Imagine the scene: A group of readers from the Bible Design and Binding Blog visit the Holy Land on a retreat, and while trekking through the countryside stumble into an ancient cave full of undisturbed clay pots. Inside, they find perfectly preserved first-century manuscripts of the Old and New Testament. What sort of conversation might ensue?
Reader 1: "This paper isn't very good."
Reader 2: "You're right. I can see words from the other side of the parchment bleeding through. How am I supposed to read this?"
Reader 1: (balancing a scroll in his hand) "It's pretty stiff, isn't it?"
Reader 2: "Here, let's fold the sides over like Bertrand does in the review pictures."
Reader 2: "Wow, I'm not impressed with that."
Reader 1: "No kidding. These scrolls are, like, priceless -- and at that price point I expect quality materials and workmanship. What is that? Bonded parchment? Feels like cardboard to me."
Reader 2: (holding a manuscript fragment to his eye) "I could do without this font, too. It's not exactly readable...."
Reader 1: "At least it's not a red letter edition."
Reader 2: "Indeed."
You get the idea. I'm picking on readers, but let's face it: I'm the king of high expectations. I can imagine the frustration of a Bible designer trying to balance costs and the marketing department's notions of what people want, tuning in here only to find his hard work being compared unfavorably to the Platonic ideal of a Bible. And of course there are the people who stumble upon this site every day, perfectly content with their well-worn bonded leather editions, who if anything consider the pages falling out a mark of distinction, wondering why anyone would major so much on the minors the way we do here.
To all those who wonder, I just want to acknowledge that, yes, I realize my expectations aren't always realistic. I realize, too, that there's something strange about writing so much about a largely unattainable ideal. What keeps me going, though, is the belief that it isn't unattainable -- that, if people only wanted it more, it could be easily achieved.
There is a downside to all this, and I think we should face it head-on. If there's one thing I don't want to nurture, it's a knee-jerk cynicism toward the efforts of people in the Bible publishing industry. And I also don't want to encourage a nit-picking mentality in which even the best editions out there are faulted for not being perfect. Because no edition is perfect.
The best Bibles I've ever handled come from R. L. Allan's -- but they aren't perfect. If you look, you'll find little inconsistencies, little blemishes. What's true of Allan's is even more true of everyone else. One thing you'll see right away if you read the many reviews I've published here is that I've never seen an edition I wouldn't have changed in one way or another.
But that doesn't mean they're all bad. Not by a long shot.
The thing is, I'm in love with books, with their design and form, and as a Christian it's only natural that this love applies in spades to the Bible itself. I'm a reader, a critic and a frustrated designer, and all this channels into my writing. The fact that it resonates with so many of you suggests I'm not alone.
Still I don't want to foster unrealistic expectations, so here are some things to keep in mind:
1. No edition will be perfect.
I've said it before, but it bears repeating. A lot of things have to go right to create a great edition of the Bible. You need a skilled designer with good taste. You need excellent quality control. You need an awareness of what's possible production-wise and a determination to compete with the best. Rarely do all these factors coincide -- and even when they do, you can't please everyone. Practical application: just because we rave about a particular edition here doesn't mean you'll like it when it arrives at your door.
2. Rebinding yields mixed results.
If there is a rebinding outfit that can take your one-off project and deliver Allan's-like results, I don't know about them. So far, every project I've seen has its pros and cons. The quality of materials is improved over genuine leather editions, but fit and finish are sometimes a bit rustic, and the limpness so many of us value is rarely delivered. I have never seen a rebinding project that looked better than the high-end factory editions. So why would you rebind at all? For a better quality Bible with more control over options like material, color, number or ribbons, etc. Practical application: when you rebind, you're paying for options, not perfection.
3. We're a minority
"If only they would listen!" That's a common refrain, meaning if only the publishers would listen to what we're saying here, and start providing the kind of editions we would like. I feel the same way, but the fact is that, no matter how many of us there are, we're still a minority compared to the larger Bible-buying public. The question that occupies a lot of professionals' time isn't how to make the Bible better for people who read it so much as it is how to make it more appealing to people who don't read it. That's a noble goal if you stop and think about it, even when it's pursued via apparently ignoble means. As a result, I feel tangible gratitude when the publishers take our perspective into consideration, even if the improvements are incremental and small. We are idealists speaking to other idealists, after all.
Believe it or not, my goal in starting this blog was not to offer a buying guide or to educate consumers. Rather, I'm interested in bringing together people interested in the topic -- enthusiasts -- and helping to foster a conversation. If it has the side benefit of helping consumers make better choices, so much the better. But it's important to distinguish between the realistic expectations a consumer ought to have and the high standards of a person whose primary interest is in chewing over the ideal form and format for the Bible. The goal around here isn't to promote discontent; it's to share signs of hope.