If the National Security Administration's sophisticated anti-terrorism software could be calibrated to zero in on the phrase "I wish Crossway would do this," imagine how many e-mails, blog posts, and telephone calls would be intercepted. They'd have to hire extra staff. Considering how recent a translation the ESV is, it has a lot of fans. And some of us are, for lack of a better word, obsessive. We focus in on details most people would never notice. We are demanding. As a result, we tend to dwell on what's wrong and sometimes lose sight of what isn't. At any rate, I do. One thing Crossway has done a fantastic job of is offering its editions in a variety of covers. The original Classic Reference setting, for example, is now available in more than a dozen editions. There are over twenty thinline editions to choose from. You even get two options on metal-bound ESVs, choosing between the sleek refinement of "brushed aluminum" or the grungy authenticity of "weathered metal."

Journaling ESV 1

The Journaling Bible is no different. My money's always going to be on the original, Moleskine-inspired edition, which I've reviewed here. But if that doesn't float your boat, there are four other options to choose from -- a plum hardcover, a terracota/sage hardcover with elastic strap, a brown leather flap-and-strap cover, and the black calfskin featured here.

Journaling ESV 2

It took me awhile to realize just how magnificent the black calfskin hardback is, because I was blinded by the original edition. As I mentioned in my original review, the Moleskine-cover option emerged from an idea I pitched to Crossway several years ago. For the first -- and so far only -- time in my life, I brought a Bible idea to a publisher and, after putting some thought into it, they responded with a new product. My idea was to put an ESV New Testament, as is, inside a Moleskine cover, so I can't take credit for the whole Journaling Bible concept. Still, I wanted a Bible that looked like a Moleskine ... and got one.

So I didn't really warm to the other options at first. Why would you want a sage and terracotta hardback when there was a black one? Why would you want a wraparound leather flap? Moleskines don't have those, so why should you? When I was asked to suggest other cover options, I made a predictable suggestion: why not a red hardback with elastic strap, to mirror the new red Moleskines? Yes, I know. I'm a broken record.

Journaling ESV 3

So what happened to change my mind? A trip to the bookstore. Over the holidays, I found myself trolling around in section at Barnes & Noble dedicated to journals. Variety is the spice of life, and in spite of my crush on the little black notebooks, I found myself checking out the competition. There were a lot of interesting options out there. Lots of brown leather journals with wraparound flaps. Some black leather hardbacks with exaggerated raised bands. Where had I seen these options before? Oh, right. The Journaling Bible.

Journaling ESV 5

So I took a second look at the black calfskin hardback I'd had for about a year. I haven't taken very good care of it -- you can see a few dings in the leather from my carelessness. Think of it as a patina. I also goofed by storing it for awhile in the cardboard sleeve, which made a nice little line on the cover. But in spite of this, when I looked again at the black calf, I was really impressed. The spine is rather majestic, a bit like a Hollywood prop director's take on an ancient codex. Like the original Journaling Bible, it opens flat and features lined margins for note-taking. I even think the cream-colored pages work better with the leather than with the original. (Moleskines have white pages, after all.)

Journaling ESV 4

Now here's a little mystery for those of you who understanding binding better than I do. When I look at the spine, I see signatures and a layer of what I take to be glue. But I can separate individual signatures and pull them away from the spine until reaching an interior stitch. Like so:

Pulling a Signature

Is the binding glued or sewn, or a hybrid of the two? I'm no expert, but I'd love to know.

Journaling ESV 6

If the Journaling Bible is your thing, but the Moleskine look isn't, this black calfskin hardback strikes me as an elegant alternative. It comes a premium, since this edition retails for more than twice than the original. But I have to say, as much as I like the original, in this case the extra money might just be worth it.