Oxford NRSV Notetaker’s Bible (Deluxe Cloth)
Know what would make an awesome single-column NRSV? At the risk of killing the suspense, I'll tell you. Start with Oxford's single-column, hardback Notetaker's Bible, lop off the wide margins, and give what's left the Poor Man's Geneva Bible treatment. Or, you could leave it like it is and enjoy a pretty awesome wide margin hardback which, unlike so many hardbacks on the market, is actually made like a quality book. Here it is:
I know, I know. It's a hardcover. And people think I don't approve of anything but goatskin. But that's far from the case. If you read through the archive of posts here, you'll see that I've been a fan of hardcover Bibles for a long while. The problem is, many of the options out there don't live up to their potential. They're glued instead of bound. The boards have tacky artwork printed right on them. They don't open flat. The paper is terrible. Sometimes, having said I like the idea of a hardcover edition, I've found myself in the awkward position of not being able to recommend one.
A QUALITY HARDCOVER
Happily, that's not the case here. Not even close. The text setting is elegant and well-proportioned and the book is nicely produced. So many books these days look like they were made by people who hate books. This one gives the opposite impression. According to the packaging it was made in Korea and uses "thicker paper that prevents tearing and bleed through." And guess what? "Its open margins are perfect for your open mind"!
This is a paragraphed, text-only edition that just happens to have wide, ruled margins in the Journaling Bible vein. It comes with a single ribbon. As the packaging suggests, the paper is nice and white, though you can see some "ghosting" — i.e., the print impression from the reverse of the page shows through. Actually, this is a good example of why I prefer a term like ghosting for that phenomenon, rather than "bleed through," which really refers to whether ink applied to the page (when you write, for example) bleeds through the paper. Oxford isn't claiming the paper is opaque; they're claiming that with "a pen designed for writing in Bibles" you shouldn't experience bleed through.
Above: No concordance, no maps, just a couple of blank pages at the end.
Below: Nice endpapers, too.
DID I SAY QUALITY? THIS IS DELUXE
This is the Deluxe Cloth edition, and if you're planning to use the Notetaker's Bible as is, forgoing my radical surgery and rebinding suggestion, then don't settle for anything else. It's a quality hardback with a luxe feel. The ridged cloth feels great in the hand. The book has a nice heft without being too bulky, thicker but also shorter than your Fagles copy of The Iliad. (You don't have Fagles' translation of The Iliad? Get one, and a nice Odyssey to go with it.)
Unlike the soft leather Bibles I like to pose on the bookshelf, this one I'd actually store there. I would not, however, store it on the radiator (see below), unless the daylight pouring in through the window above truly demanded it.
See what I mean about the cover? Tactile pleasure, but also a good on the eyes. This is a $35 hardback, not some opulent pasha's pillow of a luxury, and yet a little care with the details elevates the whole. The same care has gone into the layout, which is clean and well-proportioned. In recent years, Oxford hasn't been competing much where "nice" editions are concerned. Their NRSVs and prayer books have gotten matte synthetic covers. Here, the utilitarian hardback has been tastefully upgraded in a way that does honor to the book's contents.
Above: It's safe next to the bottled water, too.
IS IT SMALLER THAN A PITT MINION? NO.
Thanks to the thicker paper and the wide margins, the Notetaker's Bible isn't going to win any awards for being tiny and lightweight. While it might look normal next to The Iliad, with a Cambridge Pitt Minion on top, Orson Welles comes to mind. But let's be honest. The application for these editions is quite different. Like other journaling formats, the Notetaker's Bible is more of a compact wide margin. Sure, you can fit a Pitt Minion into tight spaces, but you can't use it for "jotting insights, questions, and reminders," can you? Not unless their super-tiny insights.
FIRST THINGS FIRST
Another unfair comparison, but one that's closer to home: the New Paragraph KJV in its Penguin Classics incarnation. As much as I like the Notetaker's Bible, the more time I spend with it, the more my imagination runs wild, and always in the same direction: toward the shears. I can't help it. I want to lop those margins right off. You see, this is a beautiful single column setting, and while nothing goes with a wide margin like a single column text setting, I feel like the Oxford single column NRSV without the wide margins should have come first. Either the text could have been enlarged, or the book cut down.
Hence the New Paragraph Bible comparison:
Size-wise, they're not far from one another. The Notetaker's Bible is wider, but also thinner. You would expect to open them and find comparably sized text. But thanks to those ruled margins, you don't. Here's what happens instead:
In spite of its smaller page dimension, the New Paragraph Bible gives a lot more space to the text, and as a result it's more readable. Type size on the Notetaker's Bible is roughly 8/9 pt — i.e., 8 pt. type with 9 pt. leading — while the New Paragraph Bible I'd estimate at 9/11 pt., which makes a difference. The extra line spacing aids readability as much as the larger type. Again, you can't really take notes in the New Paragraph Bible the way you can in the Notetaker's Bible. Given the choice, I'd prefer the extra type size and leading.
Not that I'm complaining about this edition. It's nice. But a straight out single-column NRSV text edition would be even better, and in my mind seems to be logically prior. To tie this tangent in a neat bow, I guess what I'm saying is, I hope Oxford will use this setting for other, less specialized applications. (The alternative would be for Harper to print their Standard NRSV on comparable paper with a binding comparable to the Deluxe Cloth.)
DID I MENTION WHAT A NICE HARDBACK IT IS?
The hardback opens flat, even at the extreme ends of the page spectrum, as you can see in the photo above. The text column creeps into the gutter ever so slightly, but it's more noticeable in the pictures than during actual use. For the most part, the print impression in my copy is consistent — and consistently good — though my page 577 is especially dark, making me wonder how much nicer it would have been if every page were the same. (Psalm 58 and part of Psalm 59 are on that page, if you're curious.) I haven't noticed any gray print, though, so this seems like a better/best spectrum, not a bad/good one.
As I mentioned, the margins are ruled. The spacing between the lines is 9 pt., just like the line spacing, which means you'd have to write in miniscule letters. Frankly, I'd dispense with the rules, the way wide margin editions have done forever. If it ain't broke …
Like all single column settings, this one shines in the poetry sections. In this regard, the Notetaker's Bible is superior to the Standard NRSV, which sets poetry in double columns to save space. In design, I believe you should always choose the needs of the page over the needs of the book. Saving space is a good idea, but not when it crimps the lines of poetry. Behold:
MY RECOMMENDATION, IN CASE IT ISN'T OBVIOUS
So yes, I like the Notetaker's Bible. A lot. For NRSV readers, who are typically starved for options, this represents a great one. Look at it this way. The type is larger than the ESV Personal Size Reference, plus you get spacious margins for jotting notes. And in spite of the cost, this edition looks great. You can take it wherever you want — to church, to the classroom, to the coffee shop — and it won't look out of place anywhere.