The world of Mormon books is a bizarre landscaped marked by all sorts of characters. There are different subsets of the market to be sure – everything from consumer schlock to handcrafted scholarly masterworks. The Joseph Smith Papers Project offering of limited leather-bound volumes in addition to their regular cloth-bound editions (which were recently raised to $50 from $40 a volume) is one manifestation of that. Get one signed by Esplin and certified to have been in the possession of Dean Jessee and you might have yourself a little nest egg. While it is true that digitization has thankfully changed things, there is still a tremendous desire to have the book in our hands (perhaps a lingering nostalgia for our golden plates).
I think Mormons love books because they have information. Internalized information is knowledge, and knowledge of the Church, the Gospel and history not only translates into power throughout the eternities, but also connects us to the people, events and places of our heritage – a measure of intimacy. What’s more, a Joseph Smith handkerchief or coffin cane is a bit hard to come by; so we can relicize information as found in books and approach them with reverence. Unfortunately, one of the results of this environment is that some books, when they do go out of print, become very expensive on the used market. Here are some examples very useful books you should have purchased when you had the chance (I am just looking at standard printings, not collectors or limited printings):
Andrew Ehat and Lyndon Cook, Words of Joseph Smith: The Contemporary Accounts of the Nauvoo Discourses of the Prophet Joseph (Provo: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 1980).
This volume collects all the contemporary accounts of Joseph Smith’s Nauvoo sermons and presents them faithfully to the manuscript and with scholarly annotations. This book is a classic. The authors reprinted the volume in 1991 with Grandin Books. The authors updated the book for a revised digital edition (1996) which is currently available on Gospelink. Ehat has worked to further revise, correct, and expand the volume and is expected to produce a third edition this year (rumored to go for ~$30!). Current going price for either bound editions: $220-550.
Thomas Alexander, Mormonism in Transition: A History of the Latter-day Saints, 1890-1930 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1986 [1996 in paper]).
This is a classic volume that treats an integral portion of Mormon history and only a couple of years ago you could still pay regular price. It is available on the Signature Books, New Mormon Studies CD-ROM, but both the hardcover and paperback are out of print. Alexander is apparently revising the text for a second edition to be published with Kofford; however, there is no ETA for this second volume. Oddly the paperback is going for a higher price than the hardback on the used market: $62-95 (though one vendor on amazon is trying to sell a copy for close to $600!).
Leonard Arrington, Adventures of a Church Historian (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1998).
Arrington is the great hero of modern Mormon historiography. This is a wonderful read and has many details about the critical period of his tenure as Church Historian that you can’t find anywhere else. Like Alexander’s, a couple of years ago, you could have picked this up at regular price. Now: $79-194.