It's been two and a half years since Richard Bushman's "Rough Stone Rolling" rolled off the presses and you'll have to pardon the Harvard-educated professor if he still doesn't quite know how to behave like a rock star.
"I find it (the attention) somewhat embarrassing," says the author of arguably the most provocative, talked-about mainstream book dealing with Mormon history ever.
His "Rough Stone Rolling," a biography of Joseph Smith, the Mormon prophet, has gone through six printings and counting since its release in 2005, and there are now 100,000 copies in print.
"I think it's surprised Knopf," Bushman says, referring to the book's New York publisher. And he knows it's surprised him. "I was hoping we'd sell 20,000," he says.
But the world, as it's turned out, was ready for an unvarnished presentation of the life and times of the boy prophet who started a church in 1830 that now has more than 13 million members worldwide, with over a million right here in Utah.
"I think the response represents a maturing of the Mormon culture," says Bushman, himself a believing, practicing Mormon. "People are ready for a realistic picture of Joseph Smith. They want to know him straight, not as someone lifted two or three feet off the ground."
They also want to know about the book's author.
Ever since the book's release, Bushman has been in constant demand as a speaker. Tonight he'll be at Weber State University in the Shepherd Union Ballroom for a 7 p.m. speech on "Intellectual Prospects for Mormonism." There is no charge and the public is invited.
Also while in Utah he will deliver a number of talks to LDS congregations usually referred to as firesides, which is a euphemistic way of saying "speaking for free."
"It's the Mormon way," smiles Bushman. "You get dinner and get to meet a lot of nice people."
Another side of his accidental celebrity, Bushman notes, is a steady stream of e-mails "from troubled souls who want an ear to listen to them."
"I don't know how they get my e-mail," he says, "but they do."
He's happy to write them back. What he isn't happy about is when people praise him as being the world's most knowledgable person about LDS Church history "Not even close," he says and he also doesn't like it when people proclaim "Rough Stone Rolling" as the definitive biography of Joseph Smith.
"There will never be a definitive biography of Joseph Smith," he says. "The subject is too big."
Just how big is reflected in the avenues that have opened for Bushman in the wake of "Rough Stone." Presently he is serving as an invited research fellow at the prestigious Huntington Library in San Marino, Calif., and starting this fall he will assume the Howard W. Hunter chair as visiting professor of Mormon Studies at the secular Claremont Colleges outside Los Angeles.
Bushman gives fair credit to his hot-selling book.
"This book," he says, tapping the cover, "makes me look like a significant Mormon scholar. It has opened a lot of doors."In addition to a lot of eyes.
Lee Benson's column runs Sunday, Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Please send e-mail to [email protected] and faxes to 801-237-2527.