On the Road for On the Road

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?

15 comments for “On the Road for On the Road

  1. DB does have a website on which you can purchase books directly, and I think you can use gift cards on the site as well. There are about three pages of “history” books available online, including “On the Road.” Or you can contact the company with suggestions. The contact page is:


  2. That’s correct, MCQ. I tried the site (which wasn’t working for me that day) and the phone line (which only takes order during business hours). But most people who shop browse the stores, not the website. That’s where DB can make a difference. And IMHO, their three pages of history books illustrate the problem, not the solution.

  3. While the search should never have been so long and so hard, Dave, in this particular case the book was worth the effort, wasn’t it?

    You make me realize that although I walk by DB’s new mothership store nearly every day, I haven’t yet been inside. That isn’t by concious decision — it’s just that at some point, DB became one of those stores you skip because you know there won’t be anything that fits.

  4. You should get yourself onto the Mormon Artists Group mailing list. I got a notice in my mail, wrote a check, sent the order in and had the book in three days. And I got to spend a few extra bucks keeping a worthwhile project afloat.

    Beats going to a Deseret Book [sic] store or to their website anyday.

  5. That was a clever sic, Mark B.!

    I usually make it to Utah once a year, more or less. I used to make it a point to stop by the Deseret Book in the ZCMI mall. Many years ago I would usually end up buying a book or two. But in recent history these have been quick, pointless trips. Their coverage of Mormon studies, never great to begin with, has gotten worse and worse over time. They have ceded any serious business to places like Sam Wellers and Benchmark.

  6. I bought “On The Road” from Benchmark. I’m glad it is still available somewhere. It really should come as a package with RSR. Knowing what the biographer thinks about their own work really puts the actual book into better perspective.

  7. Wasn’t this the book that was initially published as a super-expensive, limited-run, hand-printed boutique item because it wasn’t the kind of thing that would generate much interest beyond a handful of the Professor’s friends and most devoted fans?

  8. Yes, John, this is that book, although I don’t know what the rationale was for a small and limited run of that first edition. That original edition was issued as set of unbound sheets, each set housed in a small wooden case. As I recall, they went for about $100 per set. It’s nice that Greg Kofford Books bought up the rights to issue a trade paperback edition.

  9. If I remember correctly, the original asking price was $150. I’ve heard of those copies now selling for $300 and have seen people asking $500.

Comments are closed.