I recently brought to a successful conclusion a one-month, eight-hundred-mile odyssey that had a simple and straightforward object: to purchase a copy of Richard L. Bushman's On the Road with Joseph Smith: An Author's Diary at Deseret Book. I didn't think it would be such a challenge.
I know, it's the 21st century and we're all supposed to buy books from Amazon now. But a Deseret Book gift card with $17.59 on it came into my possession (legitimately) and I decided I wanted to buy On the Road (listing at $14.95) with it. It's not often that a book I really want to buy shows up in Deseret Book's rather selective catalogue, so I felt like this was my chance to use the gift card before I lost it and effectively escheated $17.59 to Deseret Book. Or maybe gift cards just make us think somewhat irrationally about purchases: I felt like there was a free book with my name on it just waiting for me, as long as I could find a copy on the shelves at Deseret Book.
I first called my local California store. Yes, we carry the book but no, we don't have a copy at the moment. Will you be getting more, I asked? Yes, call back in week. Two weeks later, I call back. Still no copy. Don't you order more copies when an item sells out? No, not really, said the clerk, Salt Lake just sends us what they want to send us. I explained that not only was the author a noted LDS historian, but he had also relocated to Southern California so he was now a local author and they really ought to have copies of his latest book on their shelf. Yeah, well Salt Lake sends us stuff ... It turns out the San Diego store has a copy and if I would pay $5 for shipping they would have it sent up to my local store. Nope. That would require me actually forking over $3 of real currency from my wallet. Plus, there's the principle of the thing.
So I'm in Utah last week, and the Sugarhouse store was right on my way back to the airport. Nice little store with a helpful clerk, but again no copy on the shelf. I was tempted by Tad Callister's The Inevitable Apostasy, but I stayed true to my goal. The clerk said the Valley Fair store has a copy and it's more or less on the way to the airport. After an unscripted visit to the Nordstrom Rack across the parking lot at which my job was to stand in the shoe line holding one-half of each pair of an expanding variety of stylish winter boots, it was back on the road to the Valley Fair store.
To shorten the story: Found the mall. Found the store. Got the book -- for free, with $0.62 left on the gift card which will likely never be used (this is why merchants like gift cards). Fun book: you should buy it too, and now you know where to find one (there were three extra copies at the Valley Fair store).
Now one short paragraph on what all this means. In the book, Bushman understandably comes out in favor of what now goes by the term "inoculation": the general notion of incorporating honest accounts of the difficult events of LDS history into the mainstream of the LDS curriculum so Mormons don't get their first exposure to difficult events from unfriendly sources that spin those events to serve their own purposes. I think Deseret Book can very easily step up to the plate on this and devote (radical idea, this) a shelf or two in each of its stores to stocking LDS history books ... along with the charming music CDs, the flowery greeting cards, and the latest in faith-affirming fiction. Just a shelf or two with a clearly displayed sign, "LDS history: get answers to your troubling questions here." Okay, I'd settle for just "LDS history." Two shelves in every store, that's all I ask. It's an LDS bookstore, after all -- shouldn't stocking books on LDS history just be something they do without a special request?
Originally posted with comments at Times and Seasons.