When I opened up the package containing this new, sui generis pocket KJV Bible from Cambridge, I found myself spontaneously expostulating an erudite evaluation in this precise articulation (please pardon the abstruse academic jargon): “THIS IS SO COOL!” This little Bible is nothing, if not unique. And, as I am currently fascinated by the techniques that publishers use to cram the massive amount of literature in the Bible into small, printed volumes, this little Bible certainly adds some unique tricks to the process. This is a brand new format from Cambridge, in connection with Jongbloed, issued in commemoration of the 400th anniversary of the original KJV Bible.
Let’s take a look at the obvious differences between this Bible and the standard book: First, the layout has been turned on its side, and then the binding is altered so that only the back (or, in this case, bottom) cover is connected to the text block. So, the text block can open completely flat anywhere, minimizing the need for extra space in the gutter, and maximizing the amount of text that can be crammed onto the page. As a result, the font size is around 7 points, a smallish size, to be sure, but relative to this tiny Bible that’s actually massive. For more pics of how it works, check out Mark Bertrand’s great overview.
In addition to some of these obvious design tweaks, this Bible employs some other less obvious but tremendously important “cramming” techniques. Most significantly, the text is continuous, with one verse following after the next with no verse, paragraph, or poetic line breaks. At all.
Chapters begin on a new line, but, with the exception of the Psalms, each chapter follows immediately after the preceding chapter, with no extra spacing, section headings, etc. intervening.
So, does it work? Well, the real difficulty in evaluating this Bible is that, since it is so different from anything that we’re familiar with, it’s hard to know where to begin. The materials and font choice certainly reflect typical Cambridge quality. The paper (27 GSM Indolux paper, for those keeping score) allows very little bleed-through, especially considering how thin and light it is. The binding is sewn, of course, bends back on itself easily, and seems sturdy enough to be able to stay intact for years. For how small it is, the font is crisp, clear, readable, and large; and the minimized bleed-through contributes tremendously to the fonts readability. All in all, from the standpoint of your standard design and binding evaluation questions, this little Bible serves the purpose of an ideal pocket Bible quite well on many levels.
But what of the non-standard formatting? I can handle the idiosyncratic layout; it even feels cool to read from such a unique format. One happy consequence of the sideways layout is that the words per line ratio is higher than that of your standard two-column layout. The conundrum faced in choosing between a single and double column Bible setting is that single column Bibles have columns that are too wide and double column Bibles have columns that are too narrow. The Transetto layout helps to somewhat split the difference.
I’ve also found a great use for this Bible. When you open this Bible, the footprint is somewhat smaller than a single page in one of the UBS Greek or Hebrew Bibles (somewhat smaller than a DVD, Pitt Minion, or PSR). So, this makes for the best translation-checker I’ve found so far. I can just put the Transetto Bible on top of the page I’m not using and there I have an English translation handy that I can follow along with as I read from the Hebrew. You don’t have to read Hebrew, Greek, or any other language to appreciate this versatility. You can set the Transetto on top of your modern English translation of choice and follow along with the Transetto to find alternate renderings.
As for the lack of breaks in the text, this can make navigating the text a bit difficult–and I find that quick navigation can be key for a pocket Bible. Pocket Bibles are great, for example, for hospital visits. So let’s say you’re visiting someone and you want to read a few verses of a certain psalm, or some encouraging verses from Romans 8. You don’t want to spend several minutes disruptively flipping pages in frustration as your loved one or friend looks on in awkward silence.
So, I have a tentative suggestion for future editions of the Transetto layout: Make the margins slightly wider and put verse numbers in the outer margin, flanking each column. If the verse numbers were also removed from within the text itself, this may also create enough space in the text to enable some paragraph breaks. The Bible would have to be ever so slightly wider to accommodate wider margins, but I can’t see that making much difference.
On the whole, the Transetto’s unique design opens up so many questions. Will this catch on? Why didn’t someone do this before? We’ve been using the printing press for over 400 hundred years, and we’ve had bound books since the days of the ancient Greek codex. If this format is an improvement, why hasn’t it been used already?
All in all, though, I like this little Bible. The fact that I can set it so nicely on top of my Hebrew Bible makes it very helpful for me. If the Transetto becomes available in the ESV (or even another modern translation such as the NRSV or NKJV) I think I’ll end up carrying it with me in my pocket as I carry the Greek and Hebrew in my hand.
So, what say you? Or, perhaps better, What sayest thou? Are you going to rush out and buy one of these? Is it a gimmick? Or is it the best thing since sliced bread? Let me know what you think!