This offering from R. L. Allan adds a luxury binding to the Anglicized edition of the NIV Proclamation Bible, published by Hodder & Stoughton. The edition is available in four colors: black, brown, crimson red, and the navy blue of the review copy pictured here. They list for £140.00 from R. L. Allan direct, and $219 from EvangelicalBible.com. Whichever color you chose, the Bible comes with a semi-yapp cover, art-gilt edges, three ribbons, presentation pages, maps, and lined notepaper in back. Inside the back cover you’ll find a stamp proclaiming ALLAN FIRST EDITION.
The Proclamation Trust developed this Bible for Hodder & Stoughton with expository preaching in mind. In addition to section and book introductions, it includes essays on the reliability of Scripture, how to find the “melodic line” when studying or teaching a particular book, how doctrine is developed from the text, how to prepare a sermon, how to lead small group and one-on-one discussion, and much more. The editor’s preface sums up the approach this way: “If you have ever wished you could have just a few minutes with an expert at the start of your journey into a passage of the Bible, then here is a study resource which provides just that.” Preachers and teachers will appreciate the NIV Proclamation Bible especially, though the material is accessible enough for any reader to enjoy.
Ian Metcalfe oversaw the development of the NIV Proclamation Bible from the Hodder end before taking over the reins at R. L. Allan, which adds to the significance of the project in my mind. For those of us who would love to see Allan develop and publish its own book blocks to go with the luxury bindings, this hints at what could be.
The NIV 2011 text itself is set in an attractive two-column layout by Blue Heron Bookcraft. I rave about the text setting every time I see it, and have done so for years despite the fact that I much prefer single column layouts. What’s the appeal? Maybe it’s the dotted lines that set off the center column references. I’m a sucker for details like that. Perhaps it’s the typeface — I am especially fond of the way those boldface section headings jump off the page. Whatever the reason, hats off to Blue Heron for design work that has stood the test of time and almost persuaded me — almost! — that I can live without a single column.
There are a few quibbles to make, though. Ever since my interview last summer with Bibliotheca’s Adam Lewis Greene about his decision not to justify the text, the gaps between words in justified text columns have been jumping out at me. Once they whispered, now they shout. A narrow column of justified text can’t help inserting wider gaps between individual words to balance things out. Reading the NIV Proclamation Bible I found myself noticing the occasional gap, not to the point of distraction but certainly more than I would have in the past. Another thing that always bugs me is when a two-column setting imposes awkward line breaks on versified text, especially when it results in a single word dangling alone on a line to itself. While the Schuyler Quentel seems to avoid this, I noticed it a number of times with the NIV Proclamation Bible, as in the photo below:
The typeface is Versa Pro, which is familiar from other text settings (for example Nelson’s single column NKJV, later reprinted by Schuyler). The The book block is printed by CTPS in China. Since I haven’t seen any indications otherwise in the product descriptions, I assume the paper spec — a 35 gsm sheet from Spain called Especialprint — is the same as the Hodder editions.
For some of you, I know China-printed book blocks in a high end binding are a deal breaker because they’re received as cheap and therefore incongruous with the nice cover. I’m not trying to win anybody over — it’s an old argument and I respect all sides — but I have to say that this Bible doesn’t feel cheap, not on the outside and not on the inside. While I would have preferred consistent line matching and less ghosting, my reading experience was good, comparable to what I’ve had with Crossway’s China-printed book blocks. The print impression is nice and dark, and consistent from page to page throughout my review copy, which, combined with the 9.3 pt. type makes the NIV Proclamation Bible a fairly easy read.
The product description gives the page size as 9″ x 6″. The cover on my review copy measures 10″ x 6.75″, and the book is right at 1.5″ thick. While that’s not compact, considering the fact that you get 9.3 pt. type, an outer margin that runs 0.75″ wide, and a bottom margin clocking in at 1″, it’s still pretty handy. Since the book opens flat on a podium or tabletop, you shouldn’t have any trouble teaching or preaching from it. Too big for casual carry, perhaps, but for its intended purpose the NIV Proclamation Bible works quite well.
Turning our attention to the binding, one thing that really stands out about the NIV Proclamation Bible is the rounded spine. If you ask me, every Bible ought to have one. Here’s a photo to help illustrate what I’m talking about:
A rounded cover doesn’t mean anything. Plenty of rounded covers conceal flat-spined book blocks underneath. What we’re talking about here is the rounding of the book block’s spine, which changes the profile of the block when viewed from top or bottom. Instead of a rectangle with ninety degree corners, both ends curve in the shape of a C. Rounding the spine is an additional step, and while I wouldn’t go so far as to say that a flat spine connotes inferior quality, the rounded spine is one of those bookbinding grace notes I appreciate more and more as the the step is increasingly neglected.
The edge-lined cover in natural grain Highland goatskin makes for a limp Bible. As always, the fit and finish on this London-bound book is impressive. Because Allan bindings are consistently beautiful, there’s always a danger of taking their loveliness for granted. The details here are truly splendid, even up close.
The limp Allan binding inspired by first experiments with Bible yoga, and the NIV Proclamation Bible doesn’t disappoint on this score, either. You won’t encounter many situations in life that necessitate rolling your Bible backward into a leathery cylinder. Rest assured, though, should the need arise, you’ll be ready:
The only gripe I have with the navy blue binding is the black liner. You know how I feel about black liners inside non-black covers. Look, here’s the deal: sometimes black is the closest match available in a limited range of options. I get that. But I want publishers to exhaust their options before settling for black, because it just looks lazy. A navy lining would be lovely in this Bible. Personally, I’d have gone with scarlet to match the ribbons, but then I’ve always loved those staid navy blazers that blow open to reveal a retina-scorching red lining. The way I’m coping with the black liner in this case is simple: I pretend it’s midnight blue.
Why would you spend over $200 on this edition when you could pick up the Hodder version for a lot less? If the font size and extra margin aren’t a major draw for you, it’s not an unreasonable question. Here’s the way I see it: an investment like this makes sense when you find the Bible you’re going to be using day in and day out. The aesthetic pleasure we derive from a well-made book isn’t hedonistic self-indulgence. To me it’s akin to the satisfaction a craftsman feels when working with good tools.
And this is a good tool. It feels right in your hand, it feels right as you flip the pages and scan down the columns. The Allan formula has been refined by now to the point of rock solid consistency. Their Bibles are dependably fine. If you’re intrigued by the idea of a Bible put together with expositional preaching in mind, and plan on using it on a regular basis, the R. L. Allan NIV Proclamation Bible will make a wonderful companion.
BibleExchange.com is an eBay for Bibles. It’s much more than that, too. Paul Tanca and Bobby Hanson, long-time members of our community of Bible enthusiasts, have helped connect a lot of people to the rare and out-of-print Bibles they’re seeking. Their contribution via the Bible Exchange group on Facebook has been a real help. Now they’re taking on a new venture, creating an online hub for fine Bibles the involves hosting auctions, providing educational resources, and even retail sales.
The site launches on March 1.
Over the past few weeks I’ve had the opportunity to talk to Paul and Bobby a couple of times both about their passion for fine Bibles and their shared desire to serve the growing community of collectors and readers. Hearing their plans, I couldn’t help getting very excited.
I clicked through a beta version of the site and it’s impressive. Taking on eBay sounds ambitious, but their lower fees and custom interface should be a help to sellers, while the knowledge base and the social component will be a plus for buyers. So do yourself a favor and check out BibleExchange.com. Let Paul and Bobby know you’re rooting for them.
Way back when, I was pretty much a lone voice when it came to writing about the design and manufacture of quality Bibles. It’s not like that anymore, and hasn’t been for awhile. Against all my expectations, an ever-expanding network of enthusiasts has grown around Bible Design Blog. There are other blogs, there are online discussion groups — in short, a community was born. Now I’d like to showcase some of the voices of that community.
One way I’m going to do this is by inviting people whose work I’ve admired to contribute guest posts to Bible Design Blog. Today I’m sharing the first one, a thoughtful feature by Randy Brown, creator of BibleBuyingGuide.com. I think you’ll enjoy what Randy has to say.
BY RANDY BROWN
Starting with One
Like Mark, I’ve spent a lot of time and research trying to find that ‘One Bible.’ The Bible I could do everything with. It would be the Bible I read from, carried with me, studied from, studied in, taught from, and preached from. I searched for a long time for this one Bible and now I don’t believe it exists.
I found many Bibles that had features I liked, but I never found a Bible that had all the features I wanted. If I liked the font for reading, it was either too large to carry or had nothing else in it. If it had everything in it I wanted, the font had to be small to make it all fit.
This is the problem of the “Jack of all trades” Bible. A Bible that tries to fill every purpose and do everything doesn’t really do any one of them well. What’s a better solution? Use more than one Bible. Figure out how many different ways you use a Bible – what all of your different needs are – and use the best Bible you can for each purpose.
How many Bibles you need depends on how you use your Bible. I will use myself as an example and show how I use my Bible. This will determine what my needs are, how big or small it needs to be, how large of a font I need, and what tools I need it to supply.
Here’s what I use my Bibles for:
Let’s take a closer look at each of these uses.
One for Reading
When I’m doing my everyday reading I like to use a comfortable font. Sometimes I read my Bible at my desk or at the table. In this case, the size of the Bible doesn’t really matter. Most of the time though, I like to lay the Bible on my lap and read from my favorite chair. Sometimes a little kitten wants my lap. And of course its little kitten friend also wants my lap. And then the kitten’s momma. The next thing I know I have a kitten on my shoulder, one on my lap, and the momma cat laying like a baby across one arm (okay, I’ll admit she’s spoiled a little). Now I need to hold the Bible in one hand while I read.
That’s not a Study Bible. It might not even be a Bible with large print. It’s definitely not a large Bible. Also, I don’t need extra information distracting me and trying to tell me what to think about a passage. I just want to read. This Bible might not even need references or a concordance. Or verse numbers for that matter.
So I need a Bible just for reading, with a nice enough font and no distractions. This most likely won’t be the Bible I use for sermon prep or for preaching from, and I might not carry it with me.
One to Study In
I like marking in my Bibles. Wide Margin and Journaling Bibles are great for this. It’s a way of inductively studying God’s Word. It also helps me find things quickly as I’m scanning the page. I like making chain references and writing definitions. A Bible that I’ve written all of my notes in isn’t a good choice for reading. I like to read a Bible unhindered – without any distractions. I need one that I can write in and mark up and it won’t be my reading Bible. This could be the Bible I preach from, but it’s probably not the Bible I do my daily reading from.
One to Study From
For study I like Bibles that make life easier without giving me the answers (or their version of the answers). To me a good Study Bible is a Bible that gives you good tools to do your own study. This usually means Bibles with charts, topical lists, word studies, etc. — the Longprimer, Thompson Chain Reference, and Hebrew Greek Keyword Study Bible are a few good examples. They’re not exhaustive, but they do have some good tools. Some of the tools don’t take up much space, but they can get quite extensive. For example, the Thompson Chain Reference has an archaeological supplement that takes many pages. I like to be able to go to a chart to quickly find any miracle or parable of Jesus. That’s good to have for study and sermon prep, but I don’t need to have that information with me when I’m out somewhere. I don’t need it when I’m holding my Bible in my hand for my daily reading.
The same can be said for Study Bibles with commentary. I love extras, but I don’t always need them with me. I especially enjoy archaeological facts. I enjoy using Bibles that are filled with archaeological information. Information about cultures, places, historic events, and facts about everything. I also like Hebrew and Greek word studies, topical lists, dictionaries, and maps. They can’t really replace the tools you would use as your desk-reference material: commentaries, concordances, dictionaries, etc. They just provide some good basic info in one convenient volume. If I use a Study Bible for study and prep, I’m just as likely to use more than one.
The more I carried these features around with me the more I realized I didn’t need to have it with me. These things are great for study at home, but if I’m sitting in the pew, or standing behind the pulpit, the chances of me needing a full bio of Xerxes is, well . . . I don’t. Okay then, that means I don’t need to carry a study Bible. Those can stay at home.
One to Carry
I love reading the Bible in the car when I’m waiting for my wife and her mother to finish their shopping. (I love the reading part, not the waiting part.) I’ve tried every type of Bible I own — well, except for a gigantic loose leaf from Hendrickson. That one won’t fit in the front seat. I find that the personal size or smaller is perfect for front-seat, behind the wheel reading.
Phones and tablets are convenient for this, but I like my Bible to look like a Bible. I want others to see that this book is still being read. This has sparked many conversations in parking lots that never would have happened if I was holding a phone. I also don’t want to worry about a battery. I’ve left home thinking I could just use my fully charged phone to read from only to find that some app was draining power so fast that it wasn’t usable by the time I got there. Now I take a printed Bible.
If I’m just reading, then I only need a good text that’s comfortable to read and hold. Every now and then someone will ask a question that I need to look at the verse to answer. If this happens I might need a good concordance, a topical index, harmony of the Gospels, charts of parables, and so on. I decided I wasn’t going to carry these tools for ‘just in case’ when I can look up anything I need to on my phone (fully charged with no apps running in the background, of course). If I did want these tools I would use a hand-sized Bible like a Cameo, Brevier Clarendon, Clarion, or similar. This Bible needs to be easy to carry and read. Basic tools are fine, but not necessary.
Sometimes I don’t feel comfortable carrying an expensive Bible. Sometimes I like to have a ‘beater’ that I can throw around and not worry about what happens to it.
One to Preach From
Every preacher is different. My preferences might be completely different from yours. I know they’re different from Mark’s — the present-day writer, not the Gospel writer. (I’ve read somewhere that they’re not related, but I haven’t confirmed that myself). I prefer to preach from a verse-by-verse format with columns that are not too wide. Why? I wear bifocals and if the columns are too wide, the edge of the column is out of focus and it’s hard to read without moving to the side a little (very minor complaint, but still). Single column paragraphs can be too wide for me. Also, if I’m reading at an angle I tend to not know which line to start on when I get back to the start of the next line.
Verse numbers can be difficult to find and I spend an extra second or five looking (an extra pause can be a good thing, though). I like to place my finger on the verse where I’m stopping. If I have trouble finding the reference that can be difficult. This is partly my inexperience with paragraph format behind the pulpit. It’s also partly that I’m always using a different Bible, which keeps me from having any kind of location muscle memory. I’ll settle on one soon, though. Then I’ll remember where all of the verses are. I keep telling myself that. With that said, I love paragraph format for reading. The text flows much better. So, I like having at least one of each format.
Having commentary, study tools, maps, and character bios is nice for personal study, but I don’t need them behind the pulpit. The Bible I prepared my message in will most likely be a different Bible than the one I’m preaching it from. For sermon prep I need tools, but for preaching I don’t want any distractions.
One to Teach From
For teaching I might actually use a Bible with distractions in it. I might want chain references, word studies, maps, character studies, etc., to help me bring out a point in more detail. I might teach from a Study Bible, or the Bible I write my notes in. I might read a quote from a note or an article. I might teach directly from a chart. If I decide to use a Study Bible to teach from, I’m just as likely to use more than one. Although, I might only use one at a time. This might be the Bible I study from, but it isn’t the Bible I read from, carry, or preach from.
It would seem then that an electronic Bible would solve all of these problems. You can use a tablet or a smartphone that’s easy to hold in one hand. You can have as many translations as you want. You can make the font any size and style you want. You can add your own notes and choose to see them or not, you can color-code, underline, highlight, etc., and turn them on and off as you want to.
While an electronic Bible would solve these problems they also bring with them other problems of their own. The first being the most obvious: battery life. I’ve charged my phone and left the house without taking a Bible with me because, “I’ve got my phone. I’ll just use that.” Only to find that by the time I got to where I was going my battery was dead because of an app running in the background.
Then there’s the distraction this causes to others. People look at you and wonder, “what’s he doing?” I like it to be obvious that I’m holding a Bible. This alone is a witness to others.
I love being able to carry 50 study Bibles in my pocket; I just don’t want that to be the only format I have with me. I love electronic Bibles and I use them, but they will never replace my paper bound Bible. I don’t choose one or the other — I choose both.
For on the go I like using a good basic Bible without all the extras and then use my phone if I need that bio of Xerxes.
Perhaps the best reason that anyone would need more than one Bible is so they have access to more than one translation. My church uses the KJV as our primary Bible. I love the translation. It’s beautiful to read and it sounds right to me. However, when I’m teaching or preaching I sometimes like to bring in other translations just to add clarity. Old English isn’t as easy to understand as modern English (well, most modern English).
Even for personal study, looking up a verse or passage in a different translation is a great way to get clarity. I like to have one primary translation, and then one or two supporting, and reputable, translations to add variety.
No translation is perfect as words can have a range of meanings. To make things worse, words can change meaning over time. Multiple translations can help clarify passages of Scripture and help you see a verse in a different way. There is also the point of manuscript variance. It isn’t usually a doctrinal issue, but there are variants and having a translation based on a different manuscript can be helpful in understanding these variants. It also helps to know what others are reading.
From One to Many
I started out looking for one Bible to rule them all and quickly had to use more than one because no one Bible fits every purpose. There are many different needs and it is sometimes best to have a specific Bible to fit a specific need. Having to use more than one Bible to meet these needs is not a burden. There is true virtue in using more than one Bible – whether it be size, features, tools, translation, a look and feel that melts in your hands and calls you to it, or one that you can use anywhere without worrying what happens to it.
I need one for reading, one to study in, one to study from, one to carry, one to preach from, one to teach from, and another translation to support all of these uses. Some of these uses can be combined. My daily reader can be my carry Bible. I can use the same Bible for sermon prep and marking. I can use the same Bible for study that I use for teaching. I’ve preached from all of them, but I prefer to preach from a large print Bible with no distractions other than what I’ve written myself.
That can be a lot of Bibles to buy and keep up with, but each one would suit its purpose better than any other. Sure, I could simply pick a Longprimer, Concord, or Westminster and be satisfied. After all, those are amazing Bibles. However, in our world of choices, and for all of those vastly different uses for a Bible, it’s a good investment to own and use more than one instead trying to find that one Bible that I could settle for that would do many things but none of them well.
Today’s guest post is by Randy Brown, creator of BibleBuyingGuide.com. Randy reviews Bibles in all price ranges to help people make the best choice for their budget. His mission is to promote Bible reading and study, and to share quality publishing.
Message from Randy: I’d like to give a special thank-you to Mark for allowing me to guest post on Bible Design Blog. It is truly an honor. Thanks Mark!
How about you? Have you been able to find that one Bible that does everything you need it to? Do you use more than one?
It’s time to answer more reader questions. Two of them hinge on binding (if you’ll pardon the pun) while the third centers on compact Bibles. There’s also a tip below for people who find the nearly-ten-year’s worth of information on Bible Design Blog a bit … overwhelming. Check it out:
THE JONGBLOED HINGE
John Felson wants to make the best of things: “I just got a Bible with the stiff Jongbloed hinge,” he writes. “Do you have any advice on breaking it in, and how to make it not so stiff?”
First, let’s take a closer look at the phenomenon. Jongbloed is a high end outfit in the Netherlands that does excellent printing and binding for, among others, Cambridge, Crossway, Schuyler and R. L. Allan. One downside I’ve noticed in some of their recent edge-lined editions, though, is the use of some very stiff, inflexible “mull” to attach the book block to the cover. Mull is a sort of netted fabric glued to the back of the spine of a block to create side wings for attaching the outer cover. (If you want to dig deeper into bookbinding, here’s an explanation of how edge-lined bindings work, and an example of some primitive rebinding of my own which includes photos of some limp, flexible mull.)
There are two issues related to the black mull (#3 in the photo above): first, its extraordinary stiffness prevents the book from opening flat, a nuisance with thick book blocks like the Schuyler Quentel and a downright menace with lean ones like the Heirloom Thinline pictured above; second, if you pinch the spine along the length of the cover, you may hear a high-pitched squeak pitched somewhere between the creak of a bridle harness and the sound of blue jeans sliding on vinyl upholstery. If you use pressure to force the mull flat — it really wants to retain its clamshell curve at all costs, so pressure will be required — the fabric retains the new shape. When you close your Bible, the cover bows out like a sail in a light breeze.
The limpness of an edge-lined cover calls extra attention to the stiff hinge. It is the nature of these bindings to languish and swoon in your hands like a aesthete overcome by the sight of some unexpected beauty. The stiffness of the mull slips a starched shirt over the aesthete’s head. He can still swoon, but there’s a crick in his back.
Is the stiff hinge a necessary evil, as some have speculated? Bindings need strong reinforcement, especially when the book block is heavy. The seam between book block and cover is a traditional failure point, and while these bindings may not open flat, their sturdy construction suggests they’ll never fall apart, either. I’ve heard that argument. There’s just one problem: strong hinges don’t have to be stiff. It looks to me that the same benefit could be had with a more flexible material. In addition, if you’re thinking extra strength is the rationale behind the stiff hinge, how do we explain a svelte featherweight like the Heirloom Thinline getting one, too?
Printing can be a slow business, with editions in the works for months or longer. I suspect that, in time, now that the issue has been raised, a solution is just around the corner. In the meantime, there’s John’s question. Is there any way to alleviate the stiffness?
Whether we’re talking about stiff covers as a result of thick book board under the leather or stiff hinges as a result of inflexible mull — whether it’s the material itself or its interaction with glue that makes it so rigid — my standard advice is the same. The solution is … use.
In this case, a lot of use.
The Heirloom Legacy has seen a lot of use from me since I first reviewed it last year. That’s the post where I first went in-depth on the stiff hinge. There I made some suggestions about how the hinge might be tamed.
My first attempt involved isolating the hinge and working it back and forth gently to try and loosen it up. I did this by pinching the endpaper on either side, then followed up by running my finger down the gutter to open the hinge up. The results weren’t very impressive: mostly this just made the hinge stick out more, bowing the cover. My second method seems to work better: I opened the Bible as flat as it would go, then applied gentle pressure to the highest point either side of the gutter, pressing them flatter. Repeating this process every 200-300 pages or so, I worked from the front of the Bible to the back. While this didn’t fix the problem, it did result in a marked improvement.
That remains good advice, but I have to tell you, the improvements I experienced following my second method are about as good as it’s gotten so far. Admittedly, I switch back and forth between Bibles a lot more than the average person. Someone using only the Heirloom Legacy since October might have seen the hinge chill out a bit more. (If so, I’d love to hear about your results in the comments.) My experience so far suggests that it’s a long road, and the thinner your book block the more conscious you’ll be of how much progress you’re not making. I hardly notice when I’m flipping through the Quentel, but in the Heirloom Legacy I still find myself flattening the book by hand in a fit of mild frustration. The Heirloom Thinline? Let’s not go there.
OMEGA GOATSKIN VARIATION
Remember what I wrote just above about the join between book block and cover being a common failure point on bindings? Tranwei Yu had precisely this problem with Crossway’s Omega Thinline — the first Crossway x Jongbloed collaboration, which I wrote about in August 2013 (a review that noted the stiff hinge, by the way). Problem is, when the replacement copy arrived, the grain on the cover looked totally different. Along with the photo below, I received this question: “Is it just a difference in natural grains or have the new ones been pressed/stamped? And is there any quality difference in being stamped vs. natural?”
I’m a novelist by trade, not a tanner, so keep in mind that my observations on leather are coming from an enthusiast rather than a professional. I try to be objective, but my own tastes and preferences can’t help coloring my judgment. That said, let’s take the questions in reverse order.
Are stamped grain leathers inherently inferior to natural grain ones? Not necessarily. If we were talking about corrected grain leather used to make shoes, I would tell you to stay away from that stuff, which is stiff and likely to crease rather than flex. But bookbinding is a different world. There are some beautiful high end leathers with stamped grain — for example, the River Grain goatskin Leonard’s Book Restoration used to rebind my original Crossway Legacy. The effect there was so subtle and the cover so limp that I wouldn’t have believed the grain had been manipulated if Margie Haley hadn’t told me. I’m also a huge fan of the Water Buffalo grain covers you see on some vintage Cambridge Bibles from the 1970s. It’s true that stamped grain can make a leather stiffer than its natural grain cousin, but it doesn’t have to, apparently.
Now to the main point. In the photo above, are we looking at one natural grain cover (right) side-by-side with a stamped cover? I’m not sure. Grain can be tight and regular-looking and still be natural. The variation of grain on a leather hide has to do with what part of the animal the skin covered. Roll out a full hide and you’ll see rough, uneven grain with the long furrows notable in the right-hand cover located toward the edge of the hide, with the smoother, tighter grain toward the center. That’s why certain high-end makers of leather goods do not use certain portions of the hide — the rougher grain doesn’t lend itself to a polished bag. I believe there are also some concerns about strength when it comes to load-bearing products (not relevant to this discussion). So it’s conceivable for two covers cut from the same hide to look very different, one quite irregular and rustic, the other smooth and regular.
That said, the Crossway Heirloom covers I have personally handled seem pretty consistent, and since they haven’t been promoted as natural grain goatskin I assume that they aren’t. It possible the Omega on the left, from a recent cache that turned up at Crossway, were bound later in the same goatskin as the Heirlooms, which would account for the different look. [Update: Beth Rhodes comes to the rescue, assuring me that both the Heirloom and the Omega use natural grain goatskin.] From an aesthetic standpoint, I prefer the look of the cover on the left — but I realize there are a lot of you who love the deep, rough grain and irregularity characteristic of some natural skins.
A TOTE-TO-CHURCH BIBLE
Jahmah stumbled across Bible Design Blog in search of a large print ESV, but that’s not all she’s looking for. “I still want a compact Bible I can tote to Church,” she writes. “I could probably spend days lugging around your blog so I thought If you had time if you wouldn’t mind throwing a few suggestions my way?”
Okay, so let’s get one thing straight. I want you to spend days lugging around my blog! Please, I beg you. I can’t stress enough how much I want you to wander around and spend hours luxuriating in my prose. What can I say? I’m a writer.
Here’s what I’m going to do, though: first, I’ll provide a tip for people trying to narrow the search down, and then I will save Jamah days of lugging Bible Design Blog around by making a couple of compact ESV suggestions.
Here’s the tip: Use the drop-down menu in the upper right corner of the blog to navigate through topics. You can select by translation, by publisher, by layout, and even by the type of leather used in the binding. If the volume of information on the site is daunting — and I suppose it is, given how long I’ve been doing this — that drop-down is your best friend.
Now for the recommendations. The Deluxe Compact ESV would be the obvious choice, even though it’s not available in a fine binding. I had one rebound by Leonard’s in tan pigskin, easy to slip into a jacket pocket and go. R. L. Allan did some lovely ones, too, though they’re now out of print and command nice prices.
When I’m looking for a pocket-sized ESV, though, my usual choice these days is the genuine leather ESV Pocket New Testament. I can’t tell you how much I love this affordable single-column NT (with Psalms and Proverbs). Enough to take a chance on having to rely on the pew Bible should I want to look something up in the Old Testament.
The Single Column Heritage ESV would be a fine choice, too, though my preference is for the Cambridge Clarion (either the brown calfskin or the one I had rebound by Leonard’s as a brown hardcover).
If you need a full Bible and both the Heritage and Clarion don’t seem compact enough, I would strongly recommend my former stand-by, the Cambridge Pitt Minion. Small and thin, it gets the job done, if you have eyes to see … the tiny type, I mean.
“I’ve read what you said about Bibles being designed like dictionaries,” writes Bradford Taliaferro. “Now that I have this Bible — I get it! Reading the Bible doesn’t seem like work anymore.”
Bradford’s reaction echoes sentiments I hear all the time. People accustomed to the old dictionary-style layout of Scripture are surprised what a big difference seemingly minor changes like paragraphed text and a single-column layout make to the reading experience. The Bible that revolutionized Bradford’s reading wasn’t the radically sparse ESV Reader’s Bible. No, it was the Cambridge Clarion NASB. The Clarion is still a reference edition with chapter-and-verse numbers and cross references, and while the proportions are elegantly balanced, no one is going to mistake it for a large print Bible. Still, the single-column, paragraphed design transformed the experience: Reading the Bible doesn’t seem like work anymore.
Mark Strobel shared a similar story with me. His eleven-year-old son Max started using a single column Crossway Legacy ESV in his Christian Studies class. One night, with the Legacy still at school, Max had to do some reading in a double column thinline. Without any prompting from Dad, he volunteered these observations: “I like my new Bible [the Legacy] because it’s more like reading a book and there’s nothing that gets in the way of what I’m reading. I also like the paper better than this one. It’s thicker.”
“For Max, this is all about reader intuition,” Mark explained. “We haven’t had any conversations about book design and, as far as I know, he isn’t reading your blog under his pillow at night.”
Of course, for all the benefits of reader-friendly design, the fact is, there people who end up preferring the traditional two-column approach. Jason Engel, whose kindness facilitated our glimpse at the St. John’s Bible, was surprised when his time with the ESV Reader’s Bible didn’t end as expected:
I was really excited to try the ESV Readers Edition, and committed to a month to give it a work-out. About 2 weeks in, I wanted to give up on it, but felt constrained by my personal commitment. At the end of the month, I put it away and haven’t touched it since. It felt really uncomfortable reading from it. I was so relieved to get back into a double-column Bible with chapter/verse numbers and footnotes. Honestly, that response really surprised me.
Jason wasn’t skeptical about reader-friendly design. He was excited to try it. Unlike Bradford and Max, though, the experience didn’t pan out.
The thing is, reader-friendly design doesn’t begin and end with setting text in a single column. Setting text in one column doesn’t automatically make it reader-friendly, and choosing two columns doesn’t ensure unreadability, either. Two-column settings can be reader friendly. Just look at the Schuyler Quentel: by moving the cross-references to the bottom of the page and working hard to find a good ratio between column width and the number of words per line, the team at 2K/Denmark has delivered a very readable two-column reference edition. The text setting of the NIV Proclamation Bible (which I’ll be writing about soon), a favorite layout of mine over the years executed by Blue Heron Bookcraft, is a little more traditional but still congenial for reading. I wouldn’t describe either of these as “reader’s editions” in the purest sense, but they balance the twin objectives of reading and reference in a way that prevents the latter from undermining the former.
Design is a complex process where many different variables must be balanced. There is as much art to it as there is science, and with art you can break all the rules and succeed, just as you can keep them all and fail. At the simplest level, I believe that by designing Bibles to look like the kind of books we read rather than the ones we look things up in, the net effect will be a better reading experience. The intuitive response of readers like Max convinces me this is so. That’s why I’m passionate about the need for pure reader’s editions. We have only scratched the surface where such Bibles are concerned.
But reading isn’t a specialist pursuit. Every book must be as readable as possible, which means traditional reference Bibles can become much more conducive to immersive reading without sacrificing their reference function. The point is, if you’re looking for encouraging signs on the readability front, you can’t limit yourself only to novel-like text editions (as much as I love them). We are actually seeing gains in a variety of formats, single and double column, and while we have a long way to go before the prevailing culture shifts, the effect of reader-friendly design choices is being felt across the board.
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