Monday, October 1, 2012

The Books of the Bible

The Books of the Bible ("TBOTB") is an effort to format the Bible like an ordinary book. Starting with the text of the New International Version, chapter and verse numbers are removed from the text. A running footer indicates a chapter and verse range, though, so traditional navigation is still possible. Instead of chapters, natural section breaks are indicated by white space and drop caps. Also, books that were originally combined, such as Samuel-Kings, have been re-combined, and are re-ordered to be more chronological. Unlike other, similar efforts ("The Story"), however, this is not an abridgment of the Bible; the whole text is present. As we will see, the result is mostly successful, but not without flaws.

TBOTB is a step-up in quality from Biblica's bread-and-butter outreach Bibles. The paper is quite bright, white, and smooth. It is noticeably thinner than ordinary book paper, so it is not perfectly opaque. There is some ghosting noticeable from the other side of the page, but it is not too intrusive. The paper reminds me of the paper used in my hardcover New Oxford Annotated Bible, Fourth Edition.

I anticipated a somewhat smaller book than TBOTB turned out to be. TBOTB is 6x9 inches, for a nice, classic 2:3 page proportion. It is a bit over 1.5 inches thick, and the page count is 1898. I suspect that there was an effort to keep TBOTB below 1900 or 2000 pages. The result reminds me of the paperback anthology of the Hitchhiker's Guide series that I just finished.

My copy is the paperback version from Biblica (formerly the International Bible Society). However, this is not a cheap, mass-market softcover. It is a heavy stock with a matte finish, full-color graphics, and a leather-grained texture. To me, it feels more like a Flexibind cover than a plain paperback. While no softcover book will be as durable as a hardcover, this may prove to be more durable than most outreach-style Bibles.

Both Biblica and Zondervan will sell TBOTB. My copy from Biblica has a glued binding, but I suspect that the copies from Zondervan will be sewn. The box copy from the Duotone editions (one green, one brown) says that they will "lay flat," which is usually Zondervan's indication of a sewn binding. In addition to the Dutotone editions, Zondervan will have a hardcover edition with the same graphic cover as my paperback one. Biblica's line will include two softcover Bibles (one brown, one blue), a New Testament, and the Old Testament in three volumes. All of the editions will have plain page edges. Editions will range from about five dollars for the paperback portions to forty dollars for the Duotone covers.

I was most anxious to examine TBOTB's page design. The text block is 80% of the width and approximately 83% of the height of the page -- 4.75 x 7.5 inches. The proportion of the text is 1:1.579, which is between the page's proportion of 1:1.5 and the golden proportion of 1:1.618. I do not know if that proportion was intentional, but the resulting text block area is exactly two-thirds the area of the page. In other words, this is quite a full page.

I think that the weakest part of the page design is the size of the margin. The outside margins are 3/8 inch, or 1/16th of the page. The inside margins seem to be about 3/4 inch, approximately double the outside. It seems that the outside margin was sacrificed to keep the text from disappearing into the gutter. The top margin is 5/8 inch, or two-thirds larger than the outside margin. The bottom margin is about 3/4 inch, or double the outside margin. The top, inside, and bottom margins do their jobs reasonably well, but the outside margin is too tight.

If the design of the margins is unfortunate, the type decisions are absolutely correct. TBOTB is set in Adobe Utopia, which is a pleasant, modern serif type. Biblica lists the type size as 10 points, and that would be normal for a book this size. Leading, as I measure it, is 12 points; again, two extra points of lead would be quite right for 10 point text. I do not think that any of these decisions could be improved.

The problem with the choice of margins and the choice of text comes down to readability. A 4.75-inch line is just a bit long for 10 point type. For example, one rule of thumb for line length is 30 times the type size; in this case, that would be a 4.17-inch line. So, the line exceeds one suggested length by about 14%. Fourteen percent either is or is not a big deal, depending upon what you think of the result.

With a text as long as the Bible, however, something has to give. If we made the text area 75% of the page height and width, for example, I calculate the page count would be up to 2,250 pages. Since a compromise had to be made, I am glad that it was not to reduce the type size or the amount of spacing.

How does TBOTB stand up to the competition? Crossway's Single Column Legacy Bible is the same size, and its margins are more generous, resulting in a more attractive page. It uses smaller type to achieve that result, however, and it does have the traditional chapter and verse structure. NavPress's various editions of The Message also remove verse numbers from the text (but place them in the margins). In my opinion, The Message has a better-proportioned page than TBOTB, but, again, achieved through smaller type. There are even options for the NIV, with Zondervan offering Single Column Reference, Single Column, and Giant Print Compact Bibles. However, these do not share TBOTB's features. TBOTB's unique formatting makes it a credible choice, perhaps to have in addition to one of the others.

By way of full disclosure, my copy of TBOTB did not cost me anything. It was not a review copy, and Biblica did not solicit my opinion. I entered a contest on TBOTB's Facebook page and won a copy. Many thanks to Biblica for their addition to my ever-growing collection of Bibles.

Check out TBOTB at: