I was recently interviewed by Randy Brown of the Bible Buying Guide. He asked me about Bible editions of all sorts.
I now own seven separate reader’s Bibles (not counting the many I can make digitally in Logos and other apps), and I wish for the world to know that I got on the reader’s Bible bandwagon before there was one, back in 2006 (?) when it was more like a soloist cart.
And the sad/funny thing was that until I received the CSB Reader’s Bible this very morning, the first reader’s Bible I ever got was the best. It was my TNIV Books of the Bible—despite its odd paperback covers and its odd typeface that couldn’t decide whether it wanted to be serif or sans—that I have always felt set the gold standard for how to lay out Bible type to assist readers in garnering meaning. Its progenitor, Christopher R. Smith, author of two books on Bible typography, did a simply excellent job
The ESV Reader’s Bible was too regimented: its line breaks and indents weren’t flexible enough; and I didn’t like its use of chapter numbers—I felt like someone forgot to tell them the whole point of a reader’s Bible. My NIV Books of the Bible was well done overall, but its faux-leather vinyl cover was so bad that it genuinely got in the way. My Holman KJV Reader’s Bible made the inexplicable decision to divide all proper names into syl´-la-bles (including “Je ´- sus”!). It’s ugly, needless, and inimical to the elegant reader’s Bible concept. A multi-volume reader’s Bible (such as the ESV and Bibliotheca) is cool to look at, but unwieldy: I’m too accustomed to having the whole Bible in my hand. I have a soft spot in my heart for the old New English Bible I somehow inherited; it was typographically elegant and managed to keep verse numbers off to the side. But the NEB translation is of comparably little utility for me. It’s too idiosyncratic for daily use.
CSB Reader’s Bible
A single-volume, single-column reader’s Bible which worked hard to use all the layout conventions available to it—that I hadn’t seen since 2006. But the CSB Reader’s Bible has done it. And with a much better typeface, a subtle and effective use of color, and a beautiful cloth-over-board construction.
The cloth over board is an apparent copycat move; the ESV Reader’s Bible pulled that one off successfully years ago. But the cloth-over-board slipcase is a nice touch. This is a nicely made Bible. The blue and gray is striking—along with the blue highlights in the interior.
And it’s that interior that has me most excited. The paper is bright, the reading is easy. The balance of white space and text block is right. Even without line-matching (more on that in a moment), any ghosting was not distracting for me.
What pleases me most about the interior is the number of conventions the layout pros took advantage of when constructing the reading experience. There are paragraph breaks, of course, but also subtle indents of various kinds that assist the reading of poetry. The use of these tools for conveying meaning is careful and beautiful—and helpful. That’s the point. And it works.
My wife noticed something while reading the Psalms that I thought was perceptive: the sparing use of indentation. She’s been reading the ESV Reader’s Bible for several years now, and she felt that the CSB’s practice of keeping poetic lines left-justified almost all the time was better than alternating the poetic lines like this:
Here is the first line of a parallel couplet
Here is the second line.
Here is the first line of another parallel couplet
Here is the second line of that second couplet.
She (and I) find that a bit jarring. This is nicer (though notice that the fifth line at the top of the righthand page is indented—so this convention can be used when necessary):
I also think the drop caps marking chapter divisions are a brilliant compromise with the reality of chapter divisions; I do find that it can be a bit overwhelming in my otherwise excellent TNIV to have so much text unbroken by visual ornamentation. The detriment of having a few bad chapter breaks is outweighed by the benefits of 1) breaking up the text on the page periodically with some kind of beachhead and 2) giving me some kind of visual foothold (mixed metaphor alert) for navigating the chapter divisions—I bring my reader’s Bible to church.
My only complaints
I have very few complaints.
- In Proverbs, I still prefer the more subtle line breaks between couplets in my TNIV Books of the Bible to the full, empty lines in my new CSB. This is my biggest (and only significant) complaint. The TNIV managed to kept couplets (and triplets, etc.) together while still collecting those couplets together in bigger paragraphs. Look:
- Line-matching on obverse and reverse sides of pages is absent. I had thought that was now standard, that Crossway would force everyone else to catch up. I’ve often felt, however, that line-matching runs counter to something more important in Bible design: the ability to vary the height of line breaks. My old TNIV, again, did this so well—especially in poetry.
- I still prefer the elegance (I’m sorry for repeating this word; it must be done) of Lexicon to the typeface used in this edition. 2K/Denmark is awesome, but their Bible Serif feels too squeezed laterally to me. It enables them to get more text on the page, and the overall feel is still much superior to the Optima-like face used in that TNIV.
- On balance, I prefer numbering the Psalms, as the ESV Reader’s Bible did. Paul did it (Acts 13:33). “Psalms” are not “chapters.”
- I’m also ambivalent about the CSB’s overall practice (in every edition I’ve seen) of bolding Old Testament quotations in the New Testament. It actually works better in a reader’s Bible than in any other kind of edition, I think, because the bold isn’t as loud when it isn’t competing with other intrusions into the text block (chapter and verse numbers, superscript numerals and letters, footnotes, etc.).
Get this Bible. The CSB is an excellent translation, and this is the best way to experience it. I’m reading through the CSB this year (just reached Zephaniah), and I’m thrilled to use this physical edition rather than my (also very nice) Logos app on the iPad.
Disclosure of material connection: I read a free review copy; but I hope anyone who reads this review can tell that there were no strings attached. I like this Bible a great deal but would change some things if I could.
A HUGE thank you to my mother and my mother-in-law, who have each watched my Why Bible Typography Matters Sunday School over 5,000 times!
But it’s time others watched it, too. It’s got some stuff you need to hear and, I think, will enjoy.
Also parts of it are funny.
I’ve recently done a little volunteer consulting work for a Bible translation organization. Volunteer, as in I’m not sure they wanted it or will do anything with it but they don’t yet have a “no unsolicited opinions” sign up and I couldn’t help myself… Here’s what I sent them. It’s a suggestion for four Bible typography options that might be presented to national church leaders as they prepare to print their new Bible.
I think at least four major options need to be made available to national church leaders, with explanations of pros and cons. More explanation under each point could be given, but below are the basics.
1. Double-column, every verse a paragraph
- Pros: This format looks like what most Christians around the world, as I gather from talking to translation consultants, expect a Bible to look like. This is important for successful mass adoption, particularly in places which have had other Bibles (perhaps in colonial or majority languages).
- Cons: This format is not conducive to good Bible reading; it invites misunderstandings, such as the tendency to lift Proverbs 24:16 out of context.
2. Double-column, verses collected into paragraphs
- Pros: Uses page space (and therefore paper) economically; collects verses into meaningful units, aiding smooth reading.
- Cons: Makes best practices for laying out poetic portions of Scripture convoluted, because hanging indents don’t work well on narrow lines; makes it difficult to lay out languages with long words in an aesthetically pleasing way.
3. Single-column, verses collected into paragraphs
- Pros: This balances smooth reading and ease of reference.
- Cons: “Wastes” paper, particularly in the Psalms and other poetic sections of Scripture.
4. Single-column, verses collected into paragraphs but without verse divisions
- Pros: This is the set of conventions Westerners have arrived at over the centuries which, in the collective judgment of compositors everyhwere, is most conducive to good reading. Verse divisions are a comparatively late addition to Bible publishing, and increasingly people around the world can use their phones if they need to know verse references.
- Cons: No national church that I know of in the world has gone without verse references in their Bibles in living memory.
On balance, I think I’d find myself recommending option 3 most often—because it would take bold leadership and a unique situation to make option 4 possible. I’d love to see what a church might do with option 4, however. And I wouldn’t push a group of national leaders who wanted option 2. Or even option 1. As long as they had a chance to go through the options in this post.
I’m being generous and hopeful with four stars; I love the idea of this KJV Reader’s Bible, and the the execution is both brilliant and deeply flawed at the same time.
Let’s start with the good.
Most importantly, this is a reader’s Bible: no chapter or verse numbers clutter the text. We get nicely paragraphed (though see “THE BAD” below), single-column text and a much smoother reading experience than most double-column, every-verse-a-paragraph settings of the KJV. I’m so glad this new reader-Bible fad—which I hope transitions into a lasting tradition—has reached the KJV (although this was done for the KJV in the 1930s, I happen to know). This is the best way to read the Bible, though to study it we still have, and ought to have, study editions with chapter and verse divisions, footnotes, cross-references, and lengthy notes. Reader’s Bibles complement study Bibles; they do not threaten to replace them.
2K/Denmark did the typesetting, and I know them personally. They do good work:
- The typeface for body text is well balanced between clarity, beauty, and spacing. It feels slightly compressed, but that helps the Bible avoid being massive.
- The printing includes the now fairly standard line-matching, so that lines of text on the back of a page don’t bleed through the space between lines on the front.
- The copy I received for review has a beautiful binding of reasonable quality and comes in a sturdy box.
But when a review has to praise the box in order to have sufficient bullet points under “the good,” you know “the bad” is coming.
The worst thing about this Bible is truly and gloriously bad: all proper nouns are split into syllables and given accents. So, yes, there may be some readers out there who need some help pronouncing Me-phib´-o-sheth or Ma-her´-sha-lal´-hash-baz´.
I have no idea what anyone was thinking. I strongly suspect no one was.
But who in the world needs help with “Je´-sus,” “Zi´-on,” or “Je-ru´-sa-lem”? The practice is needless, distracting, and ugly. Some genealogy pages in the OT look like somebody dropped black sprinkles all over them. I thought the whole point of reader’s editions was to get rid of visual clutter so readers could focus on reading. No explanation is given for the pronunciation helps, so I have no idea what anyone was thinking. I strongly suspect no one was. It’s that bad. (At least “God” and “Lord” are one syllable, or we’d be in a truly impossible mess.)
The setting of the Psalms is another terrible problem. Each psalm is one big, fat paragraph. No poetic indents. No numbering of the psalms (the way other reader’s editions do).
Reading the Psalms this way—though, thankfully, Psalm 119 is divvied up according to stanzas: one paragraph per stanza—reminds me why I prefer the conventions of indentation most modern Bible editions use for the Psalms. The paragraph format in this new KJV reader’s Bible makes the psalmists feel like choppy writers. The reason my favorite method of settings the psalms is still the one chosen by The Books of the Bible is that there really is a small pause built into every parallelism: right after the parallel lines, you’re supposed to stop for a tiny moment before moving on. A paragraph, however, induces you to keep moving till the end of the thought, the end of the paragraph—only it isn’t the end of the thought. A good psalm setting uses our modern typographical conventions to uncover seams of argument in the psalms. This settings smudges them all out.
Also, I personally found the textual decorations odd. The whole Bible looks classic, so it should remain so. Half-tone minimalist rectangular design elements don’t belong.
I think this Bible is easily fixable, and that a second edition ought to come out soon. Meanwhile, KJV users do have a serviceable reader’s edition, and that’s a step in the right direction.