Grab Your Metaphorical Pitchfork!

Angry-Mob-Playset_2479-l

Above: Angry Mob playset (now discontinued, sadly).

Dr. Mark Ward e-mailed me recently with a link to his newly posted Bible Typography Manifesto. It's "a little tongue-in-cheek," he admits, but it addresses a serious issue: the desire for excellent design when it comes to the Bible. The manifesto is a petition calling on publishers to stop printing double-column text settings in favor of single column ones, and to start providing true reading-optimized editions in constrast to the ubiquitous study-optimized ones. 

If you've been reading Bible Design Blog for any length of time, you know that I'm in favor of single column, paragraphed text settings. My rationale is simple. If you want people to read the Bible, it should look like the kind of book people read (for example, novels), not the kind they ony use to look things up in (for example, dictionaries). Personally, I wouldn't go so far as to ban double column settings, but I think the manifesto gets it right in the virtues it affirms — with one exception, which is the shout-out to the Lexicon typeface as "an exceptionally good typeface for Bible publishing."

As Wikipedia notes, "Lexicon has been designed for optimal legibility, specifically when set very small." I'd rather see type set at a comfortable size than have fonts selected which purportedly make uncomfortable sizes less difficult to read. I have the same feelings about Veritas. This description (from the linked page) sums up the designer's dilemma nicely:

Publications such as books, annual reports, magazines and Bibles rely on narrow column widths to fit the most copy in the least amount of space. This forces the typographer to either reduce the point size of the text to an uncomfortable reading size, or to design with column widths that produce less-than-optimal character counts (45 to 65 characters per line) for legibility, or both.

Don't get me wrong, I understand why these typefaces are considered a clever solution.They make the best of a bad situation. I'd just prefer to fix the situation wheverever possible, rather than yielding to its parameters, even if it means fewer words on the line and the page, and hence a thicker book. Singling out these "legible at tiny size" fonts as being particularly appropriate to the task implies that normal fonts aren't. Given the challenges outlined in the quote above, many a designer would argue that double column settings are an exceptionally good format for Bible publishing. See what I'm getting at?

With that minor caveat, though, I think the manifesto makes a lot of sense. So check it out and, if you're so inclined, sign on. If this thing takes off, who knows? It might be time to organize some kind of Occupy Grand Rapids event! In the meantime:

 

16 Comments on “Grab Your Metaphorical Pitchfork!

  1. I love it! Where can I go to sign this petition? If Crossway is reading this- PLEASE produce a Bible like the ESV PSR Bible, only with a larger font! I don’t mind if the Bible is larger in size. I WANT to read the Bible! Not carry it like an accessory!

  2. Mark, my thanks to you for this design and binding blog! You have taught me a great deal on the subject and I appreciate it. This has resulted in a much lower bank balance in my account :), but more quality bound bibles in my collection. However on the subject of a single column with paragraph setting I must differ with you. While I do like the single column setting, (I preach and teach from an R.L. Alan single column NASB in black Highland goat skin), I do want a verse by verse text format. My Alan NASB single column has the verse by verse format. The reason I like the verse by verse over paragraph is when I need to go back to a verse for reference or find a particular verse, the verse by verse makes it so much easier to find than scanning through a paragraph searching for it. Just my preference, yes single column is great but give me verse by verse. Again thank you for what you’re doing!

  3. John, I could not agree with you more and for the same reasons. I cannot read the bible like a novel. When I read the bible it’s almost always in a study,I’m constantly verse conscience. For me single column settings makes each line to long. Double column verse by verse for me ,but different stokes for different folks.

  4. I certainly agree single-column editions can make each line too long, e.g. by using a 9-point typeface on a 6″-wide page. Just too many words per line to digest. Cambridge seems to “get” this better than Crossway.
    It all comes down to needing about 2000 pages to get a single-column Bible layout right. With the present state of Bible paper, that means an edition will be close to 2″ thick if you want to avoid bleedthrough issues. I think the publishers are afraid the market just won’t tolerate that thick a volume.
    I’m with C Cerna. We need Bibles for reading, not for fashion accessories.

  5. I think I would be more in favor of single column settings if anyone would actually make a Bible that read like a novel. For all of the single column editions that have been and are being made, I have yet to meet one that actually reads like a regular book. I understand why this is, but honestly, until this happens (and the Clarion, while beautiful is not it) I’ll stick with the double columns. Every single column I have handled, including the old NEB, feels like a double column in a single column costume. The closest thing I have seen is the Everyman’s library setting of the KJV. The 3 volume NJPS Tanakh comes close too.

  6. Thanks for the heads up on the Manifesto. I have signed. By the way, does anyone know the deal on the ESV Clarion Reference? Amazon bumped my delivery date again until after Christmas. What’s the hold up? Any real date for release? Thanks.

  7. After all the praise you’ve heaped on the Clarion Bibles, Mark, I’m surprised at your negative attitude toward the Lexicon fonts. Bible design is always a matter of using whatever techniques are available to produce the desired effect in the Bible, including the use of the best fonts for the purpose. So if you want a Bible that’s not excessively heavy or thick, a font like Lexicon can be part of a good solution — not merely “making the best of a bad situation.”
    But if you insist on larger “traditional” fonts, single column text, opaque paper … pretty soon you’ll end up with a book that’s just to big to handle comfortably. Thus you’ll defeat the purpose of having a Bible designed for reading.
    The above are things I’ve learned largely by reading this blog, so it seems odd that now you’re expressing what sound like contradictory views.
    Ah well. This Manifesto, combined with the long delay in publication of the Clarion ESV, is making me wonder if I should cancel my order for the Clarion and just wait for the text-only Legacy ESV from Crossway…

  8. I don’t have a negative view of Lexicon, I just don’t see the value in privileging it above all others, or suggesting that a designer who uses a different font is doing the public a disservice. It’s the difference between saying Sheila’s a nice girl vs. Sheila’s the only girl in the world. The logic I’m always fighting against is that the Bible is a wholly other design challenge to which the ordinary rules don’t apply.

  9. Have you got an early look at the Crossway Legacy yet Mark? I am really curious about the page thickness and a bit frustrated by the delays in the Cambridge. Thanks for your time.

  10. Anyone know of a single-column KJV, sans the intrusions? I saw the one on biblica direct. I wish there were some in print.
    I’m close to thinking that I will take a .doc version and do it myself. On my I was pleased to discover that MS words ‘find and replace all’ easily lets me remove all line breaks, verse numbers (they are in 11_, 12_ format thankfully – and the bible text spells out numbers, right?) Plus, all the paragraph symbols are already there, I just have to replace them with actual breaks, using the same find and replace command, and viola. Maybe also do a select all, italicize and italicize again, and no more pesky italics. Anyone else think this is crazy enough to work?

  11. Anyone know of a single-column KJV, sans the intrusions? I saw the one on biblica direct. I wish there were some in print.
    I’m close to thinking that I will take a .doc version and do it myself. On my I was pleased to discover that MS words ‘find and replace all’ easily lets me remove all line breaks, verse numbers (they are in 11_, 12_ format thankfully – and the bible text spells out numbers, right?) Plus, all the paragraph symbols are already there, I just have to replace them with actual breaks, using the same find and replace command, and viola. Maybe also do a select all, italicize and italicize again, and no more pesky italics. Anyone else think this is crazy enough to work?

  12. Mark — Thanks for the clarification regarding Lexicon. I do agree with you!
    Nathan — The Penguin paperback KJV, an adaptation of the Cambridge New Paragraph Bible, comes close: it has chapter/verse numbers, but the verse number are very tiny, and there are no other “intrusions” in the text. I also have an old abridged KJV called The Bible Designed to Be Read as Living Literature (Ernest Sutherland Bates, ed.) that does away with all chapter/verse numbers, and has an interesting layout and font, though it uses too much italics. It’s worth tracking down — now out-of-print, unfortunately.

  13. Thanks for the response Frank I’ll look into those suggestions. Actually, I started work on a .doc and I was able to get the entire bible removed of the verse numbers. I have it formatted in such a way that I can configure the body text or book numbers entirely to my liking with just a few clicks (I’ve become a wizard with MS office). It’s time to look into fonts next…and design (I think I’ll need different software)…maybe Mark has some good blog posts on this. I’ll look around. This idea of making my own to print out and bind is starting to take off, is anyone else interested?

  14. Nathan, before putting too much effort into your task, you might want to look at what G H Lee of Magnanimous Enterprises has done with the KJV and ASV:
    https://sites.google.com/site/verseless/home
    The page count and dimensions are similar to the Bates Abridgment mentioned by Frank, but with 25% more lines per page and 25% more words per line it makes up for the 33% of the Bible Bates edited out with a slight penalty in readability. (Giving Bates his due, he also included parts of the Deuterocanonicals as well.)
    However if you’d like to make a highly readable verseless Bible with a comfortable 36 lines per page and 16 syllables per line, I won’t mind if it’s pushing 2000 pages long and 3 inches thick. But that appears to be no-man’s land in the Bible business.

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