Certain ratios just seem to work. No doubt there's a mathematic expression of the principle, a variation of some kind on the golden mean, but numbers were never my strong point. All I know is, when it comes to books, some proportions just feel right. While there's no single ideal, if you ask me, we can identify combinations of height, width, and thickness that function beautifully.
Large thinline Bibles are a good example. If it's wide enough and thin enough, something magical seems to happen. Opening it up, turning the pages, letting it hang limp from your hand, there's a mild aesthetic joy in the nuances of handling.
Above: The Oxford combined NRSV with Apocrypha and 1979 Book of Common Prayer (top) may not look sleek and elegant in comparison to the ESV portfolio thinline (below), but believe me, the proportions work.
And I would argue the same thing is true with the small, fat Bible, too. While it may not look elegant in comparison to its sleek companion, trust me, it's wonderful. A thick Bible does what a slender one can't: it fills the hand. Now if that thick Bible is also tall and wide, the mammoth-like result, while impressive to the eye, won't be nearly so pleasing in the hand. It's the added thickness in the small package that makes the difference.
In the photos, I'm cheating, because my example isn't just a Bible. It's an NRSV with Apocrypha. As if that's not enough, it also has the 1979 Book of Common Prayer inside. This thing is not just carrying a few extra pounds -- it's chubby in the extreme. But I have to cheat to make my point. We tend to think of a Bible's thickness as a negative. When the footprint is small, though, it becomes an advantage, especially if the Bible is very thick. In this case, the measurements are roughly 6.25" x 4.75" x 2".
Above: Say hello to my little friend.
The Oxford suffers a little from trying to do too much. As far as the daily office is concerned, having the complete text of Scripture under the same cover is convenient, but in practice the type is rather small, and of course it's set in double columns -- because double column setting allows smaller type. A single column setting, to be readable, requires a minimum type size and an optimal column width of around twelve words, give or take.
Back in October 2007
, I suggested the size of this combined NRSV/BCP represented an ideal for a future single column text setting. I still believe that. To my eyes, this doesn't work:
But this does:
If instead of a combined NRSV with Apocrypha and BCP, this was a single column text setting of the Bible sans Apocrypha, I think the proportions would end up more or less the same, and you'd have a very readable end result, probably the perfect "reader's edition." Just to give you an idea, here's how much of the book is dedicated to the BCP, and how much to the Bible:
Assuming its true that form follows function, this form seems ideal for the single column text function, because it allows for a handy format, an appropriate type size, and the right column width (so the small text isn't stretched across a too-wide page). It's no accident that the most iconic of the contemporary single column settings, the Message Remix hardback, has similar proportions -- albeit a bit larger (and thinner).
Above: Smaller and thicker than the Message Remix hardback, the NRSV/BCP form factor strikes me as ideal for a no-nonsense single column text setting.
Short and stout -- not exactly the idyllic proportion, in most people's minds. But I'm here to tell you that it works. While I wouldn't insist on every edition adopting this form factor (or any other, for that matter), I think it would be a good idea for designers and publishers looking for a way to create aesthetically pleasing and practical single column settings to take a closer look at this package. It just might do the trick.