If you can’t judge a book by its cover, it’s time to hire a new graphic designer. But form and content shouldn’t stop working together once you open the book, either. So many promising book covers have been betrayed by interior design failures. There’s nothing worse than picking up an intriguing title only to find that the book has been cheaply bound, the paper is the wrong weight, or you simply can’t stand the typography, the margin, or the lack thereof.
Not even the Bible is safe. Once sure to be among the most beautiful of books, painstakingly written and illuminated, it has fallen victim to its own success, universally available but printed on impossibly thin paper with minuscule type, bogged down by numbers and notes. But now there’s Adam Lewis Greene, who recently raised well over a million dollars on Kickstarter for his Bibliotheca project, which aims to reprint Scripture in a reader-friendly edition. There’s a lot to admire in Greene’s vision: an original typeface, separate novel-sized volumes, high-quality paper and binding. Other decisions are more controversial: his choice of translation, his omission of chapters and verse numbers. Everything is geared toward readability, but a certain kind of readability: the kind you want from an otherwise impossibly long text: War and Peace, Les Misérables, the Histories of Herodotus. It’s less conducive to study and meditation on a particular passage. But then, this project is not meant to replace traditional Bibles. It’s not a better way to read the Bible, but it’s another way, and it’s clear that the desire is out there for a Bible that you can curl up with on the couch or take the coffee shop without being judged on aesthetic in addition to doctrinal grounds.
But it’s good to know the illuminated Bible isn’t out of the modern picture, either. Commissioned in Minnesota, written in Wales, and completed in 2011, the Saint John’s Bible has been hailed (with admirable patriotism, but incomplete accuracy) as the American Book of Kells, and is welcome proof that Benedictine monasteries are still doing their part to bring us out of the Dark Ages. If you don’t have a copy of the Lindisfarne Gospels on your shelves, this is a good alternative. It’s time to bring back slow writing and slow reading. It’s not too late to kill your Kindle.