Three things I’ve learned as a novelist that are good advice for anyone in our social media age:
When it comes to Bibles, I’m usually on the giving end of good press, not the receiving end, but this week that changed: Sky Cline of EvangelicalBible.com and Schuyler fame wrote some kind words about how he sees the impact of my work at Bible Design Blog on trends in Bible publishing. That prompted some people on the BDB Facebook page and elsewhere to share their own stories, all of which I found inspiring. And now Sky has expanded his remarks and dedicated a page on the EvangelicalBible.com website to yours truly. Check it out: J. Mark Bertrand at EvangelicalBible.com.
For all of this, I am truly grateful. Whether you agree with Sky that I’ve been “the single most important player in the Quality Bible Renaissance” or not, I want to say thanks for reading the blog. I know I don’t update the blog as frequently as you might wish, and not everyone agrees with the kind of design I’m passionate about. But the fact that you’ve stuck with me since 2007 — and in some cases long before — means a lot. So, thanks.
There are a couple of non-BDB related links I would like to share, too. Some readers of the blog end up following other interests of mine, getting sucked in deeper and deeper in the world of Bertrandia. If you’d like to follow them, here are a couple of options:
Okay, that’s more than enough about me. Next time we’ll be back on topic!
In Friday’s guest post, Matthew Everhard shared his Bibliotheca-inspired quest for a vintage copy of the American Standard Version, so I figured I should follow up by showing you the result of mine. Digging through the dimly-lit religion section in a Grand Rapids used bookstore, I spotted an out-of-print Nelson ASV with an interesting twist. It’s a looseleaf edition, but instead of the typical ring binder in use these days, it features a more compact mechanism that feels more like a book.
This Bible was printed by Norwood Press (J. S. Cushing & Co. — Berwick & Smith) in Norwood, Massachusetts, with a copyright date of 1929. There’s a date stamped on the metal binder, June 29, 1920, so it must have been sourced from outside. The text is formatted verse-by-verse in two columns with cross references in the center and textual variants in the outer margins. In the back, there is an appendix listing the RSV New Testament variants that were changed in the ASV, as well as a set of maps and an atlas index. I found no indication in the book block that it was printed especially for looseleaf binding. The holes are punched very close to the text in the front matter, which would suggest not. The pages have squared corners rather than rounded ones, so it was certainly finished with looseleaf use in mind. The page edges are gilded.
The hardcover binder is wrapped in black leather-print book cloth, with gold imprinting on the spine, which is banded to resemble an ordinary Bible. I’m impressed how handy the thing is. It’s not small, and it’s not light — yet at least by looseleaf edition standards, it is smaller and lighter than you would expect. Because it resembles a book and feels similar to one in the hands, I could imagine a minister carrying one of these into the pulpit without drawing too much attention.
In fact, that’s exactly what was done with this one. The appeal of a looseleaf edition is that you can add your own content — notes, study material, you name it. The previous owner interleaved his typewritten sermon outlines. These 1-2 page inserts are threaded into the Bible near their primary texts, and there are quite a few of them. As long as he had his Nelson looseleaf with him, he was ready to give twenty-odd sermons or more at a moment’s notice. Frankly, I love that. When I first found this Bible, I spent hours going through it in search of his outlines, skimming them to see whether they were any good, whether I could figure out his identity (or at least his theological leanings), and whether based on his notes it would be possible to reconstruct the sermons.
The advantage this binding mechanism enjoys over the ubiquitous three-ring binder is that it’s much more compact. You don’t have a giant empty cavern at the spine where the rings sit. This binder pushes a series of pins straight through the back of the book block, attaching the pages almost as if they were stapled. There’s enough give for the book to open flat, albeit with a pronounced curve at the gutter — again, like a book. The downside, I suppose, is that the pages don’t rest as flat as they would with a ring binder.
The clamp is tightened and released by screws on either end. You can see in the close-up photo below that there’s a little rust on the mechanism. Even so, it’s perfectly tight. I know I really ought to open this thing up and give the binder a good clean. Honestly, I’m kind of afraid to. What if I fiddle it open and can’t get it back together just right? (Trust me, with my mechanical skills — or lack thereof — this is a real possibility.)
Would I like to see this method of binding revived? You bet. It seems much more practical for preaching and teaching than the ring binders used in modern looseleaf editions. Of course, there are hardly any modern looseleaf editions left, so I can understand why investing in a non-standard mechanism would be an unlikely risk for a publisher to take. Still, I could see a solution like this working in the journaling/notetaking context better than both ring binders and wide margins. Essentially, this is a Blank Bible waiting to happen, minus the bulk of all the blank pages you haven’t annotated yet.
Let’s take a look at how it compares, size-wise, to the Hendrickson ESV Looseleaf I reviewed in 2009 and to Crossway’s new Journaling Bible, Interleaved Edition (which will get a post of its own soon enough):
On top we have the Journaling Bible, Interleaved Edition with a fancy wraparound leather cover. As you can see, it’s not as wide as the Nelson (center), but it is a bit thicker thanks to all those glorious blank pages doubling its girth. The Hendrickson is on bottom. Remember, it includes a wide margin layout. Combined with the large rings, this makes it considerably larger than both of the others.
Stacked side-by-side, you can see that while the Hendrickson breaks the scale, the Journaling Bible, Interleaved Edition and the Nelson are both only a little bit bulkier than the Schuyler Quentel NKJV I slipped into the mix for a bit of fun.
While the mechanism is intriguing, all told I think Matthew’s vintage ASV comes out on top (even without its nifty new binding). The print impression on my looseleaf isn’t especially good, and the paper is a bit rough and discolored. Still, as an artifact I find it fascinating, especially with the sermon outlines included. And finds like this always get me thinking about what innovations of yesteryear are due for reintroduction or reinterpretation.
The Quentel Reference Bible is the flagship edition from Schuyler, a relative newcomer to high-end Bible publishing that focuses on offering interior design and book blocks that rival the quality of their fine leather bindings. In my past coverage of 2014’s Quentel NASB and last year’s Quentel ESV, I have chronicled the establishment and fine-tuning of the format. Now Schuyler is releasing the Quentel in a new translation, the New King James Version, which means fans of the NKJV will now have to make a hard choice between this edition and the excellent Schuyler Single Column NKJV also featured on Bible Design Blog.
THE QUENTEL SERIES
For readers new to the Quentel series, here’s what you need to know: the Quentel uses a traditional double column page design by 2/K Denmark that locates cross references at the bottom of the page rather than between the columns, which is where you’re used to seeing them. This choice allows the columns to be as wide as possible — about 2.75″ — which they need to be, since the Quentel’s Milo typeface is seen at a generous 11 pt. size. This makes these editions very easy on older eyes. The Quentel is now printed in the Netherlands by Jongbloed on 36 gsm PrimaBible paper (opacity rating: 83%), which also helps with readability without adding quite as much bulk as the original NASB edition’s thicker pages. To make a long story short, the Quentel represents a very elegant culmination of classic Bible typography, printed and bound for a lifetime of use.
One of the things that makes the Quentel so easy to recommend, in addition to the nice paper and the large type, is the fact that it’s now available in several different translations. There are a variety of good single column text settings these days, for example, yet I find myself recommending the Cambridge Clarion more than the rest because there’s one for readers of the KJV, the ESV, the NASB, and the NKJV (and an NIV on the way, if I’m not mistaken). Now the Quentel series has enough breadth to fill a similar niche. If you’re looking for a classic double column reference with generous type size and excellent quality, get a Quentel and you’re set.
WHAT ABOUT THE HINGE?
Another advantage of a growing range is that, as new runs are printed and new translations introduced, the Quentel format grows in refinement. As I’ve said in the past, these Bibles are boringly excellent when it comes to manufacture: Jongbloed’s printing and binding is so consistently fine that you take it for granted, which is the way it should be. My one complaint in the past has been the stiffness of the hinges used to attach the book block to the floppy edge-lined cover. “We’re working on it,” has been the response, and when I reviewed the Schuyler Caxton NLT, there seemed to be definite improvements. How do the hinges on the new Quentel NKJV feel? Loose enough to make me forget that there had ever been an issue.
My review copy is bound in dark brown goatskin, leather-lined in matching brown. This is the ideal combination for someone who wants to forego the basic black route without making a statement. The art-gilt pages and the wide ribbons in green, purple, and gold don’t exactly blend into the background, but the punch they add is subtle compared to the reaction you get with, say, a red or blue cover.
Like the other Quentel editions, this one features a limp cover stitched all around the edge for added strength. New to this edition, however, are the raised bands on the spine, reminiscent of the way Jongbloed styles the covers for Crossway’s Heirloom Legacy. The imprinting on the spine is gold, and there is a blind stamped Jerusalem cross on front.
The imprinting is sharp, and I like the typeface. The scale of the stamped cross on front seems right in proportion to the cover’s size. To my eye, the only thing that seems ‘off’ is the Schuyler logo at the bottom section of the spine, which looks a bit too large and wide to me. It’s a minor point, but my preference is always to have a little breathing room on either side of the imprint.
Unlike paste-down bindings, which put boards under the leather, edge-lined covers like the Quentel’s are prized for their liquid flexibility. A rigid cover keeps the book block in line, whereas a limp one sets the paper free. You can curl an edge-lined cover up and bend it back without leaving any tell-tale creases — but that’s not the point. The point is that a cover capable of such feats feels a certain way in the hand. It’s slouchy and languid, the equivalent of curling up in your favorite chair instead of sitting ramrod straight at the table.
Whether you want a limp binding on a larger Bible like this is the question. People divide over this point. Some feel that when you’re dealing with a bigger, thicker book block, it’s nice to have some rigidity to the cover for support. If you’re in that camp, edge-lined covers will drive you nuts. They’re about as girdle-like as a stretchy t-shirt.
Consider this, however. A big Bible with a rigid cover is going to function a bit like a dictionary. It’s great for the table-top, but awkward in the hand. With a flexible cover, you can fold back the side of the book you’re not reading for a handier package overall. This is the technique we all used for super-thick mass market paperbacks, which is why all the fantasy and romance novels in the secondhand shops have unsightly creases down their spines. Here’s a tip: you bend the cover, not the spine. This makes the book easier to hold without damaging the binding.
A SIZE COMPARISON
The Quentel’s cover dimensions are roughly 9.75″ x 6.5″, and it runs 1.75″ thick at the spine. Not huge, but there’s certainly some heft. The measurements are actually quite close to those of my original Crossway Legacy ESV, which was rebound for me by Leonard’s Book Restoration back in 2013. The two books offer an interesting comparison since their outer dimensions are so similar while their interior layout is anything but. Let’s take a look, because this will illustrate the different strengths of a traditional double column layout versus a more reader-oriented single column.
First, here are the two Bibles side-by-side. The Legacy in tan goatskin is on the left, and the Quentel in brown goatskin is on the right:
Thanks to the fact that the Quentel is available in both black-letter and red-letter editions (more about that below), I was able to create an interesting interior comparison. Schuyler sent me a loose signature from the red-letter edition, which I tucked into the Legacy for a neat side-by-side comparison of the two layouts:
The Quentel’s double column layout means that a book with 11 pt. type and cross references can be the same size as text-only single column setting with 9 pt. type. True, the Legacy has some room in the margin that could be sacrificed for slightly larger type, but the fact remains, double column settings are more efficient when it comes to fitting words on the page, which makes for a thinner book block. While the Legacy’s novel-like appearance makes for a more immersive reading experience, the Quentel might be more enjoyable for someone who struggles to scan smaller type.
RED-LETTER PITFALLS AND HOW TO AVOID THEM
If you’ve read Bible Design Blog much, you know I’m not a fan of red-letter Bibles. The tradition of setting Christ’s words in red doesn’t go back as far as most people think, and risks giving the impression that some words on the page are more authoritative than others. But red-letter editions are as American as apple pie, and you wouldn’t believe how many people, even knowing my thoughts, write in to ask, “Where can I find such-and-such an edition — but with red letters?” For those of you I can’t talk out of this not-so-traditional tradition, there is good news. The Quentel NKJV comes in both flavors, red-letter and black-letter.
The problem is, lots of red print can be a strain on the eyes, especially if the red verges into the realm of orange or pink, which can happen when the print impression is too light. If you’re going to print a red-letter edition, the trick is go dark, trending more toward blood red than cherry. Schuyler has already mastered the skill by using red to accent chapter numbers and other matter, so it’s not a surprise that they do red-letter right. All the red is shade darker than in past Quentels, which allows the red-letter words of Christ to be dark enough for the desired accent without calling too much attention to themselves. Since the chapter numbers and reference numbers are boldface, they appear darker than the red-letter text, which helps ease the dissonance of setting both Christ’s words and some of the apparatus in the same color.
The only downside to the Quentel’s 11 pt. type is that fewer words per line in a justified column will sometimes create too much space between individual words. In the spread above, you may notice a few instances. This problem, like the propensity toward one-word lines at the end of a paragraph, is built into double column design — one of the trade-offs, you might say.
WRITING IN THE QUENTEL
The fact that I have a loose signature means I was able to do something I usually wouldn’t: test different writing tools on the actual page to see which ones perform best on the 36 gsm PrimaBible paper. I went through my desk and collected nine different instruments, a representative sample of the kinds of pencils and pens people tend to use when writing in their Bibles. Here’s what I chose:
The Caran d’Ache Swiss Wood pencil (#1) leaves a medium-thick grayish line. The Lamy mechanical pencil (#2) has a thinner, darker impression, and it’s a little sharper and less smooth on the page. The Lamy ballpoint (#3) is pretty typical of the dry-writing genre — which isn’t the worst choice for thin Bible paper, to be honest. The smaller Kaweco brass ballpoint (#4) performs similar to the pressurized Space Pen insert, which is what I used to use all the time for writing in Bibles. The Pigma Micron (#5), with its archival ink, is often touted as the “correct” choice by discriminating Scripture annotators. The Karas Kustom Render K (#6) takes Pilot H-Tec C inserts, which leave a nice, thin line. While fountain pens aren’t recommended, I decided to give two of them a try: the Pilot Custom 74 (#7) features an Extra-Fine nib, and it’s a Japanese EF, much finer than a European nib of the same rating, while the Yard-O-Led Grand Viceroy (#8) has a custom-ground italic/stub nib that started life as a Broad, so it lays down plenty of ink. (Tim Girdler did the grind, by the way. I’m not sure if he’s still working on pens, but I love what he did with this one.) Last but not least, there’s my trusty Tombow highlighter (#9).
First we’ll examine at the front of the page, then flip it over to see the back. I went through Romans 8 and started underlining. The numbers in the margin correspond to the writing instruments listed above. Take a look:
Both pencils did great. The lines don’t jump out the way the ink does, but they don’t damage the paper at all, and you can even erase them. If you’re worried about writing in your Bible, pencil is the way to go. Both of the ballpoints worked, too. The humble ballpoint doesn’t bleed through, just don’t press too hard. The Pigma Micron and the Pilot H-Tec C stand out more than the ballpoints, and the Pigma Micron actually lays down a thicker line. For an eye-catching accent, either one would make a good choice. Both fountain pens ran into trouble. The EF nib looks fine on the front of the page, though. The B nib is just too juicy for the paper. You can see the ink pooling and feathering at the end of the lines. Wait till you see what the back of the page looks like! I expected the highlighter to bleed through, but it didn’t.
Here’s the reverse of the page:
Let’s distinguish between show-through and bleed-through. Show-through means you can see the impression of the writing on one side of the page when looking at the other. Bibles are notorious for show-through because of their thin paper, and the problem is more pronounced now compared to vintage India paper, whose rag content (apparently) allowed it to be thinner but more opaque. Bleed-through means the ink actually seeped through the paper. This is a common problem for wet inks like the kind used in fountain pens. The finish on many papers does not hold this kind of ink well. The page absorbs the ink, which gives the lines a feathery look, and in some cases the ink bleeds right through. Fountain pen users seek out paper with coatings that play well with wet ink, even though the drying time with such paper can be considerably longer.
The only pens that bled through the page were the two fountain pens, which isn’t surprising. I expected the B nib to bleed through, but when I was underlining with the EF, the lines looked so sharp that I let myself hope. Alas, 36 gsm PrimaBible is about as fountain pen friendly as a Field Notes journal — not so much. The good news is, with both the pencils there is no bleed-through and practically no show-through. The ballpoints have some show-through, but it’s not too bad, similar to the amount of show- through the printed page itself manifests. The Pigma Micron and the Pilot H-Tec C show through more, I think, but that’s probably because they are darker. This is Bible paper, folks, and hence fairly translucent. For me the most interesting result is the highlighter. Yes, it shows through, so there’s a sickly green cast to the reverse of the page. But it’s actually not terrible.
All this suggests that, if you want to write in your Bible, 36 gsm PrimaBible is a fairly accommodating paper. Unless you use pencil, you’re going to see your annotations through the page. As long as you steer clear of fountain pens, though, everything will be fine. Your marked up Bible won’t look pristine, but it won’t look like a mess, either. It will have the lived-in, customized appearance of a working tool — which is what it ought to be.
The Schuyler Quentel NKJV is available from EvangelicalBible.com in both black-letter and red-letter editions. The cover choices are dark brown, as pictured here, black, dark green, firebrick red, and imperial blue. The price is on the high end of the spectrum at $222, which is what happens when you combine fine quality and small print runs. The Quentel is a lifetime edition. If you want an elegant interpretation of the classic reference Bible design, that’s what this edition is all about.
Matthew Everhard’s past contributions to Bible Design Blog have chronicled his experiments in bookbinding and his fascination with Jonathan Edwards’ Blank Bible. Now Matthew’s written a profile of an impressive rebinding project he commissioned from Diego Caloca, Jr., whose breathtaking full-yapp covers have inspired so much awe online. If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to have a Bible rebound by a craftsman like Diego, here’s an inside look at what he can do. — JMB
Michelangelo’s famous sculpture of David (1501) was carved from a massive block of marble that had sat neglected for over twenty-five years. Another sculptor had roughly hewn some legs, breaking a hole through between them, but at some point he had abandoned the work. Afterward, the block was rejected as unworkable. This seventeen-foot chunk of pearly white marble sat in the back yard of Florence’s cathedral gathering moss until, a quarter century later, an artistic genius saw it with new eyes. Michelangelo relocated the block to his studio, and created one of the most recognizable pieces of art in the history of the world.
Like Michelangelo, Diego Caloca specializes in giving new life to old and neglected things—in this case, old books and Bibles. Diego is one of the most skilled Bible rebinders working today. Entirely self-taught, he has the raw talent and patience to become a masterful leather-worker of Florentine proportions.
With that block of marble in mind, I recently sent my 1929 Thomas Nelson & Sons copy of the American Standard Version (ASV) to Diego in Rancho Cucamonga, California. I hoped Diego could give it new life, too, the final result amazed me. In this article, I will review the work Diego did.
First, a bit about the book block I sent him: As an avid Bible collector, I had been scouting for an ASV for some time, and had not yet found one to my liking. There are a few reprints available on the internet, but the ASV—which is basically the KJV’s early-twentieth-century son—has been out of publication long enough to make good originals hard to find. Some current editions are nothing more than poor facsimiles. Star Bibles produces a good print, but at $99 for mere faux leather, I just couldn’t bite. Finally, my father, an eBay master, hooked a near-perfect copy.
My edition is a 7” x 5”, two-column text edition. Black letter, with no references, it does not make use of the old-style pronunciation “helps” (thankfully). There is no writing in this pristine copy, and the presentation page was left blank. The font is a very readable Brevier 12mo. The only problem with the block itself was that the red-dyed page edging was water damaged. Not surprisingly, the original genuine leather cover was wilting like Mother’s Day flowers by the first of June. Every time I opened it, the ASV coughed up black dust from between the cover and liner.
In other words, the block was a perfect candidate for a rebind project, just waiting for a master sculptor to fashion it back into a form worthy of its contents.
I gave Diego carte blanche to do whatever he wanted. Normally I wouldn’t do this, but I have studied Diego’s work for a couple of years, and even written about his interesting back story. So I trusted him completely. Nothing comes out of his studio—a simple shed beside his California home—that I haven’t “Oohed!” and “Awwed!” over. So I paid for modest media-rate postage and mailed out the hand-sized ASV with my permission to do with it whatever he willed.
For the cover, Diego chose a midnight black sokoto goatskin, with a mild river grain, and lined it with a slightly more modestly grained goatskin interior. He gave it a full half-inch yap, curved prominently over the block. Overall, this cover is pretty stiff. I definitely wouldn’t try to roll up this goatskin like a scroll as you’ve probably seen some Bible reviewers do before. Mark’s famous yoga pose wouldn’t work on this one. The stronger nature of the this particular arrangement allows the yap to stay curved inward, instead of hanging loosely over the edges like a wet blanket. This was intentional on Diego’s part, and he is capable of doing more limp bindings when asked. But given the aging nature of this particular text block, and the somewhat weathered texture of the of the nearly century old paper, this was probably a wise call. Some clients who prefer limper bindings would do well to specify that they want a cover/liner combo that melts in the hands. At the same time, the pronounced, curved yap of this particular rendition added overall strength and protection to the final form, giving this rebind a lasting, durable feel.
To the fingertips, the feel of the leather Diego chose is somewhat close to the goatskin of some Cambridge Clarions I’ve seen, if only a bit more subtle in the grain pattern. He also gave the cover a gorgeous tooling line, an eighth of an inch from the edge, further adding to the luxury of the stately black leather. In my own view, the tooling looks great in black, and I do think that Diego specializes in jet black and dark brown leathers. This is just a personal, aesthetic opinion of mine. Diego can order any leather color or texture that you want, or even work with one that you send him by mail. I’ve even seen Diego transform some couch leather for another customer into a custom Bible skin. But if you should happen to have him do a rebind, I’d say consider the darker leathers as your first choice.
His corner work is utterly superb. I rebind Bibles myself, and recognize instinctively when my own work is greatly excelled. One of the reasons that I don’t sell my rebinds anymore—I mostly give them away—is that I just can’t manage to pull off what Diego does. He’s got the touch. I just…don’t.
In terms of aesthetics, Diego added new white headbands and three ribbons: two black ribbons, and one blue. They are wide and silky. No complaints there. (It’s just my opinion, but I think some Bible reviewers place too much emphasis on ribbons.)
Where this Bible really sticks out among my collection of sacred texts are the raised ribs and the page edges. First, the ribs on the spine are unlike those I have seen anywhere else. Neither R. L. Allan nor Cambridge nor Schuyler are doing ribs like this—and it is a shame, because they are absolutely stunning. The ribs are made by a thick piece of cord under the leather, rising up triumphantly with tooling on either side, creating an almost a pyramid-style look. They are the best I’ve seen. The high end publishers should order a Caloca rebind and tell their manufacturers to replicate this feat.
Second, remember that water-damaged page edging? Diego brought my book block back to its original bookstore red by adding archival ink to the page edges with a cloth applicator. The color is quite august, not the light salmon color of the art-gilding on a Cambridge Wide Margin, but more the blood-red hue seen on older hymnals and Bibles. Personally, I love it.
Does anyone else even attempt what Diego does with the page dying? Give other Bible rebinders a call and ask if they do this, and you are likely to hear silence or a click on the other end of the phone. If you need work done on the page edges, Diego seems to be your best option at this level of skill. He tells me that he can do this underneath gold page gilding without harm, stepping it up a notch. At this point, adding both gold and red underneath is still a trick mastered by very few book artists.
In the interests of transparency, I should mention one flaw. The gold stamping of “Holy Bible” on the spine looks like it is flecking just a bit. Perhaps the texture of the leather prevented the gilding from adhering? Still, the imprint looks satisfying to the eye. It takes some nerve to critique Diego in an area that I cannot even attempt, let alone surpass, myself! This is one area in which I think Leonard’s and AA Leather may be a step ahead.
Any time you have a handmade piece of artwork—and that’s what this is—you can expect idiosyncrasies. That’s why we call them handicrafts, and why they often excel in glory their store-bought, mass-produced counterparts. If you’re worried about the gold-stamped flecking, have Diego dry-stamp the spine without the gold embossing. It looks every bit as regal that way.
When I sent this nearly century-old ASV to Diego, I expected to get back a Bible that I would actively use. But when I saw the finished product, I knew that it would just feel wrong somehow to use and abuse this one too much. It’s just too beautiful. Like Michelangelo’s David, great artwork is better to savor with the eye than touch. So this one is going to end up as a trophy piece in my collection, pulled off the shelf occasionally to photograph and admire, and I’ll send Diego Caloca another edition to rebind in the future. Hopefully I will have the audacity to use that one more regularly! If you are interested in having a Bible rebound by Diego Caloca Jr., please contact him through his Facebook page, Caloca Bible Rebinds.
Matthew Everhard is the Senior Pastor of Faith Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Brooksville, Florida. An ordained Presbyterian minister, he collects, reviews, and rebinds Bibles as a hobby. You can read Matthew’s earlier contributions to Bible Design Blog here.
It’s the beginning of 2016 and Bibliotheca, the Kickstarter project that took the world of Bible publishing by storm over the summer of 2014, raising nearly $1.5 million dollars to print a multi-volume, readable edition of the American Standard Version, still hasn’t delivered the goods. The culprit seems to be mission creep: all the design and printing choices have been made, and now we’re waiting on a revision of the ASV that wasn’t part of the original pitch. This has caused a lot of frustration — a lot of us backed the project in spite of its use of the ASV, not because of it — and a number of my friends have gone so far as to request refunds. Since I backed Bibliotheca on Day 1 and wrote about it extensively for Bible Design Blog (you can see my coverage here), I get polite e-mails on a regular basis asking whether I’ve given up on ever seeing the end result. And I get a few not-so-polite ones suggesting there is egg on my face for promoting Bibliotheca to my readers.
The fact is, I haven’t given up on Bibliotheca, and I want you to know why. First, I need to clarify a few things. I don’t have any insider information about the state of the project. All I know is what has been released to the public. Although I was in touch with Adam Greene during the fundraiser, I have not heard a thing from him since it ended. I’m in the same boat as the project’s other backers. If I’m not giving up, it isn’t because I know something you don’t. It’s because I’m putting a different interpretation on the knowledge we have in common. Fair enough?
So here are the six reasons I haven’t given up on Bibliotheca:
1. I haven’t given up on Bibliotheca because, where Kickstarter projects are concerned, late deliveries are the norm. Of the four projects I backed in 2014, none of them delivered by the deadline. The earliest arrival hit my doorstep six months late. None of them, when they finally showed up, was a disappointment. Now Bibliotheca is the last one I’m waiting on, and they’re currently talking as if the set will be in our hands by mid-year.
2. I haven’t given up on Bibliotheca because mission creep isn’t always the kiss of death. I hate mission creep. If Adam had asked me, I would have told him the most important thing following his unprecedented success was to deliver what was promised in the time it was promised. Use the leftover funds to pursue bigger projects in the future. Instead he started thinking about how to upgrade every aspect of Bibliotheca, and then made the decision to abandon the light update to the ASV originally pitched to backers in favor of a deeper revision. The thing is, mission creep of this nature, while it delays the end result, also improves it. And some of the best results in history can be attributed to mission creep (see the Emancipation Proclamation).
3. I haven’t given up on Bibliotheca because Adam Greene seems intensely committed, and that makes a difference. Some of the disillusionment with Bibliotheca stems from the belief that his huge success led Adam to take his eye off the ball. I’ve even seen some people online speculating that Bibliotheca would never ship and Adam would take the money and run. I don’t understand this, frankly. The reason for the delays strike me as the result of the fact that, for Adam, this is a life goal, an obsession. I’m sure there were people telling the Pope that the Sistine Chapel would never be finished and Michelangelo would disappear with the money and sun himself on the Lido. Meanwhile the maestro was wiping paint from his eyes and saying, “It’ll be finished when it’s finished.”
4. I haven’t given up on Bibliotheca because, obviously, I’m still in love with the concept. You’re talking to a guy whose life work centers on making the Bible readable. If the original pitch had included the caveat that Bibliotheca wouldn’t ship until this summer, I still would have backed it.
5. I haven’t given up on Bibliotheca because its influence has been positive. Call it self interest, but I’d been blogging about readable Bible design for seven years by the summer of 2014, and I’ve now had more conversations with people in publishing about making my own dream edition a reality than in all that time. Way more. And Crossway recently announced the release of their own multi-volume Reader’s Bible coming in October of this year, which means you can have a Bibliotheca-style edition in a translation you’re more likely to use.
6. Finally, I haven’t given up on Bibliotheca because I’m actually looking forward to discovering how Adam’s revised ASV will turn out. When the project passed the $1 million mark, I remember people saying that this would give Adam the change to license an in-demand translation, the assumption being that he’d settled on the ASV because it was royalty-free. Based on the way he talked about the translation, though, I figured that was unlikely. While I am not nearly as excited about the American Standard Version as he is, I can relate to the impulse that led Adam to love it and want to reintroduce it to the world. And if the result ends up finding favor, the extra investment made in creating the revision could make a kind of sense: Adam could license it, or release new editions in different formats.
Those are all the reasons I haven’t given up on Bibliotheca. It’s not that I’m not frustrated, it’s just that the frustrations seem understandable to me, and haven’t blunted my desire to see the books on my shelf. If you feel differently, no problem. My goal isn’t to convince anyone to see things my way, just to explain why I feel the way I do. Whether you backed the project or not, the good news is, we can expect more reader-friendly editions of the Bible in the future. While they may never supersede the classic reference format, I have hopes that at long last readable Bibles, which have come and gone over the years, will carve out a sustainable niche.
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