As I mentioned earlier in the week, my brown goatskin Pitt Minion has served as a mainstay during the past four years. If you had told me in 2008 that this would happen, I would not have believed it. Frankly, I hated the thing at first. Hate is a strong word, but you have to understand, I had such high hopes for the brown Pitt Minion. I'm not a black Bible kind of guy, nor am I a stiff cover kind of guy. So I needed the Pitt Minion to be non-black (check) and soft (uncheck).
While the cover wasn't as stiff as some late nineties calfskin I could mention -- so stiff you could put an edge on it and slice fingers -- the Pitt Minion wasn't soft. It could stand all by itself, which is a great thing if you're a toddler learning to walk. Not so much if you're a high-end Bible.
"Don't think I'm going to treat you special," I told the Pitt Minion. "'Cause you're not special. You're stiff." True to my word, I twisted the cover, bent it, curled it, rolled it up like a newspaper -- and I did all this with white-knuckled intensity becasue I didn't care what happened. If I ripped the cover off, if I tore the binding, none of it mattered.
A great man once said -- was it Bono? -- that karma is getting what you deserve and grace is not getting what you deserve. In the case of the Pitt Minion, I received grace. All this abuse didn't destroy the little Bible. It made the Pitt Minion better. I can't exactly recommend the procedure ... but it worked.
If I had to describe my Pitt Minion's cover today, I'd called it "rubbed." It looks well-handled, because that's exactly what it is. All that twisting -- along with more conventional use -- has resulted in the cover wrapping around the edges somewhat. There's a little pinch at the spine. Near the headband and along the top edge, there are some pale nicks in the leather.
No, the cover didn't turn limp. It still possesses enough of its original rigidity to support the text block in my hand. But I've found I quite like that. Part of the break-in process involved softening the cover. To be more precise, I was bending and stressing the board underneath. Part of the process was also, in some esoteric sense, making this edition my own.
There's a tendency for those of us who appreciate well-made Bibles to consider them as objects to collect and admire rather than use. All bibliophiles are prone to this. Michael Russem writes about the phenomenon in the Fall 2007 issue of The Bonefolder in a piece called "The Failure of Fine Printing." See if this rings a bell:
Because we are so accustomed to mass market productions, the physical elements and processes traditionally chosen for fine press books -- handmade paper, letterpress, and hand bindings -- are foreign to the average reader and thus call too much attention to themselves, over stimulating the senses and spirit. It is impossible to handle them without relishing in the deliciousness of the materials -- though all the while feeling panic over the possibility of damaging these precious items. It is difficult to imagine curling up in bed with a full leather or a delicate paper binding as one would do so readily with a paperback. Because the editions are so luxurious and often unwieldy, it is impractical and terrifying to read these book. People are often afraid to even touch them.
The end result, with apologies to Augustine, is that we take, but we do not read. Ironically, in pampering "fine" books this way, we are giving in to the assumptions that drive mass market consumerism. Equating quality with luxury, perpetuating the idea that some things are too well made to actually use, is what keeps the abismal standards prevalent in the industry alive. And Russem is talking about true fine press books. By his standards, the high-end Bibles we cherish are mass produced.
Above: Note the light dots near the head and where the top layer has flecked away.
When I stopped caring about preserving the Pitt Minion, when I stopped caring even what happened to it, I discovered this little Bible really was made to be used. It hasn't fallen apart. There aren't any missing pages. The ribbon hasn't even frayed significantly. The abuse hasn't ruined this Bible's looks. In fact, to me, it looks much finer than your shiny new ones in their glossy protective boxes.