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Calvin Grondahl says he feels like a character in one of his cartoons, and swears he doesn’t know how he got there. “You know you’re in trouble, but you don’t know why,” Grondahl said of his latest book of cartoons about Mormon culture and the reception it’s received in official church circles.
Marketing Precedes the Miracle is Grondahl’s fourth volume of cartoons, the second that church-owned Deseret Book store has declined to carry, even though the first two were brisk sellers. Brigham Young University spokesman Paul Richards said BYU officials had become concerned about the book—which they had not seen—when they heard Deseret Book had canceled an autograph-signing party.
Deseret Book officials felt that “although it is humorous, it may have been offensive to some people,” Richards said. He said BYU had an autograph session after getting Gordon B. Hinckley’s blessing. Hinckley is first counselor in the church’s First Presidency and president of BYU’s executive committee. It was decided that “those who like it can buy it and those who are offended don’t have to.”
Ron Priddis of Signature Books, Grondahl’s publisher, said at first BYU’s bookstore had indicated the cartoonist and displays of his book would be placed in a prominent location, but he wound up at a reference desk in the sciences and technology section. Grondahl, a BYU graduate, said customers mistook him for a store employee and kept asking him where to find this or that. Roger Toone, Deseret Book retail director, said the company’s decision not to stock Grondahl’s latest at its stores was not based on profitability, but he declined to give the reason. “There is no way we can stock all books and we reserve that right,” Toone said.
All of this discomfiture has a familiar ring to Grondahl, 37, an active Mormon who wishes his critics among the officialdom of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints would tell him what they find so offensive. “How can you compromise when you don’t know what they object to?” he said. “It may be the title, but I meant no disrespect.”
Marketing Precedes the Miracle is a play on the title of a book by the late church president Spencer W. Kimball, Faith Precedes the Miracle. Grondahl said it refers to the church’s high-powered public relations efforts. “I think they do a very good job of it,” he said. “So if they’re offended by that, then that has to be discussed . . . because I can’t get inside their heads.” But Grondahl, who served a church mission to New Zealand, isn’t paranoid about reaction to his books or to his work as political cartoonist for the Ogden Standard-Examiner. “I’m not a conspiracy person. And there’s no conspiracy here. Church humor is a relatively new experience.”