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Terrible Ebook Typesetting

Some of the terrible typesetting I’ve seen in ebooks.

text-rendering: optimizeSpeed

body {
  /*font-family: Athelas, Iowan, Georgia, Palatino, serif; */
  text-rendering: optimizeSpeed; /* fixes Apple nonsense character issue, but may prevent ligatures */

I don’t know what bug Houghton Mifflin Harcourt was trying to work around, but using text-rendering: optmizeSpeed is uniquely awful. Not only does it turn off ligatures, it also turns off kerning.

From The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco, ebook edition published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. The CSS file is dated April 10, 2017.

Adjacent Hard and Soft Hyphens

I’m not going to name this 2015 book, but for some reason the publishers used a SOFT HYPHEN after every regular hyphen and em dash.

self-<SOFT HYPHEN>reflection

The problem is, if the renderer does decide to break the line at that soft hyphen, it will insert a second hyphen. It might look like this:

…lorem ipsum self--
reflection dolor…

The hyphen should already be an candidate for a line break, although I wonder if there’s some ebook renderer where that isn’t true.

None of the longer words in the book are marked with soft hyphens. No non-breaking hyphens are used. The book’s stylesheet doesn’t modify the hyphenation behavior, nor is any language—and thus line breaking behavior—other than en-US specified. I cannot think of a reason why these soft hyphens were used.

Contextless, Rule-Based Formatting

Take a look at the stage directions in this 2008 ebook edition of Michael Frayn’s Noises Off.

Mrs Clackett (to Roger) Won't she, love?

That opening parentheses is italic, but the closing one is roman. Stage directions are consistently (inconsistently) formatted like this throughout the book.

<em>(To</em> <strong>Roger</strong>)

I believe this is a poorly implemented attempt to deal with Adjacent Romans and Italics Can Collide. As a solution, some style guides suggest using italic parentheses when surrounding italic text.

Whether the text should use italic or roman parentheses is a matter of style, but in either case we shouldn’t use both.

Because a large amount of the ebook edition consists of scans of the print edition, we can confirm the print edition consistently uses roman parentheses.

Mrs Clackett (to Vicki) And we'll enjoy having you. (To Roger.) Won't we, love?

[Some private content has been omitted.]