Last fall I took a look at the inside of a fresh new rendition of the King James Version–The New Cambridge Paragraph Bible. I found it to be a strangely successful combination of seemingly contradictory impulses–refreshingly innovative in terms of its paragraph style layout, yet radically dedicated to the preservation of its ancient source in terms of its reconstructed text. So much for the contents; but what about the construction? If David Norton has sought to restore the KJV as a fine art renovator might restore a valuable painting, how has Cambridge framed the revitalized masterpiece?
Unlike most Cambridge Bibles, this book has been printed and bound by L.E.G.O. in Italy. As a result, the calfskin casing is very different from the calfskin casing on other Cambridge Bibles, such as the Clarion Reference Bible. When I unwrapped the Bible, I was very surprised by how flexible the cover is–by
far the most flexible Cambridge Bible I’ve reviewed, although their edge-lined Bibles are likely to be just as flexible or perhaps more so. This is good for a personal sized Bible like this, as a flexible cover can be more manageable, easier to handle, and more pleasant to the touch than a stiffer casing. The calfskin here is certainly soft and pliable in the hand. Yet, I’m not sure this is an unmitigated benefit. The floppiness seems to result from a combination of a thin leather cover and thin end boards. I’ve not subjected this Bible to my usual crucible of abuse–I treat this one gently because of the cultural and historical significance it holds. I wonder how it would hold up to such harsh treatment. Anyone with first hand experience out there, please feel free to leave some comments below about how your cover has fared! I was also surprised that, unlike the Clarion calfskin Bible, this edition does not have art-gilt edges–although this really shouldn’t be a major issue, in my opinion.
Turning to the inside of the cover, in his review, Mark Bertrand noted several imperfections that, along with similar issues he had detected in another Bible also bound by L.E.G.O., led him to conclude that “L.E.G.O. still has some work to do in the quality control department.” I was curious as to whether I would find the same issues that he had found; perhaps he had gotten a “lemon.” Unfortunately, I did notice the rough cut of the leatherette paper where the leather attaches to the inside of the cover. This is certainly a very minor point, and I would not say that it is a reason not to buy this Bible. Even so, it seems to reinforce Bertrand’s conclusion.
As for the paper, however, I am happy to report that I have found no problems. The paper is opaque enough, considering how thin it is, and the font is bold and crisp, with no broken letters that I have detected. And no page curling. Turning to the inside, this edition follows its larger, higher-end goatskin cousin in including the notes of Norton and the KJV translators (unlike the paperback edition), and it puts these notes on the inner margin. While I personally prefer having any annotations on the outer margin for both aesthetic and pragmatic reasons, it seems that most people prefer to have them on the inside, to guarantee that the text of the Bible itself will not creep into the gutter. For example, one thoughtful commentor on this blog, Brett, says this is a deal breaker for him and that he will not buy a Clarion Reference Bible because of its placement of the references on the outside. For my part, I find the inner-margin annotations to be odd, counter-intuitive, and even sometimes ugly, but I am almost certainly in the minority on this. And, on the whole I can live with the inner-margin decision, and the fact that the notes are included in a place where they are easy to find is the key. So it would seem that Cambridge has made the right choice here.
Lest some of the negatives I’ve noted so far deter you from considering adding this Bible to your library, let me leave you with a couple of things that I think Cambridge/L.E.G.O. have gotten right here. First of all, I absolutely love the slip-case that the Bible comes in; this allows you to protect the Bible while also enabling you to store it on a shelf as you would a hardback. I wish all Cambridge Bibles still came in a slip-case. Then there are those red ribbons. Again, this is a matter of personal taste, but I prefer this look aesthetically to the standard monochrome black-on-black.
What makes this Bible especially noteworthy, in my opinion, is the way that it combines several seemingly contradictory elements together. In terms of its content, I’ve already discussed how innovation and ad fontes traditionalism run fluidly together. In terms of the overall construction of this particular calfskin, personal size edition, the Bible turns out to be, at turns, a scholarly reference work, a significant historical piece, a usable personal size Bible, and a finely constructed little volume. In other words, if you buy the larger goatskin edition, you are investing in a museum piece that looks beautiful on the shelf. If you buy the smaller paperback version, you have a Bible that you can grab and carry with you to read–but not likely to hold up for long. If you buy one of the hardback copies, you have a library piece, good for reading and reference, but perhaps not so great to take out of the study. With this personal size caflskin edition, you have a beautiful volume that looks lovely on the shelf, is suitable for reference, yet also serves well as a portable Bible you can carry with you and read anywhere.
Addendum: One more note on the content. In my previous post reviewing the contents of this beautiful volume, I neglected to note one thing of interest: This edition of the KJV omits the italicized words included in most KJV editions going back, as I understand it, to the original printing. This is viewed by Norton as a stylistic decision, part of the “renovation” process, but it could also be seen as more than merely stylistic–something integral to the translation has been removed, one could say, by the omission of this indicator of which words are in the original languages and which are not.