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Book of Mormon called 'important piece of literature'

The Book of Mormon is as important a piece of literature as the Bible and should be widely accessible, according to Stephen Rubin, president and publisher of Doubleday, which has made the book of scripture available for the first time in a commercial edition.

Publication of the 573-page volume last month by the major publisher is seen by some observers as a landmark event in the book's history. Mr. Rubin was in Salt Lake City on Dec. 2 to meet with the First Presidency relative to publication of the Doubleday edition. He spoke with the Church News immediately after that meeting.

"The Book of Mormon is as important a piece of literature as there is, in the same way that the Bible is an important piece of literature," he said, giving that as the foremost factor in the company's decision to publish it. "And the Doubleday religious program is very much interested in publishing a whole library of books of this sort. We have just commissioned another translation of the Koran, for example."

Referring to the rapid growth of Mormonism in the United States, Mr. Rubin said, "We felt that we could really help the Church in getting the books out to people in places where they're not normally available."

It took a year and a half to bring that to fruition, he said, because of initial reticence on the part of Church authorities "in letting this most valuable of books out of their hands into other hands."

"Ultimately, I think what made it happen was that the wonderful Sheri Dew (Deseret Book president and CEO) brought three members of the Church to us in New York, and we had a meeting. And it was only then that I really understood what their concerns were. I very much responded to that, because this is like letting the crown jewels out."

He found it singular that the meeting in the company board room in New York City ended up with the reading of scripture. "It was pretty shocking for a board room," he said. "But I think that gave the Brethren the feeling that these people could be trusted. And we put in a tremendous set of checks and balances where they have control over every single aspect of this project."

What resulted, he said, is a product that is "absolutely beautiful," adding, "We think it's going to sell and sell and sell; we shipped 109,000 copies."

Told that there is a prophecy within the book that it would be brought forth out of darkness unto light (see Mormon 8:16) and that some believers are apt to see this publishing event as, in some ways, a fulfillment of that prophecy, he said: "Well, that's lovely. I would hardly say that the book has been in the dark, but yes, I could understand that. It's available, as it should be available. It's a great work of literature. It should be available to anybody in a major bookstore. And it should be available to students, and it's available in a very user-friendly edition."

Mr. Rubin expressed a sense of honor that the First Presidency would meet with him and said he found President Gordon B. Hinckley to be "perky, bright, charming, welcoming, warm and incredibly smart." He asked for and received a signed copy of President Hinckley's book Standing for Something. "And then he made me sign our edition of the Book of Mormon for him. I felt really honored signing. I said, 'Isn't it inappropriate?' He said, 'No, it's not inappropriate.' So, as he said, it was tit for tat."

The publisher was also given a memento, a desk-size bronze sculpture called "Trail of Faith."

Since it was published in Palmyra, N.Y., in 1830, more than 100 million copies of the book have been printed, more than 5 million of those in 2002 alone. The Doubleday edition contains none of the footnotes that are standard in LDS editions and is typeset at two columns per page, with book and chapter headings and numbering consistent with the current volumes.

In a press release announcing the Doubleday edition, Sister Dew stated that there may be nothing more significant in the world of LDS publishing "since 1830, when E.B. Grandin used a hand press to print the first 5,000 copies of the Book of Mormon. While it has enjoyed phenomenal worldwide distribution, there has been this major channel of distribution that's been entirely untapped."

She said that now one can go to "a commercial bookstore and find the Book of Mormon right next to the Bible, the Talmud, the Koran, you name it."

The Doubleday edition's list price is $24.95.

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