The year is coming to an end, and with it our thoughts inevitably turn to transitions. Yes, people are aging and worlds are shifting and resolutions are being made. But what we're really interested in is typography.
It's time we started talking about section break markers.
Though aesthetic attention to books might be the uniting factor in our otherwise eclectic catalogue, we'll admit up front that we haven't given too much thought to section break markers. But flipping through Tod Davies's Jam Today and Jam Today Too, some of the guest books currently in our showroom, our eyes were immediately caught on the minute illustrations at section breaks. They're gorgeous. Beautifully drawn, thematically consistent, and totally resonant with the tone of the book.
Section break markers from Jam Today (above) and Jam Today Too (below).
Looking back at our own books, and at many of the books on our personal shelves, section breaks that weren't just white space were often occupied by a simple dot, asterisk, or line. Our first book, Kūhaku, featured little pseudo-pilcrows squeezed before the text just after a section break.
Text at the end of sections in Buddy Zooka was immediately followed by a little floral flourish, called a "fleuron" by typesetters.
We started digging in, and we learned a few things. For one, that Orion's Belt of asterisks that you see sometimes at section breaks is called a "dinkus." And when those three asterisks are arranged in a triangle, they're called an asterism. These asterisms were particularly useful to show breaks in the text back before paragraphs became conventional.
Lots of section break symbols, including many fleurons, fall under the category of "dingbats" (no, we are not making this up), little symbols that fit in a square grid frame for the purposes of printing and programming. In turn, dingbats fall under the category of "ornaments," the extra visual elements of printing that also include any flourishes around chapter headings and title pages.
The big thing we noticed, though, was that no one was really talking about section break markers. There's not a set name for them, and online discussions about them tend to focus on the logistics of inserting them in Word.
But section break markers are important. Their effect on the holistic experience of a text is, though subtle, also rife with potential. Section breaks are pivot points for the text, a chance for the author to bounce between time, tone, or scene and thereby ramp up the action. Section break markers shape the reader's experience at these crucial points, and they provide a chance for publishers to create an extra sense of cohesiveness. Elements of design from the front cover, back flap, and the text itself can distill into an island in the white space of a section break. Too often, section break markers are so simple that you don't notice them; but when you stumble on something as carefully wrought as the Jam Today illustrations, the unexpected pocket of delight is all the more memorable.
To kick the conversation off, we've rifled through our libraries and found some interesting section break markers. We'll be doing more research, and we'd love for you to send in any thoughts or knowledge you have on section break markers, along with any hidden gems you've discovered on your own bookshelves.
Like our Kūhaku markers, the section break ornaments in The Cry of the Sloth by Sam Savage look suspiciously like pilcrows (paragraph break symbols).
The section-break markers in Keri Hulme's The Bone People are left-justified and provide an expansion of the ellipses in the text.
Fanny Howe's Second Childhood offers a variation on the simple dot marker.
The Electric Michaelangelo, a novel by Sarah Hall, has a more linear, elongated section break marker.
Every aphorism from Theodore Roethke's On Poetry & Craft is separated by one of these little filips.