On Greek Readers: Physical Characteristics

Though the content is most important, the physical characteristics of the reader can make a reader better or worse. If you are putting a reader up on the web you don’t have to worry about the physical aspects of the book, and many of those will probably be decided by your publisher (I imagine...I’ve never worked with one). But here we’re discussing more than the physicality of the codex form; we’re also discussing page layout, font, etc.

General Binding Characteristics Apply

Normal binding characteristics apply. As a general rule, hardcovers are preferred (which is definitely true for me). Of the readers I reviewed, Kubo (not really a reader), Colwell and Mantey, and Colson were hardcover. Of course, neither of the real readers in that bunch are in print these days, so it doesn’t appear that hardcover is a favorite option for publishers of readers.

Other things like paper quality and whatnot are also important, but I won’t go into all the things I like about particular bindings.

Where Are The Notes?

Okay, this one is very important in my opinion. There are several ways to go when it comes to this issue.

First option, put the notes below the text in footnotes (Mounce, Whitacre). This is a popular option which has two things going for it if it is done right. First, having the notes at the bottom of the page keeps the notes within eye’s reach without forcing a page turn. As mentioned before, it’s important to keep the rhythm of the reading going as consistently as possible to avoid radically interrupted reading. Second, if you put a footnote number by the word to be annotated, the student has a visual clue to look for a note if they need one, but also know not to look in vain at the bottom of the page if they are floundering on a word and it doesn’t have one. On this latter point Mounce’s volume is superior, in my opinion, to Whitacre’s. Of course with the note comes more clutter in the text, which is the only reason I can think of to not do it. But I think the advantages outweighs the disadvantage.

Second, put the notes in blocks below the text (Decker). As a personal preference, I would rather have footnotes than this, but it keeps the advantages of footnotes mentioned above and is a great option.

Put the notes on the facing page (Iacona and George). This works really well, for all the reasons listed for the two options above. And if you line up the notes on the facing page with the words to be annotated, I think you get an extra bit of usability as the reader’s eye has a path right down the line to the answer he needs.

Notes as endnotes or in a mini-lexicon (Colson, Colwell and Mantey). I think this is almost the worst way you could do it. Having to flip between the middle of the book and the end to get notes would get very distracting, and would keep the student from concentrating on the text. It doesn’t look like the more modern readers take this route, so maybe this format is dead.

Notes in another book (old JACT). In the old version of JACT’s Reading Greek they had the vocabulary in the grammar book, separated from the text. When I was trying to do some reading on the train in my volumes a month or so ago I found this exceedingly tedious. Thankfully, in the new version, they went a better route. Yay for them!

Though they aren’t readers, please don’t do with vocabulary what interlinears do. This is just a very bad way to do annotations. When you have the note that close to the text the eye can’t help but to pick up the text subconciously because it’s, well, right there. Of course you could cover the note line up, but that adds to the work. This is the biggest problem with interlinears anyway in my mind, but we’re not supposed to be critiquing those here :)

The principle I want to point out from this goes back to the point made in the post on vocabulary: By putting the notes in close vicinity with the text you will encourage mildly interrupted reading rather than radically interrupted reading. So I shall now pontificate through generalization:

Guideline #19: Choose a format that has the notes close at hand for the student rather than later in the book or in another resource.

Mini-Lexicons Are Good

If the only note resource is a mini-lexicon in the back of the book, I think you’ve made a mistake. However, having a mini-lexicon in the back for reference is a nice feature for the student. This is going to be even more true if the reader is long; words recently learned may be forgotten, and having an easy reference is nice. If it includes the vocabulary assumed for the reader it’s even better since people do occasionally forget those words as well.

Guideline #20: If you can, include a mini-lexicon for the reader, especially when the reader material is larger in scope.

Please Pick A Good Font And Have Good Spacing. Please. Really.

Two notes on this. First, pick a good font. Publishing something that is typewriter-ish, like the Lucian volume, is just hard on the eyes and says "I’m really old". Pick a nice font; there are several. And if you pick the font Holmes used in his recent edition of the Apostolic Fathers, I will love you. Seriously.

Since we’re on the level of the paragraph, one other note. Watch the space between your lines, aka, your leading. Don’t use too little; give a little space for the eyes to breath. On the other hand, don’t use too much like Mounce does. This is going to encourage the very bad habit of the student writing a translation in their reader (I see some of this in all of my used Greek readers). This is not a habit you want them to get into. Every time they look at the text again, they need to look at the Greek text. Depending too much on their own translation is not going to help them learn one iota.

Guideline #21: Use good typography principles, two of which are pick a nice readable font and have enough but not too much leading.

Include a Translation

If you have the time, include a translation with the reader. This can be on the facing page (if you’re putting your notes in footnotes and not on the facing page) or after the text of the reader. Since the student shouldn’t be consulting it constantly, the translation does not need to be in close proximity to the text. However, just in case the student doesn’t have an English translation of the work available, go ahead and include one in your reader. It does help to be able to check your reading occasionally to make sure you’re not completely off track.

Guideline #22: Include a translation of the text of the reader.

What’s Next?

I think we’ll wrap up next. Coming soon...