2009 Christmas gift book guide

It is before Thanksgiving, I know. Nevertheless, the time has once again come to consider our relations and judge among them who will receive something cool and who will receive n’importe quoi.

Jehovah and the World of the Old Testament (Deseret Book, 2009), $41.36
The Harper Collins Study Bible (HarperOne, 2006), $26.69

The Old Testament, has it been four years already? Perhaps the least favorite quartile of our Gospel Doctrine regimen. I am certainly not alone in my general ignorance of the Jewish Bible. Deseret Book has a strong offering for those interested in gaining some context in Jehovah and the World of the Old Testament. Kevin and Ben’s reviews highlight the benefits many will find in its pages. People in the know, however, insist that getting a high quality study Bible is essential. I’m told that Harper Collins’ is the best around. Don’t worry about it being a different translation; it will certainly help you (and the Relief Society used a similar contemporary volume for study from 1942-1944).

When Souls Had Wings: Pre-Mortal Existence in Western Thought (Oxford University Press, 2009), $21.56
The Ten Lost Tribes: A World History (Oxford University Press, 2009), 23.96

Perhaps with your helping of ancient near east you might also be interested in histories of ideas that we generally think came from that context. Givens is a Mormon author extraordinaire, but in his volume on the pre-mortal life, he peers across cultures and times to view the evolution of what many view to be something particularly Mormon. Zvi Ben-Dor Benite gives us a world history of the Lost Ten Tribes. Mormon Israelism is peculiar, to be sure, but this fine study is a nice introduction to the broader context of the history and myth of the exiles (SPOILER: they are not at the North Pole).

The Year My Son and I Were Born: A Story of Down Syndrome, Motherhood, and Self-Discovery (GPP Life, 2009), $16.47
Many of us know and love Kathryn. Her memoir is a moving look into her life with her trisomic son. Many reviewers have lauded this book (e.g., see here). This is one that could easily be welcomed by those who aren’t Mormon.

Mormon Passage of George D. Watt: First British Convert, Scribe for Zion (Utah State University Press, 2009) $39.95
Biographies are an important genre and this year Ron Watt’s biography is an important contribution to that genre. I have repeatedly recommended Ron’s article in Utah Historical Quarterly on the Journal of Discourses as essential reading and this book should be equally so. Beyond the titular attributes, George Watt was a key recorder of sermons in early Utah and was involved in fun projects such as the development of the Deseret Alphabet. This book doesn’t come out until the second week in December and we should have a review up early next year. Another must-have with a slight possibility of release before Christmas is Mark Staker’s long awaited volume (keep a look-out Santa).

The Tree House (Zerahemla Books, 2009), $14.92
I don't read a lot of fiction, but Doug Thayer’s novel comes highly recommended by Margaret Blaire Young, who is to be trusted. Mormon fiction that isn’t crap. How about that?

BYU Studies, 1 year for $25
Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon thought, 1 year for $37
Journal of Mormon History, 1 year for $45

Why yes, this is the third year recommending these subscriptions. People like to get them. Both BYU Studies and Dialogue are general Mormon Studies publications. You’ll find a little bit of everything (though Dialogue also has regular fiction). The JMH is not a subscription, per se. It is actually a membership to the Mormon History Association which comes with a year’s worth of journal and a regular newsletter. It is strait up Mormon History, as the name implies. They are all quarterly, but BYU Studies is typically significantly less pages than the other two. You can also purchase single issues from the respective websites.

Eliza R. Snow: The Complete Poetry (BYU Studies/University of Utah Press, 2009), $44.95
Post-Manifesto Polygamy: The 1899 to 1904 Correspondence of Helen, Owen and Avery Woodruff (Utah State University Press, 2009), $26.56
On the Mormon Frontier: The Diary of Hosea Stout, 1844-1889 [Paperback] (University of Utah Press, 2009), $30.36

These next two groupings of books are primary sources. Essentially specialty volumes, these books can also be engaging for the average reader under the correct circumstances. Derr and Davidson’s complete volume of Eliza R. Snow’s poetry is a substantive compilation (almost 1,400 pages!) that gives unprecedented access to Zion’s poetess. Derr was kind enough to answer some questions about the volume here and here. USU’s publication of the Woodruffs’ correspondence is short but extraordinary. Owen was an apostle who married a second wife after the 1890 manifesto. These are the letters between husband and spouses. Lastly, UU Press has recently made available the diaries of Hosea Stout in paperback. Previously published in 1964 and 1982, Stout’s diaries are an important account of late Nauvoo, the trail West, and early Utah. Used copies typically sell in the hundreds, so this is a great way for more of us to get access.

Joseph Smith Papers: Revelations and Translations, Manuscript Revelation Books (Church Historians Press, 2009), $89.95
The Book of Mormon: The Earliest Text (Yale University Press, 2009), $23.10

The hardcore researcher or perhaps the vain will certainly want a copy of the most recent volume from the Joseph Smith Papers Project: the Manuscript Revelation Books (see review here). The perhaps high price for a book is actually very low for the quantity and quality of materials it contains. Also out this year is the fruits of Royal Skousen’s meticulous years (decades?) of work with the Book of Mormon. I’m looking forward to the reviews, but I have enjoyed reading through what is perhaps our closest approach to the words as they flowed from the Prophet’s lips.


The Complete America’s Test Kitchen TV Show Cookbook, $21.57
If the Joseph Smith Papers Project made a cook book, this would be it. These guys make the best food ever.


For previous years recommendations see here: 2008, 2007, and 2006.


  1. Very interesting! Do you have any fiction recommendations?

  2. Fantastic, J; I always look forward to your book guide every year.

    For books in preparation for the OT, I’ve really enjoyed James Kugel’s How to Read the Bible.

  3. Thanks.

    Katya, this is out of my area of expertise, but Margaret Blaire Young who is spectacularly competent recently recommended Doug Thayer’s The Tree House.

  4. …okay, I have added Doug’s book to the original post.

  5. Personally, I think the Eliza Snow poetry collection is an especially good gift for people who don’t like poetry and won’t be reading it. It’s cool to own all her poems, but she dedicated her life to the kingdom at the expense of developing herself as a writer.

  6. Thanks, J. I’ve hinted strongly to the gift-givers that be that a copy of Revs 1 would be ideal this Christmas. Perhaps I’ll send along this link to drive the point home a little more. :)

  7. Steve Peck’s A Short Stay in Hell is a nice piece of short Mormon fiction.

  8. Steve Evans says:

    Don’t forget Elna Baker, J.

  9. Other fine picks.

    I did not include a Gentile pick, much to my shame. I have rectified that now in the original post.

  10. Nationally published YA, no specific Mormon content:
    Card, Laura. (as Dene Low). Petronella Saves Nearly Everyone: The Entomological Tales of Augustus T. Percival.
    Ellis, Ann Dee. Everything Is Fine.

    Nationally published, Mormon (or polygamist) characters
    Hale, Shannon. The Actor and the Housewife.
    Morrison, Angela. Taken by Storm
    Williams, Carol Lynch. The Chosen One

    Zarahemla Press books, Mormon characters and themes.
    Langford, Jonathan. No Going Back.
    Peterson, Todd. Rift
    Thayer, Douglas. The Tree House.

  11. > Very interesting! Do you have any fiction recommendations?

    Hello! Twilight series!!

  12. 1. Hey! Hosea Stout’s diaries in a new paperback? No longer will people have to pay $100+ for the outofprint versions? Yay! (Although I already paid my money….)

    2. I am totally irredeemably offended by the notion that Mormon fiction must necessarily suck unless recommended by Margaret Blair Young.

    3. The most obviously nonsucky novel this year was Angela Hallstrom’s Bound on Earth. And let me linkbomb my review of Rift which was worthy of attention and is, like Thayer’s book, a man book. And as everyone knows, man books are a rare breed.

    4. And as long as I’m linkbombing, don’t forget The Fob Bible (buy) (read free selections). I would throw you a dozen reviews too, but I don’t want to seem cocky.

  13. Th, note that I said that I don’t read much fiction. I referenced Margaret because I saw her recently and she recommended Doug’s book. There are certainly non-crap Mormon fiction out there.

  14. Bound on Earth was last year, dude. Although still very much worth picking up if you haven’t yet. A very good choice for the middlebrow (and I use that adj. with pride) readers of the family.

    Rift would be good for any fans of Levi Petersen or of Mormon realist fiction featuring crusty old dudes.

    I don’t know that No Going Back is a present, per se. But it’s the sort of novel that anyone with any kind of linkage to the issues of SSA and the LDS Church should read (whether you agree with the approach or not).

  15. I should add that I agree with the approach — and not just because Jonathan is a friend. I, frankly, thought the novel would be impossible to write but he strikes a balance and situates the characters in a particular place and time that clearly shows that this is one (fictional) experience of one Mormon young man that is gay/same sex attracted who wants to remain within the LDS Church. It spares no one, but at the same time is a minor domestic drama so not actually *all* that harrowing or damning.

  16. Kathryn’s book is on my wish list.

  17. .

    Too late, dude. I said ‘irremediably’.

    (And thanks for fixing my code.)

  18. Robin Jensen says:

    Nice list J. I couldn’t recommend Skousen’s book enough. It’s the culmination of three decades worth of work and at $35 cover price (from a university press!), it’s a steal.

  19. I really liked The Tree House a lot; I think it’s one of Thayer’s strongest works and a great piece of Mormon fiction. Great for those who like historical fiction. I haven’t read Rift yet. This year I’m getting my parents the DVD Nobody Knows. It’s not a book, but also a great idea

  20. If you really want to understand the OT, pick up a copy of the Jewish Study Bible http://www.amazon.com/Jewish-Study-Bible-Publication-Translation/dp/0195297512.

  21. I own (and use) the Harper Collins Study Bible and can highly recommend it from my personal use.

    I first obtained it during my graduate studies in religion and find it continues to be useful even though I now use the KJV more often.

  22. …and the Relief Society used a similar contemporary volume for study from 1942-1944).

    Could you give a bit more detail, or a place that lists the church study guides over the years?

  23. Swisster, in 1966 the General Board of Relief Society published History of Relief Society, 1842-1966. You can find copies for a few bucks used, but it is a rather wonderful history. Lots of goodies you won’t find elsewhere. Pp. 77-80 include the topic for study from 1914 (the first year of centralized lesson planning) to 1966. 1942-44 the RS had a Bible as Literature segment. On pp. 72 and 73 is an image of books used in the courses of study. Included is Moulton’s The Modern Reader’s Bible (MacMillan), which is available on google books if you want to check it out.

    Otherwise the back issues of Relief Society Magazine are extraordinarily helpful.

  24. W. V. Smith says:

    J., you were just making public your gift list too me, right? ;)

  25. Floyd the Wonderdog says:

    I’m totally getting the America’s Test Kitchen Cookbook. I made their challah bread and now we don’t use any other recipe for our Sabbath day bread.

    Halla for challah!

  26. I’ve got your back W. V.

  27. J. Stapley, I actually own that book (50 cents from D.I.), but had never read it! I think maybe I couldn’t get past the cover! Thanks for opening my eyes.