The Best Books for LDS Homes

4.12.11 | | 19 comments

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My father turned 60 in February and we went home to celebrate. That Sunday, in the church foyer, were copies of Jane Austen’s Emma and Sense and Sensibility and I brought them home. (Our paperback copy of Emma is falling apart and our copy of Sense and Sensibility has the heft of a family bible.) Ends up both the books were published by Deseret Book (along with six others) under one ISBN assigned to The Best Books: Classics for LDS Homes. The books are as follows:

  • Little Women
  • Pride and Prejudice
  • Anne of Green Gables
  • The Secret Garden
  • Jane Eyre
  • Emma
  • Sense and Sensibility
  • The Scarlet Pimpernel
  • Now I have nothing against these books, but they seem rather . . . homogeneous, don’t you think? They’re all written by women, they were all published between 1811 and 1911. Only one has a male protagonist. Three Jane Austen novels.

    And, most interesting to me here, nothing recognizably “Mormon.”

    I can get the female slant (they’re DB’s primary market); I can get the date range (young enough to read easily, old enough to be both “classic” and, vitally, public domain); I can get Jane Austen (even book collections need a rockstar to headline). But I can only see sad reasons for rejecting Mormon writers:

    1. Even Deseret Book editors/readers don’t believe that classic LDS lit exists.
    2. While LDS “classics” may exist, they would dilute the value of a collection featuring true masterpieces like The Secret Garden and The Scarlet Pimpernel.
    3. This collection’s purpose is just to let people feel smart and cultured without having to read anything they don’t already love and no one already loves classic LDS lit.
    4. These books were made to look pretty on a shelf and impress one’s girlfriends and, girlfriend, nobody’s impressed by LDS lit.

    The thing is, we have written books worthy to sit beside these eight. I don’t know how many exactly, but I think one would have been enough to not only satisfy me but wow me. I would’ve suggested Dorian by Nephi Anderson. It is, in my opinion, Jane Austen good. I’m convinced that anyone who loved these eight books will love Dorian. Here’s my Deseret Book-friendly pitch:

    It’s less upsetting than Jane Eyre! It’s less violent than The Scarlet Pimpernel! It’s hero is as good as Mr Bingley and mentored by a more spiritual Matthew Cuthbert! It’s really nice!

    I’m going to withhold judgment on Deseret Book though. I’m guessing this set wasn’t a huge success as it was published a few years ago and still has no follow-up set. Maybe the second set, had it been released, would have had Dorian.

    And Moby Dick.

    19 comments: “The Best Books for LDS Homes

    1. Jettboy

      “I would’ve suggested Dorian by Nephi Anderson. It is, in my opinion, Jane Austen good.”

      Never heard of it. I don’t know anyone who has heard of it. There is nowhere to get hands on the copy that I know of. His “Added Upon” is far more well known and easy to find, but I don’t know how the two compare. It is certainly considered a Mormon classic even if not very good.

      What other Mormon classics would you include, assuming it would be fiction? Of course “The Giant Joshua” by Maurine Whipple might be included, but would Mormon families appreciate its sometimes irreverent approach to Mormon history? “A Believing People: Literature of the Latter -day Saints” edited by Neal Lambert and Richard Cracroft might be a good inclusion. Permission to publish might be a problem, but Orson Scott Card’s “Lost Boys” is a Mormon classic no matter if it meant to be or not. There is also “Dialogue Between Joseph Smith and the Devil” by Parley P. Pratt that might be the earliest. Besides those, I can’t think of any others.

    2. Graham

      When I worked at DB, we got these things in by the caseload. It was a trick to find enough space to store them in the back, after filling up empty space beneath tables and against walls. They didn’t sell very fast. I left last summer, and even by then we’d had them for a while.

    3. Tyler

      Never heard of it. I don’t know anyone who has heard of it.

      I think that’s likely part of the motivation behind Th’s suggestion: more Mormons should hear about Dorian, simply because it stands as a classic, good Mormon text that a wide audience could appreciate (though I haven’t read all of it yet and have to take Th’s word on this).

    4. Ardis E. Parshall

      Jettboy, it isn’t that you don’t know anyone who has heard of Dorian. It’s that you don’t know that you know anyone who has heard of Dorian. We’re around.

      “less … less … as good as … really nice!”

      Remind me to have you write the cover blurbs for my next novel, Th!

    5. Michael Knudsen

      I would agree that if there is any such body of literature as “Mormon Classics”, Orson Scott Card has contributed, both with Saints and The Lost Boys.

      Jack Weyland’s light-hearted tales may be fluffier-than-thou, but if we define “classic” as stories that continue to be enjoyed by subsequent generations, we should include him, because I’m seeing these books from the ’70s and ’80s in the hands of teens and twenty-somethings today.

      I’m intrigued with Dorian, and will check it out.

    6. Scott H.

      For what it’s worth, I’ve heard of Dorian too. But I think we’ve already established that it’s not as obscure as some might think.

      This post reminded me of the series Deseret Books put out in the 1960s and 1970s called “Out of the Best Books.” These books reprinted works by American and British writers and supplied analyses written by BYU professors. Beside me right now is (I think) the last book in the series, “Favorite Selections from Out of the Best Books,” which is a kind of Greatest Hits volume. Of the fifty-one authors anthologized in this volume–which includes works by Robert Frost, Ring Lardner, John Steinbeck, and William Butler Yeats–only Edward L. Hart and Jean Mizer Todhunter are Latter-day Saints.

    7. Th.

      .

      My ward library has that series and I think there is room in the LDS market for books like these. The reason the not-selling problem occurred with this set is (I’m guessing) everyone already had these books and there was nothing value-added. It’s just the text. Essays from BYU profs is a good place to start adding value.

      I too haven’t read a lot of the older, potentially “classic” Mormon books either. They’re hard to come by (especially if you, like me, are waiting for the Nook to hit $99). But they’re out there and who will rediscover them if not us?

    8. chanson

      This was my reaction (before I read yours): Those all seem pretty similar to one another? Three Jane Austens…? I’m surprised they didn’t include “Little House on the Prairie”.

      Also, it’s true it’s a little odd not to have included anything that was specifically LDS-interest.

    9. Wm Morris

      Not at all. This seems to be essentially a business decision to capitalize on the word “Classics” — and everybody knows that Classics mean English (and sometimes Russian) novels from the 19th century. The “for LDS homes” is not the key selling point, but is only there to nod to the fact that you aren’t going to end up with Madame Bovary in the collection. So I would say, yes, 1-4 are all correct. There’s no reason to include any Mormon lit titles because the series

      Other publishers package the “Classics” in a similar way, though. If the packaging is good enough, then they make the perfect presents and/or home decor buy, displayed as a marker of middlebrow/middle class status/aspirations. Since many of DB’s titles already fall in to this category (albeit with an LDS-centric slant) then this attempt makes sense (except for the fact that these works have been packaged better by other publishers — they should have gone with less busy covers and the LDS tag line thing on the spine).

    10. Kent Larsen

      chanson: “I’m surprised they didn’t include “Little House on the Prairie”.”

      “Little House on the Prairie” is not in the public domain, the other titles all are.

      This also may explain why there are not essays by BYU professors in this edition — they would have to have been paid.

    11. Carina

      One thing that has yet to be mentioned is that all those books are in public domain. Anyone can publish them and retain all the profits. It may be less a value judgement on what is classic LDS literature, than a simple money making opportunity. They have the market, the shelf space, and the internal publishing. Boom. Easy profit.

    12. TV Mc Arthur

      “Tom Sawyer” and “Huckleberry Finn” are in public domain, too, but they might be considered bad examples for LDS youth, and the current censorship squabbles might make them less desirable. Washington Irving and Edgar Allen Poe might be possible candidates, although those would be collections of short pieces.

    13. jojoba

      Th, check out today’s http://www.woot.com for your $99 nook.

      I was always under the impression that there wasn’t much in the way of “LDS” classic literature (and bemoaned the fact). I am excited to read Dorian and see if I agree with you.

    14. Eugene

      Bestowing the imprimatur of “classic” upon any explicitly “Mormon” work of art, even quasi-officially, would inevitably raise the (deliberately unsettled) question of whether art is descriptive or prescriptive.

      But as it turns out, removing explicit Mormon attributes often neatly cancels out the necessity of engaging in the debate. Anne accidentally getting Diane drunk wouldn’t be funny if Mormons were involved.

      Well, I think it’d be hilarious, but even quasi-official publications like BYU Today give a pass to any hint of religious impropriety in their book reviews, and for good reason. It ain’t worth the hassle.

      Meyer was very wise to write about vampires who behave just like Mormons, and not vampires who actually are Mormons.

    15. Jonathan Langford

      Eugene’s right, I think. I’ll go further and say that Dan Wells was wise to write about a teenager who wants to do right despite strong psychopathic impulses but who doesn’t have any particular religious conviction, as opposed to a kid who tries to live Mormon standards because he actually is a Mormon. And only partly because of the demons…

    16. Hank

      Can someone recommend a site where I can find listed novels suitable for LDS families? We need the best current books in our libraries that have no swearing, sex or adult themes. I’m looking for books not neccessarily written by LDS or about LDS but simply inoffensive to LDS families.

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