What Should be the Rules for a Relief Society Bookclub?

7.15.09 | | 63 comments

OK, you are the Bishop. The Relief Society has decided to have a book club as one if the enrichment groups. Your ward has a normal distribution of both conservative and liberal Church members. What restrictions do you put on the books to be read?

This perspective occurred to me when I read the following on the Douglass Diaries mommy blog (warning, site plays music automatically):

So, one of the new enrichment groups in our ward is a book club.

We haven’t really even met yet, we’re just now reading the reading the first book, and I’m already thinking about bailing.

This is not the fault of the woman who’s in charge of it–having been in her same position in the church a few years ago I’m amazed she even got permission for the book club to be a church-sanctioned activity. That’s quite a feat. But, the trade off is that the Bishop has to approve all book choices (which is completely understandable). To make “appropriate” book selection a little easier, the other rule is that the book has to be one that Deseret Book sells…

I understand why this bishop has set some rules. Even when members have good intentions in making their selections, differences of opinion can lead to someone becoming offended or to a selection that some think is bad and others think is reasonable. Merely wanting to preserve good feelings among ward members could lead to some restrictions.

For what its worth, I do agree with the Bishop approving the books selected. That should be an easy, quick way to avoid problems without getting in the way. But, of course, no one will be surprised when I say that the Deseret Book restriction is silly and “inappropriate” (to use the term so many Church members use to talk about things they don’t like), since Deseret Book’s role shouldn’t be to set the standard, and doing this only perpetuates Deseret Book’s power in the LDS market.

That’s how I think this kind of thing should be handled. What do you think? Is a Bishop’s approval a good idea? What other restrictions, if any, should be used?

63 comments: “What Should be the Rules for a Relief Society Bookclub?

  1. Luisa Perkins

    I’ve been in two book groups that have been loosely affiliated with my the female membership of my wards–one for ten years, and one for five years, and I was the Enrichment Counselor in our Stake RS Presidency when the Enrichment guidelines changed a few years ago.

    I think an official RS Book Group is a very bad idea, and I used to tell my ward Enrichment counterparts that.

    I don’t know any bishop who wants to be thrust into the role of book reviewer–I know my husband doesn’t. He has enough to worry about without taking on the blame/resentment of a disgruntled reader (or a whole gaggle of them).

    The “DB only” rule is an ugly one, though I can see why it would be made. It would certainly be one that would be a deal-breaker as far as my membership in a group would go.

    I think the only solution is to not seek “official” affiliation as an Enrichment group, because that way participants can self-select more comfortably.

    Even the two book groups I’ve been in–which have have been open to members and their non-member friends–have experienced somewhat significant kerfuffles over one book choice or another. It’s never easy.

  2. MoJo

    I think an official RS Book Group is a very bad idea, and I used to tell my ward Enrichment counterparts that.

    Agreed. That’s a petrie dish for a full-on war, right there.

  3. FoxyJ

    I was going to say the same thing; I think adding ‘official’ sanction to something like a bookgroup just invites trouble. First of all, it limits the ability of members to self-select. I don’t like cliques in wards or anything, but if I want to form a group with my friends that read similar books, making it ‘official’ means that we can’t do that. Plus it just adds an extra burden to the bishop that shouldn’t be there. I think there are plenty of other good options out there for other sorts of groups that tend to be less potentially controversial than a book group.

    The DB restriction is lame too. One thing I never liked about that when living outside Utah is that focusing on church books often means requiring people to purchase books each month, which really isn’t how book club should be. It shouldn’t be a financial burden. Or even if they’re not just focusing on church-subject books it still creates problems by using an outside, distant authority to govern what we do locally.

  4. Natasha @ Maw Books

    Our book club was a enrichment activity and we were doing pretty well for about a year before we ran into problems. One, we hated to schedule book club around people who NEVER came to book club. Our book selections were never preapproved but then somebody complained (they read books on own but never came to meetings) to the Bishop about a book that was selected. It was even YA. We were told that we could only choose books that were uplifting and of good report. Naturally, it’s not like we go out of our way to find books that put us in a damper but we immediately became a “neighborhood” book club instead and although all members are in RS, we now don’t have to worry about somebody looking over our shoulders. It’s been fantastic, although I’ve heard many lament that they had no idea that we were still going strong as a group and miss the book title suggestions.

  5. MoJo

    we could only choose books that were uplifting and of good report.

    This always makes me howl. How does one know if something is of good report if one hasn’t read it?

    Like, say, Twilight?

  6. Katya

    I think an official RS Book Group is a very bad idea, and I used to tell my ward Enrichment counterparts that.

    Thirded or fourthed or whatever we’re up to.

    My old ward in Provo had 3 (!) neighborhood book clubs, which saved them the trouble of having to get official sanction. It also helped when they split the ward because it gave former ward members a chance to see each other on a regular basis. (The “membership” wasn’t limited to the neighborhood, though. Anyone who was willing to show up was welcome, whether or not they’d read the book.)

    One group read only “classics” and one read children’s/YA books which helped them avoid issues of explicit content. (I don’t know what the third group read. I also don’t know how they publicized the groups, since they weren’t officially attached to a ward unit.)

  7. Anon

    Just so someone sticks up for the bishop. . .

    If I were a bishop and my RS had a book club and I had to review all books, I would not look forward to that task. In my mind, the DB qualifier is just a quick way to filter out books that are relatively inoffensive.

    While the Bishop is the ‘official’ book approver, DB is the de facto book approver. It should make his life easier.

    My mother is in a book club, and at least for hers it seems like the actual book read is ancillary to the main purpose of socializing and taking about life. I don’t shop at DB much, but I assume they have plenty of books that can bring up good topics of conversation. How you discuss it and what other materials you’ve read that come into the discussion still wouldn’t be limited.

    Not that I really care one way or the other, I just think the restriction isn’t all that bad, especially considering it’s a ward sanctioned book club.

  8. Th.

    .

    Rule one: The bishop has nothing to do with it.

    (Exporting responsibility from the group will just let whiners run to someone else rather than the group working through its own issues.

    Point: RS women are grownups. They can police themselves and reach their own standards democratically.

    My current ward has a super-healthy and long-lived “RS” book club (it’s older than Enrichment itself) and it delves into all sorts of areas. In fact, the one rule of selection is that the books are easily available through ward members and libraries (in other words, no money required) and that pretty much eliminates all things DB.

    I am super jealous of the women in our ward. I often read the books myself and my wife and I talk about them then talk about the group’s discussion later. I eavesdropped when they met at our house.

    Anyway, my point is that an RS book group can be bold and daring and exciting and self-policing. The idea of a priesthood babysitter makes my skin crawl, frankly. What ever happened to agency? Can’t we trust the women?

  9. Th.

    .

    These were from the year before:

    The Ladies Auxiliary by Tova Mirvis
    Fifth Business by Robertson Davies
    Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
    Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn
    Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri
    A Man Without Words by Susan Schaller
    Icy Sparks by Gwyn Hyman Rubio
    The Brothers K by David James Duncan
    Case Histories by Kate Atkinson

    It’s worth noting that sometimes people DO find the books inappropriate, but rather than taking offense, it serves as another avenue for discussion. And a worthwhile discussion at that.

  10. Th.

    .

    The year before that:

    October 26 My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult

    November 30 These is My Words: The Diary of Sarah Agnes Prine by Nancy Turner

    December 21 Indefensible by David Feige

    January 25 The Reivers by William Faulkner

    February 22 To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

    March 22 Good Omens by Neil Gaiman

    April 26 The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals by Michael Pollan

    May 24 Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

    June 28 Criss Cross by Lynne Rae Perkins

    July 26 The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

    August 23 Night by Elie Wiesel

    September 27 The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

  11. Laura Craner

    Wowie-zowie, do I have strong feelings about this one. I LOVE book clubs. I even started an RS book club once. It died and I miss it now.

    The biggest bonus to a RS book club is that you get people you would never normally talk with about book talking. I loved hearing what all the feisty Senior Citizens in my ward thought about stuff. They have such amazing lives and book club was a great opportunity to learn more about them.

    The other bonus is that you get people who don’t usually read to try it. Which can sometimes really bless those individuals.

    Of course, selecting the book is the price you pay for those bonuses. I HATE the DB rule. Terrible. Especially because DB already has a book club–that requires!! each member to spend money each month–and they try to suck all other church-y book groups into it.

    We did have the bishop sign off on the books, but he didn’t read them. I sent him reviews and we talked about the book for a few minutes and he would trust my judgment. Which I really appreciated. We read some books that I really enjoyed: _Safe Journey_ by Glenn L. Pace and _The Great Divorce_ by C.S. Lewis. Our discussion on _The Peacegiver_ was quite interesting; it resonated with the sisters in ways I would never have guessed. My favorite was when we read _The Other Side of Heaven_ and then watched selections of the film and talked about what changes were made and why.

    The group died for two reasons: first, Mormons are busy people and a lot of them cannot be bothered to read a book; second, I was released from the Enrichment committee and nobody else wanted to run it.

    For me it was a valuable experience even though it was a bit of a headache. I’m of the opinion that all Mormon writers should have to sit in on some Mormon book discussions. They’d learn a lot about their audience.

    As a contrast, I was part of a non-churchy book group made up of Church members and people were offended several times and chose not to come back. There was one time I personally offended someone so badly they went home and cried. My point: book clubs are always dicey situations because they are reader-focused and most readers (especially the passionate kind that join book clubs) are touchy people.

    I always think it’s good to stir the pot–just a bit–and help people understand themselves better.

  12. Th.

    .

    (Note: My comments were originally in line with Kent’s imagine-you’re-the-bishop thing, then I forgot about that. IF I WERE THE BISHOP I would stay the heck out of Dodge. And if the RS President asked me, I would advise her to do the same.)

  13. Laura Craner

    Th.– The book club you describe sounds like one that is not affiliated with the Enrichment program. Those are awesome, dynamic groups, but different than what Kent was talking about.

  14. Laura Craner

    Th– BTW, thanks for the book lists. I added them to my to-read list :)

    Mojo– as for Twilight, it all depends on whose report is defined as good!

  15. Katya

    >14

    But wouldn’t any RS-affiliated book club potentially be subject to official scrutiny, even if it wasn’t part of an enrichment special interest group (or whatever they’re called)?

  16. Luisa Perkins

    I thought I was sticking up for the bishop.

    Th., you’re in a really cool ward.

    I looked at your list and noticed several titles that would cause a firestorm in our group. And our ward is pretty cool (clearly not as cool as yours).

    We have a lot of envious husbands, too. We invite them once a year. We thought we might do it more often, since the guys were clearly wanting to participate in the group, but after the first time we limited it to every September (which happens to be the month I moderate the discussion and make the dessert).

    We limited their participation because the men completely change the group dynamic, for some lame reason. Many of the women are much more reticent in their presence, which means the men end up dominating the conversation. But this is probably the subject for an entirely other discussion.

  17. The Only True and Living Nathan

    FWIW, the RS book club in my ward has been going strong for however many years it’s been since general Enrichment meetings were cut back to once a quarter, and specific-focus groups were encouraged to form. (In fact, the book club is the only such group still going, except for groups that pre-existed the change in Enrichment — quilting and scrapbooking.) There are from four to seven consistent participants, of which my wife is one, thus explaining my knowledge of the book club despite my being, y’know, a guy.

    The benefit I see from having it under the RS tent is that announcements for it can be made in RS meeting and in the announcements on the back of the sacrament meeting program. The participants have also felt free to read specifically Mormon-themed books from time to time, which might cause friction in a neighborhood club.

    The previous bishop, under whom the program started, approved the books; I think he had been burned once before, as bishop in another state, when an ostensibly church-sponsored group had swung wide of what would be considered appropriate. (He normally just looked at the cover, read the dustflap, and said, “Looks okay to me.”) I think the current bishop just looked at the core group of attendees and said, “Nah, I trust you.”

    I agree that the “DB only” rule would probably skew the cost/benefit analysis pretty strongly toward the “neighborhood book club” side.

  18. Laura Craner

    Wait a minute–Th. (and Katya), you’re saying that the RS president announces in RS that the book club will be meeting the following Wednesday in the cultural hall and everyone is reading _My Sister’s Keeper_? That blows my mind!

  19. Katya

    17.

    We limited their participation because the men completely change the group dynamic, for some lame reason. Many of the women are much more reticent in their presence, which means the men end up dominating the conversation. But this is probably the subject for an entirely other discussion.

    Yep. That’s a sociological fact. Women talk proportionately less when men are around (and if they talk an equal amount, both men and women perceive them as talking too much). (See research by Deborah Tannen for more facts and figures.) It’s one of the reasons I’m glad for the existence of RS.

  20. Naismith

    I think it is ridiculous for the bishop to have a say about what we read, especially if he hasn’t read the book. Should we also parade into the bishop’s office before the Gold and Green ball to make sure that our gowns are acceptable? I can think of few things more insulting and would not participate in such a group.

    Negotiating the selections is part of the learning of the club.

    Outside the Mormon corridor, there is no way for folks to determine what is sold in Deseret Book. The mail order service is only for church-related stuff.

    Our group also got started with the change in Enrichment some years back. The rules are that everybody agrees on selections, no cost (have to be sufficient copies at the public library) and send out discussion questions the week before.

  21. Brandi

    Brandi from Douglass Diaries here (the quote was from my blog).

    I agree that Enrichment-affiliated book clubs are trouble waiting to happen. Honestly, I think the only reason our bishop agreed to it is because he’s young and a new bishop and doesn’t realize what he’s gotten himself into.

    I was Enrichment counselor in my last ward, and we didn’t WANT the book club to be church affiliated (nor would our bishop have ever agreed). We had a book club that consisted mainly of sisters from the ward, but we didn’t announce it in church and never referred to it as an Enrichment group. As far as I know it’s still going strong 3 years later.

    Anyway, the DB rule is one of the reasons I even wrote that post to begin with. Oh, how it pisses me off.

    I’ll still read the books and attend the Enrichment-sanctioned book club for the socialization of it, but I started my own “Bad Girls’ Book Club” on my blog as of today to counter-act the ridiculousness of the DB rule.

    Half the women in my ward already think I’m highly inappropriate anyway (I’ve had my blog reported to the bishop!).

    ~Brandi

  22. berzerkcarrottop

    19 – Laura,

    As the person currently in charge of the book group in Th.’s ward, Yes, the RS presidency announces in RS (and the announcements emailed to the women of the ward) what we are reading, what date we are meeting and where. We always meet at people’s homes – not at church.

  23. Laura Craner

    berzerkcarrottop: that blows my mind! There would be such an uproar in my ward if the RS pres. suggested people read those books. More power to you.

    Since there aren’t any Bad Girls book groups for me to join, I guess I’ll just have to keep reading AMV to get my literary hit :)

  24. Brillig

    I agree with Luisa’s first comment. The Bishop should run away screaming. I completely understand the rule he made about DB. As a former DB employee (don’t shoot me) I know how hard they work to make sure that everything on their shelves is “appropriate” (the definition of appropriate, though, always amazed me. I mean, we put Rush Limbaugh on the front tables. But that’s probably a comment for a different post…). In fact, we worked so hard to keep things appropriate that I often found myself digging through boxes of books in the back — books we were throwing out because of their inappropriateness — books that I was, therefore, allowed to take home. So yeah, DB is pretty “safe.”

    And, frankly, I think that if it’s a church-sponsored activity, it SHOULD to be safe!

    I look at the list of books provided by Theric and my reaction was, once again, the same as Luisa’s. Several of them are highly “inappropriate.” I night choose to read them on my own time, but it really doesn’t seem right to read books with graphic language or scenes (no matter how insightful they may be) with my Relief Society.

    But here’s the problem on the flip-side. I belong to a book club made up entirely of women in my ward, though it’s not RS Sanctioned. The woman who started it is a passionate, intelligent woman who was looking for a handful of other passionate, intelligent women. (Still not sure why they chose me ;-) )

    But, see, some people were obviously excluded. She wanted to keep the group small, and she only wanted the brightest and best to be allowed in. Therefore, it’s become exclusive and cliquey (or at least it looks like that to outsiders). So now, once again, it’s a nightmare for the Bishop. Poor Bishop can’t catch a break!

  25. MoJo

    “Bad Girls’ Book Club” on my blog as of today to counter-act the ridiculousness of the DB rule.

    Half the women in my ward already think I’m highly inappropriate anyway (I’ve had my blog reported to the bishop!).

    I love you.

  26. Th.

    .

    Since I am substantially more likely to some day be a bishop than in the Relief Society, I want to return to that question, this time with scriptures!

    D&C 121:39 We have learned by sad experience that it is the nature and disposition of almost all men, as soon as they get a little authority, as they suppose, they will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion.

    From my perspective, when a bishop wants to micromanage something like a RS bookclub, he’s going down this road at a clippity-clip.

    Bishops don’t need more petty responsibilities. Every leader in the ward is told that part of their task is to remove burdens from the bishop. RSbcs aren’t something for his counselors or the execsec, so if it needs oversight, the RS pres can handle that job. But she’s busy with More Important Stuff herself.

    While it is certainly true that I live in a very cool ward, I think letting the bookclub run itself is part of the reason it is so vibrant and healthy. A couple dozen people turning out is not unusual.

    Besides, ultimately it is not the bishop’s to control every little aspect of our lives. (That’s Satan’s plan.) The bishop’s job is to teach correct principles. (Note: DB is not a principle.)

    Call me crazy, but it’s my firm belief that a group of adult Mormons can govern themselves.

  27. Luisa Perkins

    Well, of course they can, Th.

    In my experience, it has not the bishop who has wanted to govern; it has been the RS (or more specifically, individuals belonging to the RS) seeking government/policing.

    I think RS Enrichment, like the Word of Wisdom, has to be adapted to the weakest of the saints. And some of the weakest among us see an “official” book group and, not bothering to think for ourselves, assume that whatever is being selected to read will be within the bounds of “appropriateness.” And are horrified and offended when that turns out not to be the case each and every month, since everyone defines “appropriateness” slightly differently (which is a good thing).

  28. Th.

    .

    Which is precisely why I think the bishop should stay out of it. As long as charity reigns supreme, much more spiritual growth is available through intellectual suffering. Isn’t that what learning from the best books necessarily implies?

    But this laissez-faire sensibility is what I bring to parenting and teaching as well. I know it doesn’t appeal to everyone, but I have no problem with telling people to suck it up and work things out on their own. The bishop has souls to save. Let someone else decide whether there’s too much sex in The Time Traveler’s Wife.

    Great book, by the way.

  29. TStevens

    Th – I like the book lists; I have about a 30% overlap. Funny (to me) is the first selection on your good reads link is the exact book I am reading right now (Peace Like A River by Leif Enger).

    While micromanaging Bishops do exist (and I have had one in my lifetime), the bigger problem I see when I look around is the quickness of some members to run to the Bishop with every problem imaginable. It reminds me of my kids who put on a fake cry and run to my wife or me whenever they don’t like what their sibling is doing. I agree the Bishop should tell them to suck it up and grow up, but so few do. That is probably the ones who would say it don’t get called as Bishop.
    I solved this by doing what several others have suggested, running my own independent book club. I am free not to care what anyone thinks about the selections.
    Time Traveller’s Wife is a good book (an I saw the movie trailer somewhere on-line recently).

  30. Th.

    .

    My wife and I will go see that, no question. Unless it gets terrible reviews. And some books make terrible movies. Example: Possession. But that was obvious from miles away.

  31. Th.

    .

    (Oh: and I agree that most bishops are more beleaguered than desiring to micromanage. [Guessing.] Now let’s pretend I’m an apostle. First talk, “Suck It Up,” an instant classic.)

  32. Brillig

    If DB is all you’re reading, then maybe you shouldn’t be reading at all…

    Okay. But. Th., I’m thinking of the woman in Relief Society who doesn’t WANT to read something like, say, The Time Traveler’s Wife. When she voices the opinion that it’s Not Appropriate (because, come on, folks, let’s face it. It’s not) what are they going to say to her? She’s not cool enough? She doesn’t get it? She’s too much of a prude for a Church Sanctioned Book Club?

    Does anybody else suddenly feel like they’re pointing from a great and spacious building?

    Instead of laughing along at her, shouldn’t we want to be MORE LIKE HER?

    I agree that the Bishop should stay out of it, mostly because I think it SHOULDN’T EXIST!

    You may be proud of your ward’s book club, but as I look at the reading list, I promise you that it is dividing the women, causing some to feel superior, some to feel inadequate, some to feel excluded, some to feel, well, bewildered.

    You and I may be willing to get past the language in some of these books in order to find the deeper meaning, etc, but frankly I admire the women who CAN’T.

    (I just wish there were a contemporary alternative to DB for the women who don’t want to read this other stuff!)

  33. Th.

    .

    I hope I don’t come off as dismissive. Sometimes I think I would be better off that way as well.

    Our ward’s book club is so successful in part because the women feel they can attend even if they didn’t like the book — even if they couldn’t bring themselves to read the book — and still have a discussion about it.

    That openness must be a step to a Zion society, don’t you think?

  34. theaquagreenphantom

    This whole thing blows my mind… I’m not a mormon btw, lived in Utah for a couple years and don’t really understand the way you guys work… The whole what books you can and can’t read thing just strikes me as pretty desperate…

  35. Wm Morris

    It’s quite simple, really. If art (and in particular narrative) has any sort of power to do anything (distract, instruct, titillate, entertain, soothe, tranquilize, arouse, inspire, threaten, explain) then it follows that some is going to be more problematic for some people (and different folks have different sensitivities to different things — and this whether or not they were conditioned by Mormons, atheists, Wiccans or what have you). If art (and in particular narrative) doesn’t have that power, then Hollywood and television and the literary elite and indie rock musicians and advertisers and professors are totally wasting their time. Of course, in many cases they are. But I’ve never understood how some people can talk out of one side of their mouth about how it’s just art and talk out of the other side that they want to move people (or at least tacitly accept that such a thing is possible).

    I’ve encountered many attitudes from LDS regarding art. Very few times have people’s choices regarding it come across as desperate. I will grant that some LDS invest more power in the suasiveness of narrative art than it probably warrants. But they aren’t the only ones.

  36. Wm Morris

    “(because, come on, folks, let’s face it. It’s not)”

    AMV is not a place where we’re pointing and laughing. As I state in my classic blog post Mormons and media consumption, I think that it’s valid to draw fairly conservative lines so long as it done with wisdom and charity and so long as one is willing to not become stale or shallow in one’s media consumption. By the same token, I am not going to impute the LDS-ness of members (nor even claim they are engaging in the Not Appropriate) who draw the lines more liberally so long as it is done with caution and honesty and in the spirit of seeking real engagement with the things of this life rather than slumming, exoticism or elitism.

  37. Th.

    .

    “Mormons and media consumption”? That’s a classic!

    Brillig:

    It occurs to me that when I was saying Suck It Up, I could be interpreted as telling the more conservative to put up with what they deem filth. So let me clarify.

    What I meant was that they should remain part of the discussion and try and influence the book choices in the direction they are comfortable with. The two camps* should engage in dialogue.

    *Not that there are two types of readers; what we got here is a continuum.

  38. theaquagreenphantom

    when I said desperate I was talking about the higher ups… I mean if everyone in your church is pretty much on the same track standard wise, seems to me taking a book to the boss man and asking him if it’s ok to read is kind of micro-managing control freak kinda thing… and the whole deseret book thing seems pretty corporate..

  39. Luisa Perkins

    Th., I agree that the kind of dialogue you are hoping for is ideal. However, that kind of conversation seems to be particularly difficult for many women.

    I’m grossly generalizing, but I know many who shy away from what they perceive to be controversy, internalizing it and deeming it to be contentious. I’m not making excuses, just calling it like I see it.

  40. Brillig

    @ Wm. I’m totally with you. I’m not trying to call anything filth or whatever. I’m just standing up for the person who isn’t comfortable with something. I personally don’t believe that something so clearly controversial is appropriate (to use everyone’s favorite word ;-) ).

    Also, I came off a bit strong with the pointing and laughing bit. There is a lot of pointing and laughing in the church, but I wasn’t accusing AMV of that. I was just surmising how a person might feel in a situation where books were routinely being read (in, again, a CHURCH-sponsored activity) that made some of the sisters uncomfortable. I was more accusing myself, knowing that I tend to fall towards the side of more liberal, and find myself scratching my head and rolling my eyes at those who don’t. I’m afraid I would be the pointer and laugher in such a situation. I guess that’s why it sounded so vehement. I’d really rather not be that person.

    I’m new here, obviously, but I like it here and I’m glad to have found you all. My comments may come across as argumentative, but it’s only because I think your wonderful topics are worth discussing from all angles (even when I might not actually agree with the angle I’m arguing- haha). It’s simply for the sake of debate. And you guys debate so well.

  41. Brillig

    (Sigh. Me again. I didn’t finish my thought in the first paragraph. I don’t think something so controversial and divisive is appropriate for a RS activity. Again, I couldn’t care less what people read on their own time or with non-affiliated book clubs, etc.!)

  42. MoJo

    I don’t think something so controversial and divisive is appropriate for a RS activity.

    Brillig, I’m with you on that (and I’m not even going as far as the “liberal” v “conservative” book choices).

    I have to tell you, in my ward, such a thing would be a complete and total disaster, not for the reasons you mention, but because my ward *is* very controlling and micromanaging. (I could tell you stories! I’m serious when I say I think my ward is possessed).

    Anyway, IMO, RS is where you find like-minded women and then form relationships/friendships that exist outside the ward, where you would then form whatever book club with your friends.

    Of course, in my ward, socializing outside of church or church auspices or church activities is distinctly frowned upon…

    *sigh*

  43. Th.

    .

    Brillig said: “My comments may come across as argumentative….”

    They may. But you probably won’t ever come off more obnoxious than I sometimes do. And they haven’t kicked me out yet.

    And when in doubt, just direct your vitriol to me. Tyler does it all the time.

  44. Laura Craner

    Brillig–I want to thank you for your comments. I’m a reader who found _The Time Traveler’s Wife_ very inappropriate. The Good Girl in me was horrified by the sex in it. I mean, I honestly had never heard some of those euphemisms before. I read the entire thing because it was important to building a relationship with a friend of mine, but I kind of wish I hadn’t. This friend was a church member so I was surprised that she liked it so much, but not offended. If she had mentioned it/used it as part of a church sanctioned program I would’ve felt ostracized and confused and subsequently angry. You are absolutely right when you say divisive things don’t belong in RS.

    I also think Luisa is right that women (and not just LDS women) are conditioned to believe that any kind of difference of opinion is contentious and therefore wrong. Getting over those deeply ingrained feelings is hard work and probably shouldn’t be done in a RS meeting.

    The purpose of the Enrichment program is to help women fulfill their duties as members of the Relief Society–whose core purpose is relief. Discussing books is good, but I sometimes think that, given the diverse qualities of RS members, it’s better to spend those meetings stretching ourselves in ways that would be impossible in other settings. I can get together with friends to discuss books anytime. Tying 30 quilts to donate to the homeless shelter or putting together infant bereavement kits or humanitarian education kits? Probably not going to do those things on my own.

    Now, maybe if we were all crocheting leper bandages while discussing books. . . there’s an Enrichment to be remembered! *wink*

  45. Katya

    Of course, in my ward, socializing outside of church or church auspices or church activities is distinctly frowned upon…

    That’s one of the most disturbing things I’ve ever read.

    And as long as we’re talking about The Time Traveler’s Wife, I actually thought the most disturbing thing about was that the main characters lacked agency as an effect of the time traveling paradox.

  46. TStevens

    Just for information to set up the story; I read about 125 books per year.

    Anyways, I was at a ward function and talking with a more conservative member of our ward when I mentioned I didn’t have enough time to read all the stuff I wanted to. When I mentioned I was reading the 125 number she became very inquisitive as to how I found so much. To paraphrase, she stated it was about impossible to find anything good or worthwhile out there as there was so much filth and inappropriateness. I said it was easy, I just have lower standards than her. That kind of killed the conversation But my main point is we have to many Mormon Nuns (or Monks) out in the church. These are people who believe they will get closer to God (with the accompanying better seat in heaven) if they take basic doctrine and add more and more regules and regulations to it. Which would be fine if they didn’t also feel the need to project those personal set of rules on the rest of us.
    When it comes to literature a typical rule I see is the silly “if not published by DB, then it must be evil…” Another is “If the characters are not acting like temple reccomend holders who are actually in the temple then the book must be…” Anyways, this type of behoavior is not limited to women, the church, or books. People of all stripes always seem to think they have some secret passcode to glory the rest of us don’t.

  47. MoJo

    Katya, aside: We’ve pretty much decided to go to a different ward until this all shakes out because it’s going to get nastier before it gets better.

  48. Satsuki

    You are absolutely right when you say divisive things don’t belong in RS.

    I also think Luisa is right that women (and not just LDS women) are conditioned to believe that any kind of difference of opinion is contentious and therefore wrong. Getting over those deeply ingrained feelings is hard work and probably shouldn’t be done in a RS meeting.

    Interesting discussion here. I’m part of the ward Th. mentioned and I occasionally attend our book club. The very first time I went, one week after we moved into the ward, I was astounded to see women animatedly but pleasantly disagreeing(!) about the book of the month’s Victorian symbolism and themes. Each time I go, I find it very refreshing that it is okay for us to have different interpretations and opinions of the book, and about life in general.

    I think that the ability to openly, politely disagree while still loving, appreciating, and thinking kindly of those with a different opinion has largely been lost by our culture…and especially by our church. We are good at fostering unity in our members, which is a positive thing. But it is also crucial to develop the charity to love others despite our differences. And that one reason I think that a book club that can handle some level of controversy is important. I think our book club has improved our Relief Society and, by extension, our ward by giving us practice respectfully disagreeing in a low-stakes setting.

  49. MoJo

    We are good at fostering unity in our members, which is a positive thing.

    I suppose I see that more as reinforcing conformity through cultural pressure, but perhaps my current view is skewed…

  50. Kent Larsen Post author

    MoJo, I think it is very difficult to judge this without actually being there.

    BUT, I do agree that Mormon culture has a huge bias towards enforcing conformity through cultural pressure instead of culturally supporting unity despite diversity.

    Its a real problem.

  51. MoJo

    Kent, when she said “we” and “our,” I took it as we/our, being members of the church, not “we” and “our” being members of the Berkley ward, considering “church” was the nearest reference to “we” and “our.”

    But thank you for agreeing with me.

  52. Satsuki

    MoJo & Kent, I agree. (And I did mean “we” as in, the entire church, not my ward.) Unity is a tricky thing. On the one hand, there is something very powerful and comforting to be part of a group that has a shared value system, a common theology, and similar life goals. Unity in Christ, meaning that we share a belief in Christ and help each other to come unto Him, is a beautiful thing. However, when people start thinking that any disagreement or debate constitutes contention and should thus be avoided, it has gone too far. Unity does not equal complete conformity, but I think a lot of people in the church conflate the two.

  53. Th.

    .

    As someone said (and if you can cite this for me please-please do), “Art is that about which perfect people can disagree.”

  54. Th.

    .

    (implication: there will still be room for art and discussion in the celestial kingdom)

  55. Heather Moore

    Since there are over 60 posts, I haven’t read all of the replies. I’ve been running the neighborhood book group for 9 years. I consider it “my” book group. Many times, the enrichment board has tried to jump on the bandwagon and call is the ward book group. I’m fine if they announce my name as the contact person in R.S. but I refuse to have it fall under an Enrichment activity. The bishop, et al. would disagree on 90% of what we read. The majority of our books are quite mild, but we do frequently recommend books to each other that are more the “underground” variety. Yet the books we choose each month have a more broad appeal to various levels of tolerance.

  56. Doug Talley

    Amen to everything above:

    The trust of judgment implicit in the scriptural phrase “best books”, with the utter lack of definition or qualification to the word “best”, is liberating.

    If the spirit can highlight truth in the Apocrycha, it can do so in virtually any other book, if truth be found – again a great trust and freedom.

    Chaucer at the last recanted the ribaldry of the Tales, but there is still wonderful humanity in that poem, and I can’t help including it on my list of best books (I think of how the Tales are peopled and I am filled with charity). If I’m wrong, I hope to receive further instruction in the next life.

    Thankfully, I’ve never heard of the First Presidency printing an approved reading list for the Saints – principles, yes – lists, no.

    The spirit of approved reading lists strikes the nerve as perilously close to, and perhaps just one step removed from, book burning.

    I was a bishop once, and a branch president now (over a YSA branch), and I would never want to make any choices for anyone (I have enough of my own, thank you), including choices about what to read – the sisters in the YSA RS have a reading club and I happily leave them alone.

    I appreciate all you wonderful, thinking Latter-day Saints and pray you blessings and rich, happy reading.

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