Earlier this year the Canon Law Society of America (CLSA) announced with modest fanfare the release of a new, paperback edition of the maroon-covered book that accompanies me almost everywhere I go: the Latin-English Edition of the 1983 Code of Canon Law. Having worked in retail bookselling for a number of years, I know that a paperback release is, in the mainstream publishing world, often a pretty big deal. This release, however, feels like considerably less than a big deal, for a number of reasons.
First of all, this is the first time the CLSA has made this, their second English translation, available in softcover format: the hardcover of this translation was debuted in 1999. In the years since it has become ubiquitous on the bookshelves and desks of canonists and chancery staff throughout the United States. (I would typically say “throughout the English-speaking world” but in this case most such nations make use of the translation done under the auspices of the Canon Law Society of Great Britain and Ireland.) Has there been demand for a flexible-cover alternative this whole while? I don’t know that I have heard any. I do know that there was a softcover edition of the first CLSA translation (older canonists will perhaps recall the pale olive cover of that edition), but I have only seen one or two copies of that in the wild over the years.
Certainly among my fellow students there is considerable longing for a more lightweight edition, since we spend a lot of time carrying our copies wherever we go. But this new edition will do little to satisfy them: I haven’t broken out a scale, but in my hands there is no discernible difference in weight between my paperback and hardcover editions. The physical thickness of the two volumes is clearly different, but all that difference is made up by the hard covers: the block of pages appears identical in dimensions. So no gains in portability here, folks: sorry.
So is there any reason to buy the new paperpack over the hardcover? In my opinion, not really. One (perhaps the one) selling point is that this new edition incorporates the changes Pope Benedict XVI made to five canons (cc. 1008, 1009, 1086, 1117, and 1124) by means of the motu proprio Omnium in mentem which took effect 9 April 2010. It is nice to have the updated text neatly presented on the page, but is it nice enough to justify the final kicker? The list price for this new paperback edition is $30 on the CLSA site (CLSA members can get it for $25). The hardcover, by comparison, is listed at $15 (members price $14.50). For that money, I am quite content to get by with penciling or pasting the amended text for those few canons into my battered hardcover copy, until such time as more sweeping changes to the text of the Code come along (such as the proposed revision of all of Book VI that is in the works).
So, to conclude, the paperback edition of The Code of Canon Law is a well-made volume, every bit as usable as the hardcover edition, but no more so. Save for the very few up-to-date textual corrections, I would see no reason to purchase this at this time, whether you are a student looking for your very first Code, or a working canonist replacing a much-used copy.