Crossway's The Psalms (ESV) in Black Top Grain Leather

IMG_5890 OVERVIEW

You know I have a soft spot for psalters. They make reading the psalms a delight, and lend themselves to devotional use. The distinction I typically make in the design of Bibles is between reader-friendly and reference-friendly editions, yet where the psalms are concerned, we really need another category entirely -- let's say, liturgical-friendly. In other words, books designed to foster worship. When I learned that Crossway had plans to release The Psalms, I was particularly pleased. Yes, I have other psalters, but none using the English Standard Version. Since that's the translation I use most often, the one used in my church, I could hardly wait. That's why, as soon as I flipped open the clamshell box, I just about cried. This is a beautifully designed and nicely produced book, one I look forward to using for years to come.

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DESIGN NOTES & PAPER

It's the size of a compact Bible, roughly 4.75" x 7" x 1" -- and yes, all it contains are the 150 psalms. The reason it's so large, relatively speaking, is that the paper is nice and thick. Not card stock thick, but near enough. And the type is 11 pt. for easy reading. As you flip through the book, each psalm seems distinct from the others, to be contemplated on its own. In a full-size Bible they tend to huddle together, sometimes several to a page, and it's natural to jump from one to the next as you read. Here the layout encourages spending more time with each psalm, as you would poems in a collection.

While the design is minimal, notice that the footer located on the outer edge of the page includes not just the page number and psalm number, but also the section heading usually placed atop each psalm in the ESV. This feels a little old school, reminding me of the running descriptive headers in an old KJV, and I must say I quite like it. Flipping through the book, these notes function as a helpful way of locating psalms by key words or famous lines -- a service they don't perform when embedded in the text.

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Like the ESV Reader's Bible (the subject of my next post), The Psalms uses red ink to accent the text. Psalm titles and verse numbers are printed in dark red, as are the titles of the four books of psalms. The two editions make nice companion volumes. While there is some show through in The Psalms, it is not pronounced. The thickness of the paper no doubt contributes.

For a sense of this volume's size, I photographed it with three whole Bibles. The Psalms (top) would pair well with the Crossway Personal Size Reference ESV (pictured in brown TruTone), with Cambridge's Clarion, and with the ESV Reader's Bible (bottom).

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BINDING

The limp edge-lined cover is very flexible, and the book feels great in your hands. You can bend the cover back quite easily without putting any stress on the spine itself. The thicker pages don't flop over the way those in a full size Bible would, though. The best way to describe this is to say that while the cover is limp, the book block is merely flexible.

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The binding of The Psalms doesn't open flat without a little coaxing -- or rather it opens, but likes to shift around a little. I pressed it into place for the photo, however. Again, the paper is the explanation: unlike a heavy book block consisting of thin Bible paper, which just plops flat if the cover allows it, the more substantial pages here possess a slight rigidity.

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The page edges are left white, and I think they would benefit from a decorative dye. A traditional red would make a nice contrast to the black cover. While the edges aren't deckled, they are ever so slightly uneven, giving the pages a nice ridged feel when the book is shut. While the top grain leather isn't as desirable as calf- or goatskin, I find it attractive. Crossway has been working with their printer in China to improve the quality of their top grain leather bindings, which use cowhide sourced from leather supplier Cromwell. Clearly, the effort is paying off.

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Depending on whether you choose the black leather cover pictured here or the TruTone option, the street price looks to run from $36 down to $15. For $36, this is a wonderful volume. Like the ESV Reader's Bible, it's one of those editions you want on your shelf just for the pleasure of dipping into, whether the ESV is your main translation or not.

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CONCLUSIONS

If you ask me, Crossway has released three must-haves so far this year: The Psalms, the Reader's Bible, and the Pocket New Testament. I'm so impressed with them that, instead of choosing one to travel with during June and July, I've decided to take all three. All three are well-designed, quality single column editions with competitive price tags. You could buy all three for less than the cost of a single "high end" Bible and have plenty of change left over. Each in its own way points toward the future of physical Bibles in an age of digital books, when what matters most isn't how much data you pack onto the page but how engaging the reading experience is.

Of the three, I appreciate The Psalms for its beautiful redundancy. You don't need a psalter this large -- the psalms are already in your Bible! The only raison d'être for such a book is the pleasure of reading. Only in keeping with my note on liturgical books, 'the pleasure of reading' doesn't quite capture the point. It is the pleasure of worshipful reading, the pleasure of communing with the word that books like this enhance.