A new single column setting of Scripture is always worth getting excited about. Back in 2009 when Thomas Nelson first teased us with this layout of the NKJV, there was even more reason: single column editions were pretty rare compared to today. When, a few years later, the newly launched Schuyler imprint announced they would be using the Nelson setting in one of their own editions, fans of the NKJV had even more reason to rejoice.
Somehow I missed out on the first printing of Schuyler NKJV Single Columns — but Beth Rhodes didn’t, and she posted a thorough write-up back in October. To make a long story short, she liked it, though she did note that the uneven line-matching could be frustrating.
With a few aesthetic tweaks and a fresh selection of colors, the Schuyler NKJV Single Column is back. The question is whether it’s better the second time around. Let’s find out.
THE SECOND PRINTING
When I stepped inside the headquarters of EvangelicalBible.com in Virginia, one of the first things I noticed was the stack of boxes lining the main hallway, each one packed with newly-arrived copies of the Schuyler NKJV Single Column. They were hard to miss. Even harder was not tearing into them when nobody was looking. I suppressed the impulse and was eventually rewarded with a firsthand look. When I left later that day, I took a couple of review copies with me, the red and the brown.
The second printing of Schuyler’s NKJV Single Column is available in four colors: Black, Brown Marble, Imperial Blue, and Firebrick Red. The Bibles are printed on 32 gsm paper, and have Smyth-sewn book blocks. They’re bound in edge-lined Cantara goatskin covers with full leather linings, hand-stitched around the perimeter for reinforcement. In a subtle refinement, the front cover features a blind emboss of the Schuyler cross –without the big HOLY BIBLE and NKJV in gold gilt from the first printing. Less bling results in more class. Each book includes four thick ribbon markers, too, and has art-gilt edges (red-under-gold with the exception of the Imperial Blue edition, which has blue-under-silver gilding). Some quick work with the ruler yields a trim size of roughly 6.5″ x 9.5″ x 1.25″, which is a fairly handy proportion for a full-size Bible. The type size is 10.5 point, and the print is nice and dark. As is the case with all Schuyler Bibles, the NKJV Single Column is printed and bound in the Netherlands by Jongbloed, and the quality is first rate. They retail for just under $200, and are available exclusively at EvangelicalBible.com. (Follow the link for full specs.)
Unfortunately, the uneven line-matching Beth noticed in the first printing is still a problem in the second. Some pages are fine and others are almost perfectly mismatched, giving the page a five o’clock shadow that takes readability down a notch. While line-matching is well outside my area of expertise, I noticed something interesting while comparing good matches to bad. Even on pages with very poor matching, the page numbers are matched precisely. For example, pages 1615/1616 (1 Corinthians 14.16-15.32) in both of my review copies are mismatched identically, but both have perfectly aligned page numbers. The fact that the line matching is consistent between copies, and the numbers themselves are matched suggests that the problem is with the text setting. In other words, it wasn’t designed so that the front and back of each page would line up. There’s no way to make them. This is a shame, because in every other respect the NKJV Single Column is an admirable edition.
MAKING PEACE WITH THE FONT
I have to admit, the first time I encountered the typeface used in this text setting, I wasn’t a fan. When it comes to fonts, I prefer old style, or humanist, typefaces for books. (If in doubt, Wikipedia is your friend.) To my eyes, they just look right. This text setting uses a font that makes me think of a beefier version of New Age, the face the TNIV used to be set in. Remember how cross-eyed and apoplectic I used to get over that font? Well, I’ve mellowed with age. I’m not sure whether there’s a connection to New Age or not, but I’ve made peace with this type, telling myself there’s a something Eric Gill-like about it. There’s a hint of the reed pen of some Alexandrian scribe in there, and that’s just fine.
One thing I don’t have to make peace with is the paragraphing, which is done just right. The preface notes that “prose is divided into paragraphs to indicate the structure of thought,” but let’s face it, not all paragraphing is equal. One of my gripes with certain popular translations (I’m looking at you, ESV!) is that while they’re paragraphed, they aren’t paragraphed the way we actually write in English, particularly where dialogue is concerned. Open a novel at random and you’ll discover that generally we begin a new paragraph whenever a new speaker chimes in. Burying a back-and-forth conversation in one long paragraph? That’s not how it’s done.
So I was delighted to find that this NKJV gets it right. Look at the conversation between Jesus and Peter at the end of John 13, verses 36-38. In the ESV you get this:
Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, where are you going?” Jesus answered him, “Where I am going you cannot follow me now, but you will follow afterward.” Peter said to him, “Lord, why can I not follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.” Jesus answered, “Will you lay down your life for me? Truly, truly, I say to you, the rooster will not crow till you have denied me three times.
In the paragraphed NKJV, you get this:
Simon Peter said to Him, “Lord, where are You going?”
Jesus answered him, “Where I am going you cannot follow Me now, but you shall follow Me afterward.”
Peter said to Him, “Lord, why can I not follow You now? I will lay down my life for Your sake.”
Jesus answered him, “Will you lay down your life for My sake? Most assuredly, I say to you, the rooster shall not crow till you have denied Me three times.
It’s hard to believe I never noticed this before. “It must be unique to this text setting,” I told myself, but I was wrong. My NKJV Pitt Minion is like this, and so are some others I checked. Funny the stuff you miss. Since the paragraphing was done after the translation, the dialogue tags are still clunky. Ideally the work should be done hand-in-hand, or the paragraphers should be given liberty to make the necessary adjustments, like so:
“Lord, where are You going?” Simon Peter asked.
Jesus answered, “Where I am going you cannot follow Me now, but you shall follow Me afterward.”
“Lord, why can I not follow You now?” Peter asked. “I will lay down my life for Your sake.”
“Will you lay down your life for My sake?” Jesus answered. “Most assuredly, I say to you, the rooster shall not crow till you have denied Me three times.
And yes, while the NKJV’s formatted beats the ESV here, it loses points in my book for all those capitalized divine pronouns — but that’s an argument for another day.
The original Schuyler editions used 32 gsm paper, and then they began to experiment with thicker stock, going all the way up to 45 gsm for the NASB Quentel. On pages where the line matching is off, the NKJV Single Column will have you yearning for thicker paper — but when it’s on, you see that 32 gsm isn’t bad, all things considered. Unless you go to multiple volumes like Bibliotheca, you’ll never get rid of ghosting or show through. Some papers seem better than others, and the black paper trick can be surprisingly effective, but at the end of the day Bible paper has to be ridiculously thin to accommodate so much text and so many pages. There will always be tradeoffs.
As far as color options go, you’ll remember the Firebrick Red from my review of the NASB Quentel. The shade is spot-on, a bold, beautiful scarlet that doesn’t veer into orange or purple. I wish I could say it’s my favorite, but the fact is, I’m really smitten with the Brown Marble. The dark-to-light color variation is incredibly subtle. From a few feet away in most light, it’ll be mistaken for solid. But up close in the right light, the depth comes through, making this an interesting but not flashy cover. The elegance is understated, as it should be.
Jongbloed works wonders with these edge-lined Bibles, producing limp bindings with a consistent quality that is almost boring (in the best possible sense). The only thing I would change is the stiff hinge running down either side of the spine, which keeps the Bible from opening perfectly flat. I’ve noted these hinges before in my reviews of the Quentel and Crossway’s Heirloom Thinline (where the thinner book block makes the problem more pronounced). While I’m sure the hinge material’s stiffness contributes to the strength of the binding, I wish they would find a similarly tough but more flexible alternative. These covers beg to open flat on the table, but the hinges produce tell-tale humps on either side of the spine.
One of the things my visit to EvangelicalBible.com and Schuyler really brought home to me is how tightly connected the customer service experience of the former is connected to the publishing program of the latter. A lot of frustrated NKJV readers let their feelings be known, prompting Schuyler to negotiate rights to the Nelson text setting and produce a high quality limited run. The first outing was so successful that it led to this reprint. It goes to show that this short run, high quality publishing model is an effective way to serve the readers of translations that don’t enjoy as much support as their fans could wish.
If you love the NKJV and you missed out on the first printing, then I suppose it’s a no-brainer. You’ll want one of these. The single column setting and relatively large print makes for a readable combination, especially when the line matching doesn’t get in the way. If you already have one of the first editions, is it worth an upgrade? The only grounds would be aesthetic. If you prefer the color (likely) or the more subtle imprinting (very likely), it might be worth taking the plunge.
And I’m back. Sort of. At least I will be back next week, with some interesting Bibles to talk about from Schuyler, Cambridge, and R. L. Allan. I also have some thoughts to share on reader-friendly editions. In the meantime, here are a few items to check out.
BORN TO THE PURPLE
Tired of living in a world where there are no purple goatskin reference ESVs? Be of good cheer. Pre-orders are now being taken for the limited edition R. L. Allan New Classic Reader in purple Highland goatskin. This first edition, stamped accordingly, will only number 75 copies, which should ship in November. Given the limited quantity, I’m not likely to get my hands on a review copy, but if you’re curious about this edition, check out the review of this Bible bound in blue which I posted in June.
WE DON’T NEED NO STINKIN’ NUMBERS!
If you missed it earlier, Sarah Eekhoff Zylstra’s piece for Christianity Today on Bibliotheca and reader-friendly Bibles is worth checking out: “The Book of No Numbers: Deleting some stuff from the Bible can be profitable — and okay.” I enjoyed talking to Sarah for the piece, and hope it helps bring more attention to the idea of Bibles designed for reading.
WHEN THEY CAME FOR THE HIPSTERS, I SAID NOTHING
Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but satire is a close second. Enter Biblica Hipsteria. Equating reader-friendly design with hipsterdom would make me sad if the project hadn’t gone viral, but then I’m typing this on a MacBook Air as I gaze at the screen through tortoiseshell glasses. And I came really close to wearing a bow tie today.
PENCIL IT IN
Finally, I’m in love with this post from the Crossway blog circa mid-August: “What Do I Use to Write in My Bible?” They tested four different writing instruments on a Single Column Heritage ESV to see what worked best, and posted photos to demonstrate. The Pigma Micron did well, as expected, but I’m leaning more and more to pencil as the best option.
The funding campaign is over and Bibliotheca has raised in excess of $1.4 million. While success on this scale always brings out detractors, I’ve been impressed how widely Adam Lewis Greene’s effort has been appreciated. While the idea of designing Bibles for reading rather than reference isn’t new, this is the first time in awhile that a Bible publishing project has connected with the wider world on the basis of its design choices first and foremost.
If you missed the Kickstarter, there’s still a window for ordering Bibliotheca. Check out the details on Adam’s new site, Bibliotheca.co.
LESSONS FROM BIBLIOTHECA
There are lessons to be learned from the experience, and not just for publishers. Michael Hyatt has summed up four of the big ones, quoting some remarks of mine along the way: “What the Success of Bibliotheca Tells Us About the Future of Publishing.”
WHILE YOU WAIT, CHECK OUT THE ESV READER’S BIBLE
So what should you do while you’re waiting for Bibliotheca to ship? How about giving the ESV Reader’s Bible a try. Similar in concept to Bibliotheca, the ESV Reader’s Bible is available now, and for a very affordable price. You’ll experience the benefits of a reader-friendly format for yourself. Here are some links to my pieces on the ESV Reader’s Bible
My own experiences with the ESV Reader’s Bible have been echoed by many others, including this piece by John Sherrod, who shares his first impressions after he and his wife gave the new format a try: “The ESV Reader’s Bible: First Impressions.” If any of you have shared your own impressions online, feel free to post a link in the comments.
“Finishing strong” turns out to be the understatement of the year. As of this morning, with two days left on the clock, the Bibliotheca funding campaign on Kickstarter has already reached its $1 million stretch goal, which means a fifth volume containing the English Revised Version Apocrypha will be added to every set, along with slipcases (see the details here). If you haven’t backed the project yet, there’s still time … and you’ll be in good company. More than 10,000 people have signed on, an incredible number that testifies to the appeal of this beautifully designed, reader-friendly Bible.
Congratulations to Adam Lewis Greene for the breakout success of this labor of love. I can’t wait to see how Bibliotheca turns out!
“Bibliotheca could even break the $400,000 mark,” I said to the journalist on the other end of the line. “It already has,” she replied, clicking the keys. That was yesterday. This morning Adam Lewis Greene’s four-volume, reader-friendly edition of the Bible has passed the half million dollar mark and doesn’t show signs of slacking off. The project has gone viral, too, making a popular appearance at The Verge. The Bible Gateway blog has done a good in-depth interview with Adam, too. There’s no question now: the idea of an uncluttered, readable Bible resonates with a lot of people.
If you want to know more about Bibliotheca, here are my earlier posts on the topic:
Reader-friendly Bibles aren’t a new idea. Every so often a publisher makes the attempt (going back to the original release of the New English Bible and before), yet today the concept seems to be gaining momentum in a way it never has before. I’m not sure we can articulate a list of characteristics yet that make an edition a Reader’s Bible; the defining trait at this point seems to be removing verse numbers from the text. Bibliotheca does this, as does the ESV Reader’s Bible. So does The Books of the Bible, which I reviewed back in 2007.
Christopher Smith compares the features of Bibliotheca and the ESV Reader’s Bible to The Books of the Bible, which offers the NIV in a reader-friendly format (now available in a single volume or a four-volume set). The Books of the Bible goes farther than any other edition I’m aware of in rearranging the text to follow natural literary divisions rather than traditional chapter and verse, and Smith does a great job articulating the reasons behind these choices. He shares my optimism about the future of reader-friendly editions, too.
All the attention on reader-friendly Bibles has led to some interesting thoughts about what our experience with Scripture is meant to be. For example, I’m intrigued by Paul Sutton’s post about reading the Bible aloud. When I praise this emerging category of Bibles for offering a “less mediated” read, I’m not suggesting this marks a return to the original reading experience. Rather, I love reader-friendly Bibles because they improve the experience for today’s audience. I believe this is true whether we’re reading silently to ourselves or reading aloud to a group (or, as I’ve been known to do, reading aloud to ourselves). Whenever I design a text for out-loud reading in church, I format it the way a reader’s edition would be formatted: removing chapter and verse, presenting the text in a manner that is natural for reading. The importance of hearing Scripture read aloud can’t be stressed too much, and I believe the new generation of reader’s editions will make that practice smoother.
As the Bibliotheca campaign draws to a close this Sunday, I’ll be rooting for it not only as an early backer but as someone who sees the success of Adam’s project as a new chapter in the long journey to make reader’s Bibles a viable alternative to sit side-by-side with the ubiquitous reference editions. This project has introduced a host of people to the design problems of the Bible who’ve never thought about the subject before, and more importantly, should result in a beautiful edition of the Bible which will serve as a lifelong companion to many people, and an inspiration for future publishing endeavors.
I’d like to highlight a comment from earlier today, because Steve Atherton’s experience with the ESV Reader’s Bible echoes my own: “I have had a few days now…
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