Saturday, June 17, 2017

ESV Wide Margin Reference Bible - Top Grain Leather (Crossway) - Review

Wide margin Bibles are a recurring option in most publishers' rotations, much like "red text" editions. Much like those "red text" editions, appreciation of the format is largely contingent on personal taste and usage patterns.

The principle purpose of a wide margin edition is to provide the reader with enough space at either side of the page to annotate the text with his or her notes, essentially creating one's own running commentary or the Biblical text. As such, the format is a favorite among preachers and divinity students, offering ready access to notes, as well as those readers who wish to personalize their Bibles with prayers, devotions, etc.  The marketing pitch is that such a format allows for deeper engagement with the text. There is some truth to that, however, much like religious experience, engagement with the Biblical text has varieties - if one is most accustomed to the Biblical text in a liturgical context, one's deeper engagement with text will stem from some form of recitation or chanting rather than annotation. Nevertheless, wide margin Bibles have their utility and an audience that appreciates them - indeed, some examples of personal annotations in a wide margin Bible demonstrate a fairly elaborate categorization system demonstrative of some series hours spent with the text. You have to give some credit there.

Keeping with the tradition of wide margin Bibles, Crossway has a wide margin variant of their reference Bible format. This version comes in the usual variety of formats Crossway provides (synthetic, genuine leather, Top Grain, and Goat Skin). This review focuses on the Top Grain edition, but its layout is demonstrative of each edition.

Fans of Crossway's Top Grain editions will of course be familiar with the binding. Supple black Cowhide with raised hubs. I've previously mentioned that Crossway has to be given some credit for pushing the contemporary aesthetics of Bible production. Its Top Grain editions are a prime example of this. In fact, it is tempting to go so far as to say that Crossway's Top Grain editions have influenced the increasing tendency of publishers to utilize raised hubs on the binding. Some may disagree - however, I would argue that Crossway's impressive market share has made an impact on aesthetics.

It is common that Crossway takes it on the chin a bit for printing in China, particularly for its Cowhide editions. Two points have to be considered in response.

First, RL ALLAN utilizes a Chinese printer for its (more) expensive Goatskin editions. ALLAN often gets a pass.

Second, Crossway's editions are more often than not printed by RR Donnelly. What's so special about that? RR Donnelly isn't a Chinese printer. It is an international printing powerhouse, often contracted for major commercial commercial projects for companies of massive size and scope. The printing is done at RR Donnelly's various printing facilities in China, which support these other major commercial projects. In other words, Crossway's decision by-passed "cheap" Chinese printers and avoided ties to Amity Printing in China.  The quality shows - this is not a cheap production in any sense.

As with all of Crossway's Top Grain editions since the move to RR Donnelly, the leather is sourced by Cromley (another major player). The leather feels slightly less supple than Crossway's exquisite Verse-by-Verse Reference Bible. The difference is notable - but not negative.

The edition is, in keeping with all of Crossway's Top Grain editions, edge lined to relieve stress on the book block, thereby extending the lifetime of the Bible. The interior lining is, I believe, a synthetic, however, it does not add resistance to the binding. The Bible opens and lays flat at Genesis and executes the Genesis-to-Revelation test marvelously well right out of the box. This is one of those traits with Crossway's Top Grain editions that often goes under appreciated - by and large, you don't have to work these in.

The layout is a genuine highlight in the Wide Margin Reference Bible, following as it does the new reference layout. The "old" reference layout originated in 2001 and was a fairly standard example for the time: center column references, textual notes running the bottom of the page, and brief introductions at the beginning of each book. Crossway's new reference layout removes the clutter. The introductions have been removed, thereby eliminating any potential theological presupposition going into the text. These seems to be Crossway's new philosophy - save for study Bibles, the encounter with Biblical text should be on its own terms as much as possible. The references have been moved from the center column to the bottom of each page in smaller font - again, reduces clutter and influence on the reading of the text. The references are better positioned to serve their function. All told, this is a wonderful layout for a double column text, and is duplicated in the "sleeper hit" Large Print Thin line (Top Grain) and the much vaunted Omega (printed by Jongbloed in the Netherlands).

The font is a highly readable 9 pt Lexicon. The paper opacity is high. I am not entirely sure on the GSM. It appears to be in 36-38 range. To this is the added the extra benefit of line matching - between the opacity and line matching, ghosting is not likely to impact one's reading experience.

The words of Christ are printed "red letter" in the New Testament. This is a feature in modern Bibles that I could take or leave, normally leave. As another demonstration of the quality of RR Donnelly's printing facilities, the red print is crisp and clear and does not suffer from looking misaligned with the rest of the text block.

The Bible comes with two black ribbons. The ribbons are typical of both Crossway and Cambridge, namely, notably understated compared with the ribbons provided by other publishers. Crossway's ribbons are functional, and while some reviews have cautioned that one shouldn't get too wrapped up in ribbons, it is worth noting that they are the one somewhat glaring exception in the overall aesthetic experience. Again, it is a quality that Crossway's editions share with Cambridge and the degree to which it impacts the experience largely depends upon how much one values form with function.

The margin area seems pretty standard for wide margin editions. To be honest, I have never been much of wide margin user, but it seems most wide margin users will find this edition sufficient for their needs.

Overall, the Wide Margin Reference edition suitably fulfills its purpose. The major selling point is the use of Crossway's newer reference layout - this said, it will suffice for any wide margin needs.