ShrinkwrappedIn the summer of 2005, I walked into the office of Crossway's Director of Production Services, Dallas Richards, with an ESV New Testament in one hand and a Moleskine notebook in the other. The idea I pitched was simple. Take the insides of the New Testament and wrap them in the outside of a Moleskine notebook. I'd sent a couple of e-mails with the suggestion in advance, and these -- along with the reviews I'd posted online -- led to the invitation to visit in person.

Everyone at Crossway was receptive to my ideas, but after that visit I never heard another thing about it until, a year later, I received advanced notice that the ESV Journaling Bible was about to make its debut. It wasn't the idea I had pitched, not exactly. Instead of the New Testament, Crossway had inserted the entire Bible, and instead of a single column setting the Journaling Bible features a double column layout with wide margins for notetaking. Was I still impressed? You bet I was. As far as I'm concerned, the ESV Journaling Bible is the ultimate hardback Bible available today, a beautifully produced and usable edition.

HARDBACK BIBLES AND MOLESKINE NOTEBOOKS Some people "get" the Journaling Bible right away. If you've ever used a Moleskine notebook, then this format is a no-brainer. My friend Anthony, who is the king of journaling, dropped me an e-mail the moment his arrived. "Got my ESV journaling Bible today in the mail," he said. "Oh my, it’s beautiful. Now the question arises: Are we actually going to deface these by writing in them? Maybe I should have bought two?" Buying two is the right move. When Moleskines were first re-introduced, I bought up a huge inventory, convinced that something this wonderful could not possibly stay on the market long. I was wrong, thankfully, but I still like to keep blanks on hand just in case. The Journaling Bible inspires similar feelings. I have two of them on my desk right now, one for using and the other "just in case."

MoleskinentLike the Moleskine, the Journaling Bible is a black hardback held closed by a thick elastic band, with a ribbon attached for marking your place. It differs from the Moleskine in two regards: the trim size is squared to accomodate the wide margins and the paper is cream instead of white. Still, it has a nice archival feel to it. When I first heard about the size difference -- the Journaling Bible is much thicker and wider than a Moleskine notebook, not something you could slip in your pocket --I was worried. I'd envisioned the "Moleskine ESV" as a companion for the notebook itself. Instead, by incorporating the wide margin, the Journaling Bible incorporates the note-taking function. Thankfully, the decision works. The result is an edition inspired by the Moleskine, though not a slavish copy of it.

And now a word about hardback Bibles. I first took an interest in them when I realized just how bad the "genuine leather" editions of most Bibles really are. Hardbacks are a functional alternative to such non-functional editions and tend to be significantly less expensive. They're sturdier, too, which is a nice consideration if you're likely to stick your Bible in a satchel along with other books and hit the road. Unlike the average leather and bonded leather Bibles out there, hardbacks tend to lay flat, which is one of my requirements for an acceptable edition. Unfortunately, most hardback Bibles aren't very presentable. Study Bibles are branded with titles and graphics that rob users of one of the Bible's classic characteristics: simple austerity. The thing I appreciate most about the Journaling Bible is that it gives me a clean black hardback that will stand up to some hard use.

OpenTHE JOURNALING IDEA
One of the big "missing links" in the ESV line-up right now is the absence of a wide-margin edition. I'm a big believer in wide margin Bibles, so this omission has caused me no end of grief. The Journaling Bible isn't being marketed as a replacement for a wide margin Bible, though; as the name suggests, it's intended for 'journaling.' In other words, it's not just an edition for teachers and preachers, who like to keep sermon notes and outlines in their Bibles. It's an edition for everyone, a Bible you can read and record your thoughts in. Maybe you'll write notes about the meaning of a text; then again, you might record prayer requests or personal experiences that tie into the reading. The Journaling Bible could serve as a companion to teaching, but it could also be a companion for quiet time.

In a sense, Crossway has re-thought the wide margin concept, moving it out of the specialty realm and into the mainstream. When I was daydreaming about the Moleskine ESV this possibility never entered my mind, but the more I think about it, the more I like it. Wide margin Bibles are sucha great idea, so useful, but most people just don't take advantage of them. The Journaling Bible has the potential to change that.

StaffwithbiblesGOOD DESIGN OVER 'COOL' DESIGN
With the exception of The Message Remix, most of the fresh thinking in Bible design is happening in the "youth Bible" sector, where it is inevitably tainted by a desire to be hip. Youth Bibles represent an adult's vision of what young people think is cool. Sometimes they're right, sometimes they're wrong. But from the beginning of the Moleksine phenomenon, I've been impressed with how interested young people are to good design, not just 'cool' design. The lesson was brought home to me when I was teaching a college Bible study. We hosted a Christmas party which included a sort of white elephant gift exchange, but we had a few visitors and the gift-to-opener ratio was off. I raided my stash of Moleskines, never suspecting that these would end up being the most coveted items of the evening. Without fail, whenever I've mentioned the Moleskine ESV idea to someone under the age of 24, it's been greeted with enthusiasm -- reinforcing my impression that what young people want and what "Youth Bibles" deliver are two very different things. As Gareth Russell notes in his review of the Journaling Bible, "there's no tacky crown of thorns on this cover or Celtic crosses, instead just a thick black elastic band that provides a touch of decoration." Personally, I think Bibles should look like they were designed by designers, not tattoed skateboarders (NB: not that there's anything wrong with that).

OVERALL ASSESSMENT
Obviously, I'm biased. I had a hand, however small, in bringing this edition into being, so I'm naturally going to have a warm and fuzzy feeling about it. But to be honest, I think I could have hated it just as easily as I love it, assuming Crossway had made different choices. Their decision to be true to the quality standards people associate with the Moleskine make a big difference. The willingness to let this thing be sleek and subtle and not to emblazon it with logos and artwork makes a big difference, too. Most of all, though, it's what I didn't expect from the Journaling Bible that makes me appreciate it most: the solid feel in the hand, the fact that it lies flat, the ruled wide-margin columns. The affordable price. The Journaling Bible is one of the most practical editions you can get right now, a wonderful Bible not just to have on your shelf or to tote along to church on Sundays, but to use on a daily basis. It's a companion to a lifestyle of devotion, and that's saying something.

If you haven't seen one of these in person, I enourage you to check it out. If you're like me, I think you'll be impressed. The Journaling Bible will, I hope, be the first of many innovative designs we'll see from Crossway and other publishers in the future.

LINKS
Crossway's Journaling Bible Page | Order at Amazon.com | Moleskine Journals