I’ve recently finished a setting of the Gospel according to Mark, with photos on the Design page of this site. Here’s some of the thinking behind this project.
What is a ‘Reader’s Bible’? For many this will mean a collection of the Christian Scriptures, probably but not always bound in one volume, with text arranged in paragraphs of prose and lines of poetry, and offering little or none of the apparatus we usually associate with Bibles in the modern age.
Fair enough. Such an arrangement of text, for example, is, for smooth silent reading, to be preferred over the verse-
But although I share with many of the advocates of the ‘Reader’s Bible’ a concern for a clear layout and readable text – and a dismay at the scarcity of such on today’s shelves – I don’t think that the kinds of annotation we’ve come to expect from a Bible are necessarily unfriendly to the reader, who is likely to need all the help he can get understanding very old and sometimes elusive texts presented in translation. Nor are these kinds of helps as rare as some protest; many roughly comparable texts are quite likely to bear some or most of the kinds of apparatus usually found in Bibles: chapter, act, scene, and/or line numbers in fiction, drama, and verse; section letters in classical and medieval texts; glosses and perhaps running commentary or summary in Middle and Early Modern English texts; explanatory notes in many kinds of difficult texts; source or redaction notes in even more kinds of texts, even in editions of literature of fairly recent vintage; maps in stories or histories involving travel; glossaries in translated works; name lists in works dealing with many personages; introductions in anthologies... Nor need any of this create the cluttered and chaotic pages we’re all too familiar with in contemporary Bibles; notes and numbers carefully handled – and there are many ways to do so – can enliven a page, creating a kind of counterpoint or ornamentation against the cantus firmus of the text block.
If complete cross-
Thus this project: an example setting of a Biblical text that not only accommodates the annotation given by the translators but also provides the reader a clear sense of the text’s structure and the reader’s place within it – while at the same time keeping these two sets of apparatus and their flags out of the text itself, so that they can be easily ignored but relatively easily found.
The text chosen is the Gospel of Mark (shortest and simplest of the four canonical Gospels) in the asv (the American version of the Revised Version of the end of the nineteenth century, the newest revision old enough to be out of copyright). This translation is characterized by modest annotation (mostly to do with alternative construals or readings of words or phrases, occasionally supplying spurious verses not included in the main text; very rarely cross-
All of these characteristics invite certain design decisions – firstly, as is often the case for me, the choice of type. Though italicized words are not plentiful in the asv, there are enough of them to make the typographer wish not only not to disrupt the texture and the flow of the line, but to downplay the italics entirely – which (unlike many other situations) suggests an italic face that is not only subordinated to the roman (that is, not very cursive in form) but also not very starkly distinguished from it (that is, neither particularly narrow nor particularly steeply inclined). Given the way I wished to mark sections in the text (see below), this translation’s particular use of italics also required italic small caps, which restricted the choices for the most part to fairly new faces. The need to set both footnotes and expanded running heads, each one containing three kinds or levels of material needing to be distinguished, suggested that a matching sans, itself with an italic fluent enough for considerable use and a bold but not too heavy companion, would be welcome. Of the typefaces in my library, Gandhi Serif and Sans best met these criteria as well as the overall concern for a handsome and readable text face. Christel Display was chosen as a crisper companion for slightly larger titles.
The notes, as is common in today’s Bibles, are set as footnotes (though I moved the very few cross-
As for the navigation, I adapted a four-
There are many ways to approach the design of both the Bible as a whole and its individual books, just as there are many ways to translate and read the texts. We need strong design, strong translation, and strong presentation in forms both traditional (pandects designed all of a piece; scholarly translations sponsored or adopted by large religious bodies; liturgical chant, formal reading-