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Mormon books I'll do without
By Orson Scott Card August 14, 2008

I was staying in Orem in order to attend the Provo Temple wedding of my older brother's youngest daughter. It was a lovely ceremony -- and not just because they were two extraordinarily good young people embarking on the great partnership.

The sealer told us that one of the Seventy, speaking to a meeting of temple sealers, had recently said, "Your job as a sealer is not to advise them about married life -- they have stake presidents, bishops, parents, and uncounted volunteers to provide that. I was married more than thirty years ago, and I can't remember a single word of the advice the sealer gave me. But I remember how I felt during that ceremony."

Wise words, and the result was a lovely, simple wedding that was all about the covenant.

(I, however, remember what the sealer said at my wedding -- because the same man performed my younger brother's wedding not much later, and it was word for word the same. This time I could actually listen.)

After the wedding and the luncheon (a very good meal served at the Northampton House in American Fork), I actually had some free time. As usual when I visit Utah Valley, I soon found myself at the University Mall, looking at the latest works by some of my favorite artists at Frameworks. Then, as always, I made my way around the corner to Deseret Book.

(I would be more proud of the fact that I did not stop at See's Candies on the way between stores, if not for the fact that I had stopped there before going to Frameworks, and indulged in butterchews and a bordeau.

(If they ever declare excellent candy to be against the Word of Wisdom, I fear for my soul. In fact, even Neccos would probably be enough temptation to send me straight to hell.)

I scanned the Mormon music section because a composer/performer friend of mine had recommended a singer. She must be extraordinarily talented, since her name is Frogley, which only the e keeps from being a truly unfortunate adjective. (And I say this as someone with an absurd noun for a last name.)

Then I looked over a whole range of self-help books. Without mentioning titles, I was unable to resist picking up:

How to save your marriage by making sure you wash your face and clip your fingernails. (I'm sure there was more to the book than that, but I set it down after randomly opening it to that sage advice).

How to achieve spiritual fulfilment through a series of steps that didn't seem to me to be anywhere near as useful as the two-step program, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, might, mind and strength, and your neighbor as yourself," which is in a book I already own.

And I thought: These books are all so well-meaning. Just because I'm not keen on them does not mean there's anything wrong with them -- they're simply not for me.

There have been church books that changed my life. On my mission, I read then-Apostle Spencer W. Kimball's The Miracle of Forgiveness, which was so warm and open and real that it touched my heart and gave me great hope, as I realized that this was a part of the gospel I was in Brazil to teach.

But thinking of my mission and that book reminded me: Our mission president told us on our first night in the mission home in São Paulo (this was in 1972): "If you haven't read the Book of Mormon, then read that first. But after that, you are not to read anything else until you read Frank Bettger's How I Raised Myself from Failure to Success in Selling and Og Mandino's The Greatest Salesman in the World."

He also forbade us to read the Old Testament at all during our mission, since it was too long and would only confuse us and had little to do with what we would actually teach investigators.

I dutifully opened Bettger's book. It seemed designed to re-gung-ho-ify the sagging spirits of salesmen who don't really believe in their product but still have to make a living. It grieved me to the soul that my mission president was the kind of man who thought such a book had anything to do with what missionaries were giving up a significant portion of their life to do.

Naturally, my antidote was to read the Old Testament from beginning to end.

There was another book we were forbidden to read: Spiritual Roots of Human Relations, by Stephen R. Covey, where he explicitly talked about the difference between gospel salesmen and gospel shepherds. There is no way the Covey book and the Bettger book could coexist in the same mission.

I chose the Covey, thereby proving myself to be stiffnecked and disobedient. But Spiritual Roots made me a better missionary.

Many of us also read Neal A. Maxwell's A More Excellent Way, quite sure that our mission president would ban it if he could, but Elder Maxwell was immune to banning.

My memory of this was some consolation to me when a mission president in North Carolina banned my book Saintspeak: The Mormon Dictionary. Since I thought my book was encouraging people to be rigorously orthodox, and I only held up to ridicule the cultural beliefs and practices that I thought were keeping us Mormons from leading gospel-centered lives, it hurt my feelings. But at least I had good company in my bannedness.

Standing there in Deseret Book, I wondered if there were any Mormon books that I would ban. There are a few that I wish had never been written, and a few others in which I wish the authors had used better judgment. But ban them? No.

Some titles are so offensive you don't have to open the book. For instance, the book Don't Sweat the Small Stuff: And It's All Small Stuff came out at about the same time we lost our baby daughter. I saw that title and it filled me with rage and grief. No, sir, it's not all small stuff. I hated that the book existed. I hated that it was a bestseller. But I wouldn't ban it.

Banning books only encourages people to read them in order to find out why they annoy the kind of people who ban books.

Still -- just because you think of the idea doesn't mean you have to write the book.

Here are some titles I hope never to see on the shelves at Deseret Book:

Demand Your Eternal Rights: Getting Blessings Without All That Embarrassing and Time-Consuming Repentance.

Emma Smith, Detective.

Your Just Reward: Faith Really Can Pay Off in Cash.

The Mitochondria in Adam's Rib: A Mormon Geneticist Solves the Mystery.

Decoding Your Life: Financial Ups and Downs Are God's Way of Telling You How You're Doing.

Joseph Smith: The First Republican.

Alluring Modesty: How to Spice Up a Celestial Marriage.

The Servant of All: Achieving Business Success through Humility.

Godly Submission: Young Women Prepare for Wifehood.

Brigham Young in Space.

The Meaning of the Comma and Semicolon in the Book of Omni.

Kolob, Kokaubeam, and Quasars.

Jesus Would Have Joined the NRA.

This list would be funnier if I weren't so sure that someone, somewhere, will look at each one of these titles and think that it sounds like a great idea for a book.

Copyright © 2008 by Orson Scott Card

 
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