Note: this post contains an affiliate link. I purchased my Alabaster Bible set but the publisher also sent me an additional review copy.
This is the age of information overload, hyper-visual stimuli, and screen-induced ADD. As backlash against this culture of distractibility, interest in minimalism and mindfulness have increased right along with smartphone sales.
Signs that the Bible publishing industry has been touched by this return-to-simplicity trend have begun to emerge over the last couple years. First, Bibliotheca announced its Kickstarter to fund the production of a five-volume distraction-free reader’s Bible. Then, Crossway followed suit with a six-volume ESV reader’s Bible, with leather and clothbound options. Now, Alabaster Co. has arrived on the scene with a unique take on the reader’s Bible model. Instead of avoiding visual distractions, Alabaster purposefully incorporates symbolic imagery in the form of fine art photography.
It’s an interesting idea. Instead of fighting the insatiable ocular cravings of the Instagram age, Alabaster is taking the middle road–embracing the value of images while simultaneously encouraging readers to disconnect and sit down with an actual book.
Reading Alabaster truly is a visual experience. Every page has at least one photo, often more, alongside or serving as a backdrop to the text. I estimate well over two hundred original photos. (Two stock photos appear in the Gospel of Mark. They are the only stock photos in the four-volume set.)
In the midst of this visual feast is the text, which, unfortunately, is Alabaster’s greatest weakness. Alabaster falls into the general category of “reader’s Bible,” which implies a certain commitment to distraction-free reading. If there is one thing you must do to achieve distraction-free reading, it is to remove the superscript verse numbers from the text. Alabaster does not do this. The verse numbers give the text a frustratingly cluttered appearance, which doesn’t jive with the overall aesthetic of the set.
Additionally, the text itself is rather small. Now, I realize that certain concessions had to be made to fit blocks of text into the available space without cutting them off at awkward places, but I think adding on a few pages to each volume and/or expanding the margins a smidge to make room for a slightly larger font size would have been worth it. As it is, the text feels slightly dwarfed by the images. A relatively minor quibble, but worth noting.
Reading Alabaster is also a tactile experience, as any good reading experience should be. I’ve never liked how many art books use gloss paper, which causes light to refract in a way that distorts images in any kind of artificial light. Instead, Alabaster uses thick, uncoated paper for the interior pages, which give them a really nice feel and does a great job of showing off the fine details of each photo. The cover is 15pt paper and the overall effect is reminiscent of some very high-end boutique magazines I’ve seen, albeit with a slightly sturdier build.
The key question is: does the final product justify the cost? For this, I think Bibliotheca is a useful point of comparison. The retail cost of the Bibliotheca paperback set is $159. This includes the entire Bible plus the Apocrypha in five volumes. The binding is sewn and designed to lay flat–very different from most paperback bindings, which are glued. In other words, it may be paperback but it’s paperback designed to last. Other factors which should be taken into account are the font, which was designed specifically for Bibliotheca, and the translation, which is entirely new as well.Is the Alabaster Bible Worth the Cost?Click To Tweet
I paid the pre-order price for Alabaster, which was $85. It is now retailing for $100 on Amazon. This includes the four gospels in the New Living Translation. The binding appears to be glued and does not lay flat without breaking the spine. As I mentioned before, the fact that verse numbers are included in the text is a huge disappointment. Essentially, you’re paying for the photography and overall aesthetic/tactile experience.
Is it worth it? I have mixed feelings about this. The photography is truly stunning and evocative of the themes within the text, but its primary purpose is to supplement or augment the text. And since the text is the main issue, this poses a bit of a problem. If Alabaster released a second edition, sans verse numbers and with a sewn lay-flat binding, I think it would be worth $100, even if the text size remained the same. But I can’t honestly say I would pay that much for it as it is now.
What do you think about the Alabaster Bible? Leave a comment below!