Its not unusual these days to hear complaints that there are too many books. I know I’ve heard it from those in the book industry for at least 20 years, and I’ve long suspected that such complaints have been going on much longer. But I was quite surprised when I came across this complaint in an early Mormon periodical that there were too many books being published.
Really? In 1842?
As near as I can tell, something like 100 times as many books are published each year as were published in 1842 (exact numbers are difficult to find, and depend on the database you use). Regardless of the accurate numbers, its a lot more. So, why do so many people complain or remark that too many books are being published?
I suspect that it has a lot to do with the overwhelming amount of information and reading that they represent. How can anyone read through so many books, be it the million or whatever published today or the ten thousand or whatever in 1842?
Personally, I don’t think I could actually read more than 100 books in a year. Even in 1842, the dozen books Taylor sees published on Mormonism that year is probably more than most individuals read in a year.
Here’s how he reacted:
by John Taylor (presumed author)
‘And further, by these, my son, be admonished of making many books, there is no end.’–Ecclesiastes 12:12.
It is impossible to give an outline of the books that have graced or disgraced the world since the beginning. In the days of the Judges in Israel there was a populous place, called the City of Books, and in this printing age and land of light it cannot be supposed less than truth to say that the new world is deluged with papers, pamphlets, tracts and books, good and bad, wise and wicked, sentimental and foolish, and earthly and catchpenny. In fact New England has blackened paper enough to have covered the United States–in the way of book making–and all for a little money.
Mormonism has been an exhaustless fountain to intoxicate leaky brains: Book has followed book, giving a full and complete history of the Latter-Day Saints; and yet every few months quickens and brings forth a new book, full of alarming disclosures or curious matter about startling enough to make vox faucibus haesit. A book a year, at first, was not a very heavy tax upon the purses of the purchasers of second handed stories; but as the Mormons increased the books increased, and this year has come near its dozen–from the Missouri monster down to the striped pig of Boston Massachusetts by J. C. Bennett.
Well, all we shall say is that the world is determined to write us into note, and whether it be done by lies, or truth, or persecution or patronage is all the same, so that the will of God be done.
The Wasp, 10 December 1842, p. 2
The Mormon Bibliography actually includes 57 items (including many that are not books) published in 1842, so there were probably more than Taylor was thinking of, but perhaps he only meant books written by outsiders (I count 19). Regardless, it was already more than most people want to read. And how many are there today? I’m quite sure there are more than 1,000 new books about Mormonism or with a significant mention of mormons or mormonism in them published each year.
But to my mind the more interesting part of Taylor’s reaction is the attitude expressed in the final sentence. There, he doesn’t seem willing to engage each and every argument in all the books published. Instead, he seems to suggest that the books will simply give Mormonism notoriety and by doing so achive the will of God.
The idea is kind of like the expression attributed to P. T. Barnum: “There is no such thing as bad publicity.” Whether Barnum said that is in doubt, so Oscar Wilde’s statement might serve better: “The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about.”
While the veracity of these dictums are themselves wrong (I’m sure BP believes in bad publicity these days), what may be true is the belief that disputing the details of claims in anti-Mormon books is often a waste of time. Perhaps this is something that deserves a bit more thought, given the recent uproar in the bloggernacle about the changes at BYU’s Maxwell Institute, which signaled the end of the agenda once embodied in FARMS.
In contrast, we might look at the publicity coup won by Mormon neologist and 19-year-old rookie baseball phenom Bryce Harper, who turned a beer company’s effort to make money on his widely-publicized comment into a win-win charitable effort.
I don’t know about John Taylor, but I wish I could come up with smart PR moves like that!
- †‘ No author is indicated. Although he had apparently been editing The Wasp for some time, this was the first issue in which Taylor was named as the editor. Unsigned work was often the work of the editor.
- †‘ The King James Version gives an inaccurate sense here, suggesting no end to books. Instead, the author says that studying books is endless and exhausting.
- †‘ a rough translation of the pre-Israelite city name ‘Kiriath-sepher,’ perhaps better translated as “scribe town” or “town of the treaty stele” — per entry in the Anchor Bible Dictionary (Doubleday, 1992).
- †‘ [you] speechless; so astonished as to be unable to speak. Literally “voice stuck in throat”