Recently I have begun reading the Book of Mormon again using Grant Hardy’s Reader’s Edition. The other night as I sat in my parent’s house to read, my step-father and I began discussing the problem of giving copies of the Book of Mormon to people. For us there were a number of considerations: the cost of the copy, the size of the copy (physically), the size of copy (selections vs. entire text) and the readability (versification, footnotes, structure etc.). The question I pose, therefore, is: which copy of the Book of Mormon would you give to a friend?
There are various possibilities each with advantages and potential pitfalls.
First, the classic blue missionary edition of the Book of Mormon. This, in my opinion, is not only difficult to read and cluttered (because of the versification and the footnotes) but it also looks cheap. It does not feel like a sacred text, especially for someone who is approaching it for the first time. However, it has the advantage of actually being cheap. This might be an pro for some, especially if you give away a lot of copies (I do not and so this is not really an issue for me). The other potential plus is that although it is long, it does not look very big. It is less intimidating than some of the other versions. This is not the edition I would give to someone.
Second, Grant Hardy’s Reader’s Edition. This is wonderful to read and also keeps the versification of the current text; so it is functional in a Latter-day Saint worship service. It’s supplemental material is well-written and reflects a high level of scholarship. However, it is large, very large; even in paperback form. As such it makes the book seem overwhelming for the newcomer; especially someone who is not an avid reader.. Lastly, it is expensive. I would give this to any member of the Church, or someone interested in seriously reading the text, but not a potentially curious friend; unless of course money was not an issue and your friend reads voraciously then this might be the best option.
Third, Laura Maffly-Kipp’s Penguin Classics version. The Penguin version uses the 1840 text of the Book of Mormon and therefore lacks any versification but does include paragraphs, editorialized by Maffly-Kipp. The book is not very expensive and there is something significant about it being included in this series that adds legitimacy. In some ways the mere fact of it having that familiar design gives the text a need to be taken seriously. Moreover, this edition has a similar heft to the blue missionary version and therefore feels a little more inviting. Maffly-Kipp’s introductory essay is helpful especially because it reflects an outsider perspective. A very good edition worthy of being shared with a friend.
Fourth, the Doubleday edition. This version was published by special arrangement with the Church and as such reflects an ecclesiastical legitimacy that some of these other versions do not have. However it is still a very large book, although it is still smaller and lighter than the Hardy version. A new version of this book is also quite an expensive purchase and may not be within everyone’s budget. The major issue I have with this version is that, because it has been published in conjunction with the Church, it maintains the same versification structure even though it removes (thankfully) the unhelpful footnotes. It also keeps, with some important amendments, the same chapter headings. Consequently it is still difficult to read. If you are going to spend this much on a copy I would splash out a little more and get Hardy’s Readers Edition.
Fifth, Jana Riess’ selections from the Book of Mormon. Riess, like many of these other ‘unofficial’ versions, use the 1920 edition. Some of the potential problems with Riess’ version are also its strengths. She has edited the selections slightly to make them a little more readable, for example she has removed the ‘and it came to pass’ phrases and replaced them with ‘and…’. This is, in one sense, a good thing because it attempts to make the book less turgid and yet it does not quite succeed. Rather, I think Riess draws more attention to that repetitious ‘and…’. Further that she has edited the text, despite a Church policy prohibiting such changes, might an obstacle for some to share this edition with their friends. Further by selecting certain passages, Riess both makes the text approachable and (potentially) spiritually relevant. The text is approximately one-tenth of the length of the original (according the back matter) and Riess selects passages that might have a more immediate impact on the reader because of their devotional quality (she skips the War chapters, as you might imagine). Yet, at the same time this might be a barrier to those who want to give the entire Book of Mormon and not just certain selections from it. For our American friends this is not an expensive version of the book, although the cost of shipping makes this a little more difficult for Europeans. Another edition worthy of being shared with a friend, especially for US-folks.
Sixth, Skousen’s Earliest Text. In many ways the Skousen version captures some of the same positive features of the Hardy volume. Yet instead of narrative segments, Skousen presents the material following sense-lines rather sentences per se. Reading the Skousen addition is rhythmically appealing but perhaps loses some of the narrative coherence of Hardy’s. It also maintains the versification of modern editions. It’s downfall, similar to Hardy’s version, is the cost and the almost overwhelming size of this tome: it is nearly 900 pages and weighs a massive 3.6lbs (Hardy’s weighs 2.4lbs). The text is also beautifully typeset. Again, like Hardy’s Edition, Skousen’s volume is for those already Mormon or those who are interested in serious study of the text. In fact choosing between these two is difficult.
Seventh, 1830 Facsimile edition. Although I own this version I have never actually read it. In many ways it has the feel of something significant and certainly has a more attractive binding and cover than the blue missionary copies. However, it lacks versification at all and might therefore be less useful in LDS worship services. You can purchase these through DB or Amazon but they are a little expensive. Moreover, because there is no introductory essay, aside from the various testimonies at the beginning, this book is not as useful in my opinion for the curious friend who is also a serious reader. This may be a useful edition for those already reading the text but not I fear for outsiders. It does not compete with Hardy’s or Skousen’s editions.
Which would you give, and why?