State of MTP / Towards “Mission Accomplished”? / Feedback Requested

In which: MTP has made a great deal of progress, but we’re starting to run out of obvious out-of-copyright books to work on, and I request opinions on our future plans.

Progress

In the last 4 years (give or take) many volunteers have done a great deal of work, and MTP has put up 94 e-books on Project Gutenberg, ranging from the 1830s to the 1920s, from pamphlets to multi-volume works, from pioneer stories to doctrine to fiction, and so on. In that same time frame, I’ve had two children, started full-time work with various related adventures, bought a house, and completed half of an online MBA program. So it’s been an exciting four years, and both my personal situation and MTP’s situation have developed quite a bit.

In 2014, I thought the list of LDS books on Project Gutenberg was embarrassing. The total volume of LDS literature was small, and many obviously significant out-of-copyright works were missing. At this point, there’s enough LDS lit posted that I am going to need many years to get caught up on reading it, and the holes in the canon are also much smaller. In the last year or so (since my last general update) the in-progress backlog has dropped from ~25 books to 12. We are still working on History of the Church vols. 4-6 (need post-processing), B. H. Roberts’ Seventy’s Course in Theology vols. 1-5 (in various stages of progress), and a few other projects that I think have value. There are also a few important post-1923 works that may not have had their copyrights renewed (e.g. Discourses of Brigham Young ed. Widtsoe), and once the post-processing backlog is done I may tackle the Project Gutenberg copyright research process to prove these are in the public domain.

Running out of books / towards “Mission Accomplished”?

But beyond these items (admittedly a hefty chunk of work) I’m struggling to come up with out-of-copyright books, not already on Project Gutenberg, that pass at least one of the following tests:

  • Can reasonably be claimed as a Mormon “great book” (see that link for examples)
  • Interests or intrigues me such that I’d consider reading it on my Kindle 
  • Is widely read/could imaginably get substantial download counts during the next decade (e.g. written by famous general authority)

There’s always another book or work that fails all of the above tests but could still be deemed to have some “significance.” Think volume 21 of the Journal of Discourses, or George Reynolds’ Complete Concordance to the Book of Mormon: important at the time, possibly of interest to scholars, but not remotely worth the effort to proofread and format as an e-book. Or consider the case of early Mormon fiction: no doubt some of it is “significant,” I wish I really loved reading it, and I wish people downloaded it, but in practice we’ve already made a decent sampling of it available and it seems to be a tough sell. This sort of “significance” is not enough motivation for me to spend the time on a book, recruit volunteers to work on it, etc. I have opportunity costs.

So the tests above are more or less where I draw the line, and MTP is approaching that line: we are unlikely to release another 94 e-books under my management or have further mass proofreading via an internship program. If there’s someone lurking out there who has much bigger dreams for out-of-copyright Mormon lit (will all you Complete Concordance die-hards out there please stand up) and a spare couple hundred hours a year, I would be happy to hand off the reins, so get in touch. Otherwise there will likely be progress on the books I listed above for a few more years, leading eventually to a stopping point.

To emphasize: I think the work we’ve done and are still doing is worthwhile, there’s more to go, and I could still use a couple more volunteers at this point. I am just making the policy statement that I do not expect to personally continue MTP’s work forever on increasingly obscure books. 

In my mind MTP’s other purpose, beyond making free e-books available, is to write about and advertise them: to encourage ordinary mortal members of the Church, who do not have an academic interest, to read awesome old Mormon stuff. The e-book production process has largely crowded this out for the last few years, and it’s likely to be at least another year before that changes, but I can imagine spending more time on it in the long-run. I’m curious to what extent we have influenced people via this side of our mission. So,

Questions for the world:

What out-of-copyright (i.e. pre-1923) LDS “great books,” books that are widely read, books that should intrigue me but may have escaped my notice, etc. are not already on Project Gutenberg?

Has MTP helped you to find and/or influenced you to read books you would not otherwise have read? How? How should we?

Please comment; I’m very interested in responses.

New Release: George Q. Cannon’s Joseph Smith biography “for young people”

The Latter-Day Prophet: History of Joseph Smith Written for Young People is now up as a free e-book on Project Gutenberg. Cannon is of course the famous publisher, member of the First Presidency, author, and missionary (his book on his first mission is also available and it’s awesome). And this work is just what it sounds like, a history of Joseph Smith written with Sunday School children in mind. Have a look.

New Release: “Mormon Doctrine, Plain and Simple” by Penrose

This 1888 book by (then-future) member of the First Presidency Charles W. Penrose is now available as a free e-book on Project Gutenberg. It’s a relatively quick read consisting of twelve articles, “Leaves from the Tree of Life,” that provide an outline of the gospel that Penrose viewed as appropriate for either investigators or the youth of the Church. Check it out.

New Release: Spanish Flu “Saturday Night Thoughts” by Orson F. Whitney

Now on Project Gutenberg! Notable writer Elder Orson F. Whitney of the Twelve explained this book in its foreword as follows:

Most of the contents of this volume appeared originally as a series of articles in Saturday issues of the Deseret Evening News, beginning October 26, 1918, and ending May 31, 1919. As stated by the News, these articles “were designed to fill in some degree a spiritual void and meet a special need of those who were in the habit of attending Sunday services, but were denied that privilege by the prevalence of the influenza epidemic.” That epidemic caused a suspension of public gatherings for several months, and even made necessary the postponement of one General Conference of the Church.

It was during this period of suspension that these contributions to the Church organ began. They were given place on the editorial page, and subsequently the News said of them: “These ‘Thoughts’ have subserved a far more than temporary and passing purpose—they have stimulated study and deep reflection, and they have been greatly enjoyed and prized by the thoughtful reader everywhere.”

Among those who uttered similar sentiments was President George H. Brimhall, of the Brigham Young University, who, in a letter to the author, expressed the hope that provision would be made for publication of the essays in book form, “thus adding one more choice volume to Latter-day Saint literature, especially suited to the needs of students at home and missionaries abroad.” Like expressions came from President Heber J. Grant, Senator Reed Smoot, President John A. Widtsoe, of the University of Utah, and many other prominent people.

In response to this cordial, widespread sentiment of appreciation, and under the sanction of the General Authorities of the Church, the “Saturday Night Thoughts” were compiled for republication, and the result is here presented.

May, 1921

THE AUTHOR.

 

New Release: “Mr. Durant” by Ben E. Rich

Mr. Durant of Salt Lake City, “That Mormon” is an 1893 novel by Ben E. Rich, publisher, missionary, and later on President of the Southern States Mission. (We’ve talked about Rich elsewhere.) Set in Tennessee, it tells the story of a missionary (Durant) who has a series of gospel discussions with people in a given town. The novel is more like a frame story for the discussions than a drama in its own right, but Durant does almost get mobbed. Interesting as an indication of how the gospel was being presented and received in the South during this time frame.

New Release: “The Lectures on Faith”

They’re finally out! McConkie wrote concerning the Lectures: “They were not themselves classed as revelations, but in them is to be found some of the best lesson material ever prepared on the Godhead; on the character, perfections, and attributes of God; on faith, miracles, and sacrifice. They can be studied with great profit by all gospel scholars.” They were prepared by Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon as lesson material for the School of the Prophets in Kirtland, and were included in editions of the Doctrine & Covenants from 1835 through 1921. A good overview of their significance is available in the Encyclopedia of Mormonism (also the source of the quote). The Lectures are well worth a read, and quite short.

Get the e-book free on PG. You can also scans of the 1835 edition at the Joseph Smith Papers site.

New Release: “Reminiscences of Joseph, the Prophet” by Edward Stevenson

This 1893 book is notable as a source about Joseph Smith–the author was a teenager in Kirtland, and published this in his later years. Elder Stevenson is also significant as a many-time missionary and one of the Presidents of the Seventy. Check it out on Project Gutenberg.