book – even more difficult than to hold the ugly A5 format. The second argument concerns storage. If these books are wider than 24 cm {91/2 in.) they must be put down flat. Yet books should be capable of being stood upright on a shelf so that they can be found quickly and used. For the final argument, I have to make a little detour. It is the hinges on either side of the spine that hold the inner book, the book block, in position.¹

The longer the spine of the book relative to its width, the better the inner book will remain in position. The spine of an album in landscape (i.e. horizontal) format is no longer sufficient to fulfill this function. The situation is similar for books that approach a square format: the face of the inner book will soon touch the book shelf. It is for these reasons that square-format books should be rejected as modernizations that are fundamentally wrong


¹ Tschichold, Jan. 1991. The Form of the Book: Essays on the Morality of Good Design. Vancouver: Hartley & Marks. Original edition, 1975.

² Wilson-Fletcher, Honor. 2001. Why Size Matters. The Guardian (http://www.theguardian.com/books/2001/aug/11/gettingpublished)