New Book of Mormon a quicker read
July 8, 2004
ReligionNewsBlog.com • Friday July 9, 2004
Doubleday, an imprint of publishing giant Random House, will publish the hardcover book in November. Priced at $24.95, the book excises the lengthy footnotes and cross-references that crowd pages and may be daunting to those not familiar with the faith, said Michelle Rapkin, director of Doubleday’s religious publishing division. But the main text will be the same, and the book will include a brief reference section outlining key events, ideas and people.
Rapkin would not estimate the size of the print run, but said, “It will be a significant printing. By our standards, it will be rather large.”
Church members believe the book, considered a scriptural companion to the Bible, was translated from gold plates by church founder Joseph Smith in 1827 before being published in 1830. It details the fortunes of peoples settled in the Americas before, during and after the time of Christ, and is the basis for some Mormon beliefs that are different from those of other Christian faiths.
The church typically gives away paperback copies for free, often accompanied by missionary discussions. It will continue to use the free copies as a “gospel teaching tool,” said church spokesman Dale Bills, who doesn’t expect the new edition to detract from missionary programs. “The reason why the church agreed to do this is simply to make the Book of Mormon more available,” Bills said.
Elder Henry B. Eyring, a member of the Church’s Council of Twelve Apostles who also serves on its Scripture Committee, said the new edition will change nothing about how the church does its business. If people are introduced to the book through a missionary or a member, he said, “there’s a warmth that wouldn’t be there if you got it in a bookstore, but more people can get it from a bookstore.”
The church and Doubleday are hammering out details of the agreement, including distribution of profits.
The idea came out of a meeting between officials from Doubleday and Deseret Publishing, the church’s printing arm, about sharing some titles, Rapkin said. “At a certain point in the meeting, we made it clear we thought it would be a good idea for a trade edition of the Book of Mormon to be published, and we were the people to do that.”
Both sides have an interest in seeing this edition printed. Because the church is the fastest-growing denomination in the country, Rapkin said, many people will be interested in reading the book. And because most general-interest bookstores didn’t carry the church’s version, copies of the book weren’t easily available to the public.
“As far as we could tell, there was no distribution in the marketplace,” Rapkin said. “This was an opportunity for us to fill a vacuum that existed in the religious sections of bookstores.”
Officials from the church and the publisher say they believe most copies will go to people unfamiliar with the church, who will either buy it out of curiosity or receive it as a gift from a member.
Eyring hopes the new edition will draw readers in better than the tiny columned text most church members are used to reading. “It’ll be easier. They’ll be more likely to keep reading if they see it as straight text and not as research material.
“I hope they get through First Nephi [the book's first chapter],” he said, with a laugh. “I hope they get to the promise at the end.”
Bookstores are looking forward to the book as well, especially since they will get a better trade discount when ordering from Doubleday than they did from the Church Distribution Center.
“If it reads better, which it sounds like it may, the customers who are looking into it as a curiosity or just to read it may prefer it that way,” said Catherine Weller of Sam Weller Books in Salt Lake City, one of the few bookstores that traditionally stocks the church’s edition. “It’ll be interesting to see what the demand will be.”
Last year, Doubleday published Under the Banner of Heaven, John Krakauer’s exploration of Mormon fundamentalism that irritated church officials into complaining publicly that it unfairly maligned the faith.
“Something that publishers pride ourselves in is the willingness to provide a variety of printed material and points of view, and this is a perfect example of that,” Rapkin said.
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