The life of a Bible reviewer isn't all goatskin and glamor. Sometimes there are difficult tasks to undertake, requiring his utmost resolve. If he lacks backbone -- and in this case, he does -- procrastination intervenes. The Bible he doesn't want to review sits and sits until finally, he shames himself into action.
If you're hunting for a quality NRSV, you probably know the pickings are slim. Harper Collins has come out with some interesting options, but if you're in the market for a sewn binding and leather cover, expect some frustration. The Cambridge NRSV Standard Text Bible with Apocrypha, shown here in black French Morocco, isn't going to help any.
It's a Frankenbible. I don't know how else to say it. The page layout is quite nice, and the paper quality -- at least in terms of whiteness and bleed-though -- is not bad. But something went wrong in the production of this thing. An Amazon reviewer says it was printed in Belarus, and perhaps that's the problem. All I know is, something ain't right. Let's take a closer look.
It opens, but I had a hard time keeping it flat. If you remember Cambridge's French Morocco of a few years back, it was thin and flexible. This is thin. It isn't flexible. It has that stiff, pseudo-bonded feel. The spine won't relax, either. It holds the text block in a perpetual arc, like it wants more than anything for you to close the book.
The close-up (above) might help to illustrate. That's as open as this thing gets. I suppose you could live with that if the cover felt nice, but it doesn't. There's something crude about the production quality, something decidedly un-Cambridgelike. If you've been around the site long, you know I have a deep affection for Cambridge. I like the NRSV, too, and wanted more than anything to like this edition. But it's like a lover who, the moment you overcome your aversion to the last unseemly revelation, hits you with another shocking revelation.
The photo above says it all. REAL LEATHER. Like they knew, given its feel, that you were bound to have doubts. Printed in big letters, too. Emphatic and (again) un-Cambridgelike.
And yet. If you can get past the production quality, the layout itself is quite attractive. A clean, crisp double-column setting. The font is 8.25/9 pt. Photina. Readable, nicely proportioned, an utter contrast with the cover.
The photo below illustrates another problem. In addition to the bowing cover, there's a curious cross-hatch effect on the gilt edges.
You can see it below, too. Art-gilt edges are often called "red under gold." I've started to think of this treatment as "white under gold." Even when the Bible's closed, the odd layer of white is visible here and there. I've never seen anything quite like it, certainly not from Cambridge.
Want to know what it looks like when a Bible fails the Bible yoga test? Here you go. First the lotus position:
And then the aftermath:
This cover is like a sedentary old guy who didn't realize he needed to stretch before exercise, and ended up blowing his knee. The board under the cover doesn't flex well, needless to say.
There are better NRSVs, needless to say. I have a beautiful vintage Cambridge NRSV in Cabra bonded leather that puts this one to shame. But the contrast I want to leave you with is between the two areas this blog concerns itself with: design and binding. In terms of design, there's a lot to appreciate about the Standard Text Bible. Unfortunately, the binding masks those virtues almost entirely.
Did I get a dud? It's possible. But based on what I've heard from others, I don't think so. In this instance, my advice is either to look elsewhere, or pick up the hardback edition, which should give you the benefit of the nice design without the hindrance of the awkward binding.
In closing, two things. First, it pains me to write a review like this. I typically avoid writing about editions that appall me, as opposed to holding them up to potential ridicule. In this case, I think I've given Cambridge enough love that you know how I feel about them in general. This edition is a fluke, and it's best avoided.
Fortunately, Cambridge offers other editions of the NRSV. I hope to bring you coverage of the alternatives in the future.
J Mark Bertrand