RSR and the William & Mary Book Store

March 30, 2007 | 23 comments
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Much to the consternation of my wife (who handles our money), I am a rather frequent visitor to William & Mary’s book store. It has been a while since I glanced through their religion section (of late I have been buying poetry or history), but the other day I did glance through the “Mormon” section to see what they have. Mormonism is not a big seller in Williamsburg, but still the bookstore always gives about eighteen inches of shelf space to Mormons. To my surprise the bookstore wasn’t carrying any copies of Brodie’s biography of Joseph Smith. This is the first time this has happened. Indeed, the only books they had on Mormonism were the new paperback edition of Rough Stone Rolling and Terryl Given’s By the Hand of Mormon. When RSR first came out, I expressed some doubts as to whether or not it would replace No Man Know’s My History as the standard Joseph Smith biography. For the time being, however, Bushman seems to have triumphed, at least in Williamsburg. I suspect that part of this mainly has to do with purchasing practices at the bookstore. On the other hand, both books are published by Knopf, and I suspect that many purchasing agents if faced between the choice of stocking the old Knopf biography and the new Knopf biography, will opt for the new one.

Of course the absolute nadir of Mormonism in college bookstores came when I checked out the religion section at the Harvard Bookstore only to find that their only book on Mormonism was the anti-Mormon “history” One Nation Under Gods, which if I recall correctly had dust jacked endorsements from such well-respected scholars as the Tanners and Ed Decker. Things seem to be looking up.

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23 Responses to RSR and the William & Mary Book Store

  1. Russell Arben Fox on March 30, 2007 at 9:59 am

    I have a very fond memory of that bookstore, Nate. More than twenty years ago, when my family was taking a huge pilgrimage across the country to visit church and national historical sights; Colonial Williamsburg was one of them. I got tired of the historical re-enactments later in the day, and wandered onto the W&M campus. I found my way to the bookstore, where I found, in hardback, all four volumes of Thomas Flexner’s awesome, uncondensced biography of George Washington. I bought them all, and hauled them around with me for the rest of the trip. Indeed, they’re on my bookshelf now. In an age before the internet, when all there was for folks who didn’t live in university towns or near used-book stores was stuff like the Book-of-the-Month club, stumbling into the W&M bookstore and seeing the stuff they had available was like a dream.

  2. Nate Oman on March 30, 2007 at 10:12 am

    The location of the bookstore has moved since then. It used to be across Jamestown Road from the main campus. Now it is on Duke of Glouster Street, just up from CW, which is nice as it is considerably closer to the law school. Their selection of books on early American history remains top notch.

  3. Seth R. on March 30, 2007 at 10:54 am

    They had RSR over at our local chain bookstore a couple months ago. The selection was pretty balanced between the pro and anti offerings.

  4. Adam Greenwood on March 30, 2007 at 10:58 am

    I haven’t heard of these well-respected scholars before. Maybe we should ask them to guest blog?

  5. MikeInWeHo on March 30, 2007 at 11:09 am

    I always enjoy checking out the LDS section when I visit a Borders. Seems to vary a lot store-to-store, but RSR is usually prominent these days. The first time I saw Mormonism For Dummies on the shelf I laughed out loud. Who knew???

  6. JNS on March 30, 2007 at 11:50 am

    Mormonism for Dummies isn’t bad; if you have non-Mormon friends or family members, you could do worse. It certainly contains 20x more information than the missionary discussions.

    Our local Borders has: Hugh B. Brown’s memoirs, Fawn Brodie’s biography, Bushman’s biography, Grant Palmer’s book on Mormon origins, Mormonism for Dummies, and a book arguing in favor of the Spalding theory of the Book of Mormon. They stock one copy of each, with the exception that they have three copies of Brodie.

  7. Aaron Brown on March 30, 2007 at 11:57 am

    You’ve been buying poetry? Seriously?

    Aaron B

  8. Nate Oman on March 30, 2007 at 1:19 pm

    “You’ve been buying poetry? Seriously?”

    Just a little. I read it with the doors locked so that nobody knows…

  9. Nate Oman on March 30, 2007 at 1:20 pm

    JNS: I am surprised that anything from Signature makes it that far affield. I never see anything published by an overtly Mormon press at the W&M bookstore…

  10. Kristine Haglund Harris on March 30, 2007 at 1:37 pm

    Aaron, that was *exactly* my first thought! I am very afraid…

  11. MikeInWeHo on March 30, 2007 at 1:41 pm

    Sometimes the recent Church-authorized addition of the Book of Mormon (from Doubleday) appears at Borders as well. That is a beautiful book. I always wonder who is buying that around these parts.

    What kind of poetry are you reading, Nate ?

  12. manaen on March 30, 2007 at 5:00 pm

    7, 8, 10, 11

    Buying poetry to provide needed visual balance to a collection to mask the owner’s obsession with certain subjects is OK, but *reading* — worse, enjoying — the poetry… I now await Nate’s iambic pentametric reworking of the Magna Carta, with early-Neal Maxwell alliteration.

  13. Nate Oman on March 30, 2007 at 5:23 pm

    Right now I am reading Homer but only for the sex and violence…

  14. Melissa on March 30, 2007 at 5:52 pm

    Ah Homer. That explains it. I just couldn’t see Nate reading Wallace Stevens—even furtively—and we already knew it wasn’t Plath, Rossetti, or Dickinson.

    I was in the Princeton bookstore two days ago. Two copies of Givens’ was all they had. I’m looking into ways to remedy that situation. You might too.

    LDS academics can also influence university library holdings. I regularly ask the Princeton religion librarian to order books for the library I think we ought to own (usually books I want to read or need for my own research and don’t want to have to buy. The latest of which was the outrageously expenseive _A Statistical Profile of Mormons: Health, Wealth, and Social Life_). Sometimes I order books from publishers that should be on the Religion Librarian’s radar screen (I had him order Bradley’s _Pedestals and Podiums_ just this morning—even though I own the book myself—-because I noticed that Signature books are lacking at Princeton. I’ve had him order books from DB for the same reason.

    Every institution’s oversights will be different. Universities with Divinity Schools tend to have a more complete collection in my experience (i.e. HDS has a better collection than Brown does and I imagine that would be true of Chicago or Vanderbilt, etc.). Yale University’s Mormon Studies collection is the best I’ve seen (outside of Utah) by far (including journals, trade, university presses, etc.)

    I think this is one small but important way those of us in the position to do so can take care of the scholars who will come after us. In my experience it takes little more than developing a good relationship with the religion librarian at your university.

  15. Kaimi Wenger on March 30, 2007 at 6:17 pm

    “In my experience it takes little more than developing a good relationship with the religion librarian at your university.”

    Hmm. In my experience, pretty much all it takes is an e-mail to the law librarian, saying “please order a copy of Sally Gordon, Kathleen Flake, and Ed Firmage. . .”

    YMMV. :p

  16. Costanza on March 30, 2007 at 6:35 pm

    The library at Indiana, Bloomington, is one of the best research libraries in the country in general, and it has an immense Mormon collection. It is second only to Yale’s, in my personal experience anyway, in terms of Mormon collections outside of the West.

  17. Costanza on March 30, 2007 at 6:36 pm

    That is Indiana University, Bloomington.

  18. Nate Oman on March 30, 2007 at 8:43 pm

    William & Mary has an all right Mormon collection but not a great one. On the other hand, I keep having the librarians ILL volumes from all over to me, and everytime I have to return one they ask me if it ought to be added to the school’s collection. I generally say yes, and I know that several volumes have been added. I even persuaded the law school that they need a copy of Hosea Stout’s diary because after all he was an early Mormon lawyer. I am with Kaimi on this: one of the (many, many, many) advantages of being a law prof is that law libraries are required by the ABA accredidation process to have some ridiculously huge budget in relation to the school as a whole. They are looking for ways to spend money.

  19. Adam L on March 31, 2007 at 5:50 pm

    COMPLETELY OFF TOPIC REQUEST FOR HELP:

    I’m a long timer lurker at T&S (and a very infrequent poster). I’m working on a research project that I was hoping the incredible brain-trust at T&S might be able to help with.

    I’m trying to locate nineteenth-century texts (of any size) that defend women’s preaching. As a non-Mormon, I don’t have a good idea of any extant LDS writings on the subject and I was wondering if anyone here could point me in the right direction (or even recommend titles/bibliographies).

    Thank you for any help any of you can provide!

    My e-mail is lloyda@umd.edu

    Sincerely,
    Adam

  20. a random John on April 1, 2007 at 2:11 am

    I bought my copy of By the Hand of Mormon at the Harvard Coop. Or at least I think I did. My wife is insisting that I bought it at a different Harvard bookstore down the street near Mr. Bartley’s Burger Bar.

  21. Jonathan Green on April 1, 2007 at 3:01 am

    Adam, as an off-topic reply to your off-topic request, one of the other Mormon blogs is actively looking for questions just like yours. Contact the good folks at http://www.bycommonconsent.com, and there’s a good chance your question will get good exposure.

  22. Adam L on April 1, 2007 at 10:20 am

    Jonathan, thanks!

  23. woodboy on April 2, 2007 at 10:09 pm

    The Harvard Bookstore (next to Bartley\’s) is not affiliated with Harvard University. The University\’s \”bookstore\” is the Harvard Coop.