Crossway’s ESV Single Column Journaling Bible
Single column settings
Single column Bibles were a rarity until recently. The success of the Message Remix brought them into the mainstream, but a number of years passed before other translations got into the game. The first efforts, while promising, did not quite manage to pull off the difficult balancing act inherent in rendering the vast text of Scripture in readable novel-like page spreads. That’s when I started to worry.
Bible Design Blog, from the start, was about advocacy. While I try to take a live-and-let-live approach, the fact remains, the thing that motivated me to start writing about the Bible was how badly designed most Bibles are … assuming the Bible is meant to be read. If you’re read BDB, you know the mantra. Most Bibles are designed as reference works, resembling dictionaries more than they do novels. While layout isn’t the only factor that influences readability — and motivated individuals can adapt to even the worst layouts — it stands to reason that if the Bible is meant to be read, we ought to prioritize design decisions which enhance the reading (as opposed to the reference) experience.
Unfortunately, good design doesn’t end with single columns. If it did, then every novel would be well designed. Handing someone a flawed single column design with the promise that it will enhance readability is a recipe for disappointment. A well-designed two column setting will be more readable than a badly-designed single column setting. What we needed was a variety of well-designed single column settings.
And then it happened. Crossway released the Legacy ESV and Cambridge started pumping out the Clarion. Both editions were elegantly proportioned and addictively readable. After using them for a bit, whenever I had to return to the old double-column settings, I felt like I was going back in time. If you were using OS X on a Mac circa 2002 then found yourself having to navigate a friend’s Windows 98 machine, you know what I’m talking about. The experience was so frustrating you’d want to hug your friend and say, “Don’t worry. The future won’t be like this.” So if you’re still using a double-column Bible, just imaging me hugging you now. Feel reassured?
Enter the Single Column Journaling Bible
The Single Column Journaling Bible came along not when I was gasping for hope, but after I felt sated. I had the Legacy. I had the Clarion. The thing that got me pumped about the Single Column Journaling Bible wasn’t actually the single column … it was the red cover. I had no idea that my first experience with the SCJB would be so thrilling.
What the Single Column Journaling Bible has that the Legacy and Clarion lack is this: it’s really, really inexpensive. For about $20, you can have a well-made hardcover with a sewn binding that opens perfectly flat right out of the box. The single column setting is text-only, printed beautifully in nice dark type on cream paper that reminds me of the Message Remix. Both the red and the black editions are styled to resemble the popular Moleskine notebooks. Spend a little more money and you can get one with a wrap-around natural leather cover similar to those Italian leather journals sold at Barnes and Noble.
The price point and styling make the Single Column Journaling Bible the perfect edition for introducing new readers to the single column experience. I’ve been recommending them like crazy to everyone who will listen. They represent a true attempt to create a reader-optimized Bible. The layout is reader-friendly, the distracting apparatus is kept to a minimum (chapter and verse numbers, section headings), and there is a reading plan in the back.
And did I mention that the SCJB opens flat? As in, turn to Genesis 1.1 and it opens flat. Every book should open flat like this, but most don’t. To me, this is one of the most desirable qualities in a finely made Bible. And make no mistake: this $20 edition is a finely made Bible. In terms of quality, it really delivers.
(Well) Made in China
The Single Column Journaling Bible is printed and bound in China, which gives me the opportunity to make a point. A lot of people dismiss Chinese-made books out of hand, as if their source alone disqualified them from the running. I don’t want to get into a debate about globalization. We all have our reasons for feeling as we do. But this edition proves that quality and affordability aren’t mutually exclusive. The real question, I suppose, is why aren’t all the current crop of Chinese-made Bibles this good, not to mention the ones made elsewhere?
Not to belabor the point, but if you took the SCJB book block, bound it in goatskin, and gilding the edges, I think we’d be falling all over ourselves to praise the thing. Frankly, I’m falling all over myself just as it is. This edition includes just about everything I want in a Bible, and excludes everything I don’t.
The only change I would make is this: I want Crossway to delete the lined margins, move the headers and page numbers in line with the text, and issue the same edition without the note-taking function. (The upcoming Heritage edition, in other words.) The result would be a high quality single column edition the size of a thick trade paperback that would open flat in your lap and stow perfectly in a book bag. The perfect go-anywhere Bible.
In fact, I like this idea so much that I took matters into my own hands and, with the help of a guillotine paper cutter, made the conversion myself. But that’s a story for a future post.
What I Like:
An affordable price.
A beautiful single column text setting.
An edition that opens flat from Genesis 1.1 forward.
What I Don’t Like:
A lined margin for note-taking that makes the Bible an inch or so wider than I’d like.
The fact that all Bibles don't open flat like this.