About a month ago, a younger coworker of mine attended a publishing fair at BYU. At the fair, she spoke with a representive from AML, who was apparently quite enthusiastically giving away back issues of Irreantum. My coworker returned to our office with two and said, “I don’t know why she gave me these, but I don’t really want any more books right now, and I hate to throw them away. Anyone interested?” Because I already knew Irreantum, I was. I already had one of the issues, but the other was a few years old–maybe 2005?–and didn’t look familiar.
I’m slightly ashamed to admit that I didn’t automatically want it either–so many of the books I already own are in boxes I don’t casually add one more–but I did want to flip through the issue before it got thrown away to see if anything caught my eye. Not only did something catch my eye, I couldn’t believe my eyes.
Listed right there in the Table of Contents was a story called “Brother Singh.” I blinked. Yes, it did say Singh–the same as my grandfather’s middle name, and the middle or last name of millions of Sikhs like him. I read the entire story right there in the office: it was an intriguing piece about a fictional Sikh convert to Mormonism by a writer who obviously knew a great deal about Sikh practice and history. Incredible! I’d had no idea such stories existed anywhere outside of my family.
Before I left the office, I’d called my brother and arranged to lend him the copy. I think I dropped it off on my way home, though I can’t recall for sure.
I don’t think I’ve seen it since. My brother has moved back to Ohio for the summer and will be leaving on a mission in the fall. I can’t recall if he read the story or not. If he has the copy, it’s more work than I’m likely to go about to get it back. If I do get it back and lend it to someone else, there’s a fair shot that once again, it will disappear for an extended period of time. The odds that I will successfully circulate Brother Singh among the interested members of my family are tiny–and that’s too bad.
Let’s imagine that “Brother Singh” were posted at an online version Irreantum, either instead of or in addition to being issued in print. If that were the case, I might have run across the story while browsing on my own earlier, rather than having needed the happy accident (only possible in Utah) of having a coworker about to discard a copy instead. In my initial excitement about the story, I might have emailed the link to family members, posted a link for friends of Facebook, and posssibly even written about the story on my blog. I wouldn’t have had to worry about lost copies or transporting copies to people. I wouldn’t have had to limit my sharing to people geographically close to me. Wouldn’t that be better for Mormon art?
As I understand it, a primary rationale for continuing Irreantum as a print journal is the belief that doing so will make the stories last. Editors see valuable stories and want them to be there for readers and scholars in the future to find. I wonder, though–if print is acting as an impediment to distributing this material now, isn’t it also possible that it will also make these stories harder to find later? Would these stories be easier to find through a wide range of electronic paths than through two hundred physical copies?
What do you think: are there major advantages I’m missing to print as the primary form of Irreantum distribution? Or is it time for AML to consider switching its literary journal to an online format?