The Mere Orthodoxy blog has a podcast called Mere Fidelity, and I was invited on by Dr Alastair Roberts and Derek Rishmawy about the future of Reading Bibles. We had a wide-ranging conversation. Alastair’s insight into the development of the early book alone is worth the click. You can check it out here:
Christianity Today covered the success of the Bibliotheca fundraiser during the summer of 2014, and now that delivery is expected in December, CT’s Kate Shellnut revisited the project. I spoke with her for the article, as did Bibliotheca’s Adam Lewis Greene, Crossway’s Dane Ortlund, and Glenn Paauw. She also quotes James K. A. Smith and Wesley Hill. Read the article and catch up on what’s happening in the world of reader-friendly Bibles. Share it, too, so your friends get the word.
I have more posts on the ESV Reader’s Bible, Six-Volume Set in the pipeline, and of course, I’ll be writing about Bibliotheca once I get my hands on it.
Speaking of reading and sharing, I’d like to point you to my latest piece for Worldview Academy’s online journal [relay]: “An Answer to Fear.” Maybe you haven’t noticed, but there’s a lot of fearful rhetoric in the church these days, and a lot of people are desperately asking, “What are we going to do?” It won’t surprise you to know that my answer to those who worry about the future of Christianity is to start reading the Bible, and to raise kids who do, too. If you’re of the same mind, read my piece and pass it along.
This is Part 3 of Bible Design Blog’s look at the ESV Reader’s Bible, Six-Volume Set. This time we take an in-depth look at the paper the books are printed on, testing its resilience with a variety of writing instruments. For an index of the complete series, scroll to the bottom of the post.
If publishing the Bible in six separate volumes is the solution, then what is the problem? In a word: paper. To fit the complete text of Scripture into a single, manageable book, you’ve got to print on very thin paper. Thin enough that the only common application apart from Bible publishing is rolling cigarettes. Paper this thin suffers from a lack of opacity. Vintage India paper may have been surprisingly opaque for its thickness, but the modern variety seems to have gotten worse and worse. While publishers of quality Bibles struggle to recapture the lost glory, with a multi-volume edition, you can get off the wheel.
Like The Gospels before it, the ESV Reader’s Bible, Six-Volume Set is printed on a specialty paper imported from Sweden, Arctic Paper’s 80 gsm Munken Premium Cream. These is a difference, though. Instead of the Premium Cream 17.5 used in The Gospels, this edition uses thinner Premium Cream 13 sheets. This brings the thickness of the page down from 140 to 104 microns, while increasing opacity slightly from 88% to 89%. While the numbers suggest a minor change, it seems rather substantial to me.
For a glimpse at the way this paper is produced, be sure to watch Crossway’s promotional video. There’s something about the journey from tree to roll to sheet to page that I find mesmerizing. A lot of care has gone into paper and printing, both in choosing the materials and minding the details of production. Attention to paper grain and the use of cold-setting glue in the binding help the books open flat, which shows off the qualities of the paper.
The pages of the Reader’s Bible are smooth without feeling slick. The off-white color is easy on the eyes. The show-through — printing from the back of the page visible through the front — is comparable to a regular book. You’ll see it, but it’s never distracting. On this count the Reader’s Bible is comparable to books published by Library of America. In fact, I’d rate it higher.
Thin paper can make turning individual pages a challenge. If you’ve ever tried to find the third epistle of John in a hurry, you know what I mean. Another downside is that, if you don’t handle the pages gingerly, they can tear. With practice you develop the ability to flip through a Bible without damaging the tissue-thin paper. Don’t let your five-year-old anywhere near it, though.
One of the little experiments I conducted with the Reader’s Bible was seeing how easily I could tear the pages. There was nothing scientific here. I rested one hand on the page, then used the other to try and turn it. To tear the 80 gsm sheets did not require a lot of pressure. I did have to be intentional about it, though. While I wouldn’t handle the Reader’s Bible carelessly, the paper is much more forgiving than the 20-40 gsm paper we’re accustomed to in Bibles.
The pages will crease when folded, of course, but I also noticed that if I rolled a single page back on itself, the pressure left a mark down the center.
Never say never, but I’ll probably never write in my 6-Volume Reader’s Bible. No underlining, no highlighting, no handwritten notes scribbled in the margin. Call me unadventurous. I wouldn’t walk into a cathedral with spray paint and stencils to touch up the artwork on the walls, either. Somebody’s going to do it, though, and that somebody might be you. Fortunately, Crossway sent me some unbound signatures, so I put them to the test with a variety of writing instruments. Let’s find out what you can get away with, and what to avoid.
I started off conservatively with a couple of pencils. For underlining and writing, I used a freshly sharpened Caran d’Ache Swiss Wood HB, and for highlighting I turned to a Koh-I-Noor dry marker in yellow. The results? Lovely. You can write all day with pencil on this paper, and when you turn the page you won’t have any unsightly lines showing through. The markings might fade over time — they’re not that bold to begin with — but it’s a small price to pay.
My fond memories of the day in elementary school when I traded in my last pencil for a proper grown-up pen have resulted in a blind spot where lead is concerned. I forget what a practical tool pencils are, only to rediscover them yet again. Pencil is usually a safe bet on thin Bible paper, too, as long as you don’t write with too heavy a hand. It has the advantage of being erasable, too. If I were going to mark up my Reader’s Bible, this is route I would take.
An uncoated paper like this doesn’t always play well with my beloved fountain pens. For writing in Bibles, “dry” pens like ballpoints are usually a better bet. As with pencils, you’ve got to be careful not to press too hard. Master the technique, though, and results aren’t bad.
I put a humble Bic pen to the test. This one is marked ’round stic fine,’ though to be honest I did not realize there were options. Let’s just say I’m not a fan of Bic pens. I only have one, which I keep hidden inside this whimsical leather sheath. The Bic performed well on Munken Premium Cream. I didn’t have to press too hard for an even line, and the writing was only faintly perceptible on the reverse of the page.
Uni-Ball Signo (0.38) and Tombow Highlighter
One of the perks of spending the summer on the West Coast is that they have a lot more Japanese stationery stores out there than we have on the plains of the Upper Midwest (which isn’t saying much). I like the Pilot H-Tec C, but a lot of people rave about the Uni-Ball Signo, and now I know why. The Signo is now my stylo of choice when I can’t use a fountain pen, so I decided to test one out on the Reader’s Bible, along with a Tombow highlighter.
I figured the pen would be fine — especially with its precise 0.38 point — but the highlighter worried me a bit. As it happens, there was no reason to fret. The Tombow did not bleed through at all. The radioactive green line is hardly perceptible on the reverse of the page. I’m not kidding. Unless you hunt for the marking, you will not even notice it’s there. Frankly, I am surprised. But not surprised enough to start highlighting the Reader’s Bible. Suffice to say, you could if you want.
Now I was feeling confident, so I lined up a selection of fountain pens. There are so many variables when it comes to these — the size of the nib, the type of ink — that such a test is anything but objective. Still, this gives you an idea of how the pens I use most frequently these days perform on the Reader’s Bible.
The nib sizes are arranged in ascending order, smallest to largest. Generally speaking, Japanese nibs tend to write a finer line for their rating than Western ones, which means that a Western Fine compares more to a Japanese Medium. So I went from a Japanese Extra-Fine to a Japanese Fine, followed by a Western Extra-Fine and two examples of Western Fines. The pens in question are a Pilot Custom 74 filled with Iroshizuku Tsuki-yo, a Pilot Custom 823 filled with Sailor Epinard, an Edison Herald filled with J. Herbin Gris Nuage, a Kaweco Lilliput filled with J. Herbin Vert Olive, and a Karas Kustoms Fountain K machined from copper filled with Private Reserve Ebony Blue.
As you can see from the photo above, none of the ink bled through the paper. The writing is faintly observable until you get to the Fountain K, and then it becomes just observable. Under a magnifier the lines appear a little feathery, which isn’t surprising on uncoated paper. With the Japanese nibs the handwriting in the margin appears sharp. All of the Western nibs made my writing look a bit blobby. If you’re not picky, any of these pens produced decent results. I’m picky, though, so if I were going to write with a fountain pen in the Reader’s Bible, I would limit myself to the Japanese EF and F nibs. (Which is what I typically do when writing in other books.)
Now let’s get a little crazy.
You’d have to be an idiot to write with Sharpie in a book. I did it so you don’t have to. First I tried the Sharpie pen — fine point! — and then I put the King Size Sharpie to the test. To be fair, the pen’s performance was comparable to all the others. The reverse of the page is clean, not a hint of bleed through. Still, this Sharpie pen has been on my desk for going on five years, and writes a little dry by now. I can’t guarantee that a fresh one would be safe to use.
What I can guarantee is that using a Sharpie on the Reader’s Bible is a dumb idea. The ink bled through significantly, as you might expect. The Sharpie is a great way to check the line-matching in a Bible, which is dead-on in this case. It’s a silly way to do anything else. I had to give it a try, though. Hope you understand.
When it comes to choosing paper for the ESV Reader’s Bible, Six-Volume Set, Crossway made a fine choice. The opacity and feel of the pages is comparable to other fine press books. There’s enough texture for a pleasant touch, and enough weight to the sheet so that turning individual leaves is never a challenge. Both the leather-over-boards set pictured above and the standard cloth-over-boards edition feature the same insides, so whichever you choose, the reading experience is the same.
I’ve had the pleasure of watching friends — i.e., test subjects — react to the Reader’s Bible for the first time. They notice the novel-like layout, the absence of apparatus right away. But the fact that the paper is nice, that the print doesn’t show through to a distracting extent, that the books fall open naturally in the hand — none of that registers, because it’s all as you’d expect. We only notice when our unconscious expectations are not met. Like good design, quality paper makes itself known by not making itself known.
The ESV Reader’s Bible, Six-Volume Set Complete Series
More to come!
Now that the ESV Reader’s Bible, Six-Volume Set is here and Bibliotheca is promised by the end of the year, the question I’ve been asked is, “Are reader-friendly Bibles are here to stay?” The concept isn’t new, of course. Even multi-volume, slipcased editions of Scripture have been released before. They came, they saw, they faded away. What makes this moment in time any different?
Over the summer, Comment published an issue dedicated to technology, and they invited me to chip in with some thoughts on how emerging e-book tech might be reshaping our expectations for printed Bibles. The result — “Are Bible Apps Destined to Purify the Printed Word?” — makes the case for why beautifully-designed printed Bibles like the ESV Reader’s Bible, Six-Volume Set might owe a debt to the proliferation of Scripture apps on our phones:
“The fulfillment of the hypertext dream by digital Bibles has cleared the way for printed Bibles to pursue other ends. The most exciting reinvention of the printed Scriptures is the so-called reader’s Bible, a print edition designed from the ground up not as a reference work but as a book for deep, immersive reading.”
Some of the same thoughts came up in an interview I did for 2K/Stories not long ago. Johs Krejberg Haahr asked all sorts of interesting questions, but given 2K/Denmark’s passion for good design, it’s not surprising we spent a lot of time on Bibles and readability:
“Reading from a study or reference edition can sometimes feel like watching a movie for the first time with the cast-and-crew commentary turned on. The information is helpful, yes, but it can sure get in the way of the film. I can understand the desire to pack a Bible full of extras. The challenge of designing such a text can be exhilarating. But the easiest way to prevent all the features from getting in the way of Scripture is not to design around them. It is to cut the features. An unmediated — or at least, minimally mediated — design might have just one feature: readability. But that’s a pretty good feature to have.”
Obviously, readability has always been one of the things people want out of a Bible. My unscientific hunch, though, is that the more we’ve come to rely on software (and especially apps) for all the other features, the more open we become to letting printed Bibles focus on the thing they still do best.
I don’t know about you, but I love podcasts. One of these days, I’d like to create a Bible design podcast. In the meantime, it’s always a blast to be featured on other people’s shows. I have been talking about Scripture, good design, and all sorts of other stuff. Here’s a chance to check those conversations out:
The Reformation Roundtable, Episode 9:
Interview with BibleDesignBlog.com
Mike and Scott picked my brain about all sorts of things, from quality Bibles to theology. They’re avid readers, and love talking about my favorite topic: books.
The Red Letters Dialogues:
A Primer on Well-Crafted Bibles –
Interview with J. Mark Bertrand of Bible Design Blog
Jio seems to hate badly-made books as much as I do — maybe more. He asked a lot of great questions, and hopefully I held up my end of the conversation.
The photo above, by the way, depicts a King James Version published in the 1930s by the Limited Edition Club. I found the Old Testament set in a used bookstore a few years ago. The layout is beautiful, the margins plentiful, and the volumes themselves are nicely made. My wish is that, with the 6-Volume Reader’s Bible and Bibliotheca and (hopefully) other sets cut from the same cloth, this kind of edition will leave the realm of antiquarian curiosities and come to represent a sustainable segment in the Bible market.
To mark the official launch of the ESV Reader’s Bible, Six-Volume Set, Crossway has released a new promotional video and a dedicated website: ReadersBible.org.
The new video includes the earlier scenes from L.E.G.O. I shared in my original post, along with a lot more detail about the design and execution of the set. Fair warning: If you don’t plan to buy one of these Bibles, don’t watch the video. It chronicles every painstaking detail in loving close-ups and captures what Erik Maldre, Crossway’s director of design, describes as the “reverent joy” with which the ESV Reader’s Bible, Six-Volume Set was created.
The ESV Reader’s Bible, Six-Volume Set Complete Series
More to come!
The Mere Orthodoxy blog has a podcast called Mere Fidelity, and I was invited on by Dr Alastair Roberts and Derek Rishmawy about the future of Reading Bibles….
This is Part 3 of Bible Design Blog’s look at the ESV Reader’s Bible, Six-Volume Set. This time we take an in-depth look at the paper the books are printed…
This is Part 2 of Bible Design Blog’s look at the ESV Reader’s Bible, Six-Volume Set. This part focuses on typography and page layout for an index of the…
This is Part 1 of Bible Design Blog’s extended look at the new 6-Volume Reader’s Bible published by Crossway. This post gives an overview of the project and…