Sunday, October 04, 2009

LDS Books Reviewed

I absolutely love reading books, particularly LDS-themed books. To narrow that down even more, I prefer doctrinal or historical (non-fiction) books. I have read several books lately that I really enjoyed. I have noticed some interesting things not only in the books, but in the LDS book publishing world. These are just my own reflections and not necessarily a reflections on what is really taking place.

I'll start with the publishing theme. It seems that it is getting harder and harder to get a book published at Deseret Book. I have a very good friend and he has published dozens of books with them. He is an excellent writer and a best-selling LDS author. He recently submitted a book that they rejected. He decided to self-publish. Of course, the problem with self-publishing is that there is no built-in marketing plan and the author must rely on word-of-mouth. The other problem is, unless you hire a good editor, you're on your own as far as copy and content.

There have been a slew of books recently that are self-published. The all have fun premises. However, I have noticed that many of them suffer from the second problem of self-publishing. Some of the ideas seem to be pure conjecture. If Deseret Book had published the book, it is likely that the conjectured parts of the books would either be more fully fleshed out, or not included in the book in the first place.

For example, in one book I read recently it said something like, "Clearly this symbol refers to the Second Comforter and the second anointing." Sadly, this seems only to be clear to the author. There are literally hundreds of footnotes in this particular book, however when the author makes a comment such as the one I just quoted, there is no footnote. It therefore becomes the conjecture of the author. While it might be true, there is no way for the reader to come to the same conclusion. As a reader that constantly is hoping to learn, statements like this with no clarification, I become frustrated.

On the other hand, the very positive step that self-publishing has taken in the LDS book world is that authors are able to take more liberality in their views, because it does not have the oversight that Deseret Book or other more mainstream LDS publishing houses typically have. To be clear, I think the oversight is good. However, it is fun to read something that has not gone through the correlation process. I recognize that my views are a tad schizophrenic. I want to read the exciting books and at the same time have them polished. Is that too much to ask? Maybe. Apparently. What I like most about these self-published, non-mainstream books, is that I am exposed to new ideas and ways of approaching doctrines. I can then think about them and decide where I stand. In other words, it gets my doctrinal juices flowing.

Now, having said that, I get very excited (quite literally) when I see Deseret Book or other mainstream publishers producing a doctrinally sound and historically accurate and faithful book. I buy and devour (not just read) every one of them (well, almost).

Here are a few books that I have read recently that I recommend:

Principles of Priesthood Leadership, by Stephen D. Nadauld. This book is EXCELLENT! There is no way for me to recommend this book in a way that will do justice to the book. It is a must read for anyone in Church leadership at any level. I read this book three times in one month (this was last month). I have asked that my Ward Council read it. I have encouraged just about everyone I know that has or is serving on a Ward Council to get a copy of it and read. It will change the way you minister (and administer). It was published by Deseret Book in 1999. I wish I had read it ten years ago. DB recently reprinted it in softback. I have had the book on my shelf for several years and never read it. When I was at the store last month I saw that it was now in softback. I figured that since DB doesn't reprint a book unless it is very good (at least that is my impression), and is in high demand, I should move it to the top of my list. I read it in one night. Then I read it two more times in the next couple of weeks. More slowly and took lots of notes. The only thing I can compare this book to is attending a really good Priesthood Leadership Training Meeting. I really really recommend this book.

Light in the Wilderness: Explorations in the Spiritual Life, by M. Catherine Thomas. This is a self-published book that does not suffer from any of the concerns I expressed above. This book is hands down one of the most interesting LDS books on doctrine and personal spiritual development I have read... ever. It is unconventional in its approach. I don't know any other way to put it. Cathy Thomas is a retired member of the Religious Education faculty at BYU, and I say that to imply that I believe she is doctrinally solid. A friend of mine recommended it to me. This friend was so persistent that I finally bought the book and slowly feasted. I would say it is not possible to devour this book. It is heavy, not light fare. Cathy introduces some very thought-provoking ideas that caused me to think. A lot. I typically get through a book in two or three days. A week at the most. I spent about three weeks wading through the deep end of this book. The whole book is the deep end. It changed the way I look at things, spiritually speaking, in my life. I have bought several copies of this book for some friends. They all come back with the same experience that I had. This is an excellent book. Read it.

Faith to Heal and the Faith to be Healed, by Dennis Horne. This is a fun book about Priesthood Blessings. The genius of Horne's approach lies in his research. He finds a topic that is interesting and finds dozens of statements from Church Leaders. This particular books attempts to answer such questions as: why do some blessings "work" and others don't, how does one prepare to give and receive a Priesthood Blessing, and what is actually taking place when a Priesthood Blessing is given. If you have ever asked any of these questions (and more) as I have, then you should take a look at this book.

The Three Pillars of Zion, by Larry Barkdull. This is a really interesting book. It is self-published but also does not appear to suffer from the concerns I expressed above. Brother Barkdull is solid in his scholarship and is simply trying to share some ideas. He is not promoting himself as a self-proclaimed or self-ordained watchman on the tower, as others do. He has full confidence in the General Authorities and recognizes their authority. He appears to be sharing some ideas that he has about what a portrait of a Zion person would look like. The book draws heavily on scripture. It was though-provoking and caused me to examine my own life and take stock. The book is big (think telephone book size). It is a well written and flows. I recommend this book.

The Day Star Books, volumes 1 & 2, by Val Brinkerhoff. To be sure, these books are beautiful. They are full of full color, hi-res images of temple architecture. Brinkerhoff is sharing in these two large (12x9) volumes. I enjoyed reading the books, as he goes through the various symbols founds on the outside of LDS Temples, sharing his insights. He has historical as well as doctrinal ideas that are thought-provoking. My concern with the books is that he tends to speculate without providing evidence. This is not to say that what he says is wrong. My wish is that he would help the reader understand what he clearly understands in some instances in the books. I recommend the books, but they are expensive and there is some unsubstantiated ideas included, some of which I agreed and some that I did not. What it did for me was to get me thinking and come to some of my own conclusions.

The Joseph Smith Papers, Revelations and Translations, Volume 1: Manuscript Revelation Books. How do I review this? It is excellent! I love being able to look at original manuscripts of Joseph Smith's revelations. Some of which are written in Joseph Smith's own hand. It is expensive (about $100) and it is big (12x9), but if you can afford the money and shelf space, it is invaluable. At least it is to me. One of my favorite parts is in the original of D&C 84, the scribe is Frederick G. Williams. However, when it gets to the actual Oath and Covenant of the Priesthood portion of the revelation, it moves from Williams' pen to Joseph Smith! We don't know why for sure, but it is significant to me. This is one of my favorite books in my collection now!

Valiant in the Testimony of Christ, by Joseph Fielding McConkie. I admit I have some bias here. But I am not ashamed of my bias. Joseph is a dear friend and mentor to me. He asked that I review the manuscript a couple of times before it was published. I just think this is one of the best books he has written, period. This is a must read for ever Latter-day Saint trying to figure out where we stand with Christ in the Last Dispensation. JFM doesn't cut corners and he doesn't pull punches. It is a great read and will teach you about your testimony. If you enjoyed Elder Holland's talk in the last General Conference (October 2009), then you will like this book.

There are a few other books that I have read in the last couple of weeks that I should post, but I need to eat.