A note arrived Tuesday from a reader who, having heard that I once recommended as a guideline Garamond for book typesetting, asked what other typefaces I would recommend for print books. I sent back a strictly verbal response with no illustrations at all — not my favorite approach but I was out of time — to which my reader replied, “Fantastic! Thank you!”
So with that bit of encouragement, here for you is the bare-bones list. This is for novel-style books that are all text; instructional books with graphics, captions, and headlines have different requirements.
Garamond is by no means a universal choice, but it makes a fine default. It can be excellent in books; it really depends on the vibe you want to convey. Good book faces are generally medium in construction — medium proportions, stroke weight, x-height, set width, counters, descenders. We have a free article about that here.
I still recommend serif type for books, including glass books, which have basically the same form factor as paper books.
Newer (since 1990) type designs are excellent but do not improve upon the look of the classics.
There are many others. Miller is a popular Scotch Roman style. Avoid Times (too narrow and spiky) and Palatino (unnecessarily busy). Bookman is heavy and slow; use it only in special instances, if at all.
Century Schoolbook and similar faces are often seen in pulp novels.
Whatever you choose, be sure your type family includes at least regular, italics, and small caps, including semi-bold and bold if you have subheads (although bold subheads in books are rare). If you have notes and indexes you’ll want a set of real superiors. Use old-style numerals in text. Some type families include a “titling” weight, which is lighter and can be used for section and chapter heads if appropriate for your book.
Pay attention to type size and line spacing. They vary with typeface, and each has a best mix. Aim for invisibility. Type that’s too big or too small or too-tightly spaced is unpleasant and distracting.
If you must use sans-serif in a book, I recommend a Gothic such as Trade Gothic, Franklin Gothic, or Benton Sans, all of which project authority. Helvetica (and its derivatives) make poor text type (hard to read), and Myriad, although crystal-clear and readable, has no visual gravitas whatsoever, although it can be a good choice for instructional books.
That’s the short course.