Cambridge Clarion KJV in Black Goatskin
As I mentioned yesterday, I was in Atlanta last month at ICRS to promote my new book, Pattern of Wounds. I signed more copies in forty-five minutes than I've probably signed in the rest of my writing career combined. But that wasn't the highlight of my day. Once the autographing ended, it was time to track down two people I've been anxious to meet for … well, for longer than I even knew they existed. Chris Wright, director of Bibles at Cambridge University Press, and Bob Groser his right-hand man, carved out an hour from their busy schedule that turned into nearly two hours. I had the time of my life talking all things Bible.
And then it appeared. The new Cambridge Clarion. Chris produced the black box, sliding it across the table toward me. It was the only copy they had, though they expected a couple more to arrive the next day. In other words, the Clarion was hot off the presses. I opened the box and a golden light shone from within. Angels sang loud hosannas. And I was tempted by the utterly impious urge to take the Clarion and run!
You have to understand, I have been dreaming about a Bible like this for a long time. A classically -proportioned single column text setting with elegant, timeless typography in a hand-sized form factor, beautifully printed and bound. People e-mail me all the time asking where to buy such a Bible and I'm forced to reply, "Well … you can't."
Well … you can now.
Chris and Bob must have read my mind, or maybe they were tipped off by the frenzy of iPhone photos I started snapping. "Don't look now," I said as I twisted the only Clarion in existence into a yoga ball. I was giddy and I didn't want to part with the thing. Even though I knew the quality of the photos wouldn't be very good, I needed something to prove that the Clarion existed, something I could look at afterward to remember fondly. After awhile, Chris glanced at Bob and some non-verbal communication ensued. The end result was, early the next morning, I met Bob in the lobby of my hotel and received one of the incoming Clarions to take with me. That's the one I'm sharing with you.
Think of this as an extended first look. I hope to show you more of the Clarion, the different binding options, in the future, but for now, let's take a look at what I consider to be an utterly successful single column text setting!
From the page spreads I'd seen in advance, I already suspected that the Clarion layout was a winner. The proportions looked right, the font readable, the page clean and thoughtful. But there's only so much you can surmise from a PDF. Until the physical object is in hand, you can't really tell. My first thought in handling the Clarion was: "This feels so right." Then I was amazed at the size. I was expecting a much larger volume, a big, thick edition. In the past, I've written about the trade-offs required when you print a lot of words in a single column format. If you refuse to pack too many words on each line, then you end up with more and more pages — more and more bulk. Yet the Clarion doesn't feel like a compromise. I was expecting to have to put up with some inconvenience to enjoy a proper single column setting. That's not how it is at all.
According to Chris, a lot of effort went into the details, tweaking the proportions until everything worked together. Knowing that a line should not run longer that approximately 65 characters (a more precise measurement than word count), the column width and height were balanced with the type size in mind. "Guess the type size," Chris said. Put on the spot, I finally went with 10 pt. Wrong. The Clarion is set in 8.75 pt. Lexicon No. 1, with adequate leading (i.e., line spacing) for it to read larger. I've been using the Pitt Minion with its 6.75 pt. Lexicon type, so jumping up 2 pt. seemed like absolute luxury.
The Clarion is printed with painstaking attention to detail by Jongbloed in the Netherlands. Knowing how sensitive readers can be to "ghosting" on super thin Bible paper, Chris and Bob pointed out how careful the printers had been to ensure proper alignment of the page, so that printed lines back one another. When you hold out a page, the lines printed on the reverse overlap precisely with the lines printed on front. This helps to minimize ghosting. "You'll still see it," Chris was quick to point out, "particularly in the poetry sections," but that old world printing know-how really makes a difference.
As I've mentioned in the past, one of the advantages of single column settings is the space they afford to poetry. The jagged, abrupt line breaks forced by the narrowness of a double column layout virtually disappear, enhancing the aesthetic appearance of the text. Psalm 60 in the Clarion is a wonderful example:
I'd like to think, too, that rendering a translation like the KJV, which is less accessible linguistically to modern readers, in a more accessible, familiar layout will improve readability. So much depends on hearing the ebb and flow of the language in one's mind, a process the traditional verse-by-verse dice-up mitigates against, at least for readers who haven't internalized the needed compensating measures. Perhaps the Clarion hints at the future of the KJV? I'd like to think that, too. It is certainly a handy volume to take with you into bucolic settings for extended reading:
The Clarion is 7.5 inches tall, 5.5 inches across, and about 1.75 inches thick. That's the scale of a fat trade paperback novel. Compact and slightly hefty, the Clarion fits the hand well.
The single column setting I use most often is my Allan's-bound ESV Personal Size Reference. The Clarion is a bit shorter and thicker than the PSR, but they are more or less comparable. They're both single column reference editions, too, so they make for good comparisons. For the record, despite the shortcomings of the layout, I really like the PSR and have recommended it often. But I think the Clarion demonstrates why a classic, less-is-more approach to design wins out in the end.
The two biggest complaints about the PSR are the small type size (7.4 pt.) and the width of the column, which packs too many words on each line relative to the type size. The Clarion increases the type size and line spacing while featuring a roughly comparable column width. The Clarion's column measures 3.5 inches across while the PSR is a hair wider. The result of these improved proportions is a dramatic increase in readability. (And about a half inch of additional thickness, for those who insist on slimlining.)
Of course, the obvious comparison to make would be to the classic NEB single column setting. First, let's take a look at the hardback NEB with Apocrypha, which is understandably thicker than the Clarion, which does not include the apocryphal books.
Compared to this NEB, the Clarion's shorter, narrower column strikes me as more readable. In addition, the absence of section headings lends the Clarion a cleaner look. While the NEB moves chapter and verse numbers to the margin, the Clarion keeps them in the text. In theory, the NEB's approach offers a less cluttered, less mediated experience of the text … however, I've obviously made the mental adjustment necessary to ignore the interior numbering, because in practice I prefer having them in the text instead of outside. When they're out on the margin, that's where my eye goes instinctively, so they end up calling more attention to themselves than they should. Still, I can go either way. It's a minor point.
Thanks to the generosity of a reader, I have a couple of leather-bound NEBs to use for comparison purposes, too. This one is an Oxford edition without apocrypha, so the form factor is closer to that of the Clarion — just a bit taller and slimmer.
Here's where things get interesting. The NEB column is nearly four inches wide, like the PSR a bit wider than the type size will support. As a result, I found myself prefering the layout of the Clarion, despite the fact that the NEB has always been my "grail layout" for Bibles. In the NEB's defense, I think the proportions of the early 1960s New Testaments are better than the full Bibles that came out later. Still, it's a testament to the thought that went into the Clarion.
As my "Short and Stout" essay argues, the peculiar challenges of a single column layout lend themselves to form factors that are shorter and thicker than what we've come to expect in a world of tall, thin slimlines. With its narrowed column, increased type size, and generous line spacing and side margin, the Clarion really seems to have hit on a sweet spot.
And this brings me to a truly unfar comparison: Clarion vs. Pitt Minion. Needless to say, the Pitt Minion is much slimmer. Surprisingly, though, the two editions are roughly similar in length and width, with the Clarion edging out the Pitt Minion only slightly. This gives you a sense of how compact the Clarion really is, not at all the behemoth I was expecting:
Then again, we all know what it's like to be photographed at an unflattering angle. We'd all look fat standing next to a Pitt Minion:
When you open them up, however, a little extra skin on the bones doesn't seem like such a bad thing. This comparison illustrates my favorite argument quite well: yes, you do end up with a thicker Bible if you move to single column and do it right. But given the same page size, look how much better the reading experience becomes!
I rest my case.
Look, I love the Pitt Minion and use it constantly. It's my knockaround edition, the one I'm not afraid to ding up and damage. And when people ask whether the type is too small, I say, "Of course not." Never mind that when I read from it in class, I'm always holding it six inches from my nose. The proposition behind the Clarion is really simple. What would you say to a Pitt Minion that's much more readable and twice as thick around the middle. My answer is, "Bring it on."
The binding options are familiar from the re-release of the Cameo line — I'll cover the other formats when they become available. The black goatskin is the familiar, edge-lined, liquidly limp cover that's now become standard at the top end of the Cambridge line. It's grainy, stitched around the edges for added durability, and incredibly flexible. The Clarion comes with two ribbons, red ones in the case of the black.
The nice thing about a limp cover like this is how flexible the Bible becomes in your hand. A stiff cover imposes its rigidity on the soft paper block within whie a limp one allows the feel of the entire book to conform to the fluidity of the paper. It's not that hard is wrong and soft is right. Both approaches, when done well, can work great. (And both are challenging to do well.) What I like about the Clarion is that its soft cover makes it easy to half the book size while reading, concentrating on one page at a time:
Not to mention, that grainy goatskin is really pretty:
I mentioned before that the cover is "edge-lined," and Bob Groser gave me a hands-on explanation of what this means. In the photo below, you see what Bible covers look like before the text blocks are inserted. On the left, we have the traditional sort of leather cover. The black boards are covered in brown calfskin, and once the text block is inserted, end papers will cover over the boards. The stiffness you feel when you handle the cover isn't the leather, it's the board underneath. Like a pair of good leather shoes, a cover like this is broken in over time. With use, it grows more supple and flexible.
The edge-lined cover on the right is limp right out of the box. It's already complete before the text block is added. There's no board inside, just a layer of black goatskin on the outside and a layer of black polyurethane liner on the inside, with a cut-out in the middle for the text block to be inserted. Bob was quick to point out that "limp out of the box" isn't always better. There's something to be said for the process of breaking in a Bible. My experience with my Pitt Minion bears this out. When I first wrote about it, I couldn't understand why Cambridge has put such a stiff board under the goatskin. I made breaking that board in my mission in life. Well, mission accomplished. Now I actually prefer that broken-in cover to the limp-from-the-box one. Go figure.
Once the text block is added (above), this is what you get. When it comes to color preference, with apologies to Mr. Ford, I like "any color so long as it's not black." Having said that, black is the classic color for Bibles and here it's executed in a very attractive way.
Like all of Cambridge's edge-lined offerings, this one is ridiculously flexible. It laughs at my attempts to bend it out of shape, pliably flouncing back into its original shape.
To be honest, though, they could bind the Clarion in cardboard and I would still think it was fantastic. The real story here isn't on the surface; it's within. With the Clarion, Cambridge has produced an edition that ticks all of Mark Bertrand's boxes. The fact that they plan to introduce a number of translations in this format suggests it'll be around for awhile, too.
Chris Wright was gracious enough to suggest that all my advocacy for this kind of an edition played a part in the decision to produce it. If so, I am truly honored. As the name suggests, this Bible is a clarion call — not just to the industry but to posterity. This is the sort of Bible we ought to be making and using. And now we finally can. There are more good single column options on the horizon. It's fitting that Cambridge, with its long history of Bible printing, should be in the forefront.
It's a little late to start, but if you had your hopes set on reading the King James Version during its 400th Anniversary, there's no better way to experience it than the Cambridge Clarion.