Friday, December 13, 2013

The Best Books

A friend of mine posted on Facebook asking for people to list ten books that have moved you or touched you.  I thought for a few moments, named a few books that had been important in my life, listed them and moved on.  It was no biggie, just a fun little Facebook game and a chance to share the names of a few books that I have enjoyed.

A few others shared their lists but then a stranger commented and said the following:

The Book of Mormon, The Holy Bible, The Pearl of Great Price, The Doctrine and Covenants, The Book of Mormon again. Lather, rinse, and repeat = 10. Who really needs more than the word of the Lord?
That's a valid question, I suppose.  I'm certainly an advocate of the word of the Lord, but I wholly disagreed with this person's message.

I wanted to reply.  I wanted to say something.  But, I didn't want to argue on a friend's wall, especially with a stranger.  I also wasn't sure if this person was fully serious, and I didn't want to unnecessarily cause hurt feelings.  Finally, I didn't feel like Facebook was the forum to share my thoughts.  I didn't want to be misunderstood or misconstrued due to trying to share my feelings briefly enough to be read in a Facebook post.

Luckily, it turns out that I have a forum right here where  I can share my thoughts and be as long winded as I like, in order to fully convey my feelings.

I'm sure that person will never read this, but I wanted to answer their question anyway.  It's something I want to say, not for it to be heard by that person or any person in particular, but just because I feel it needs saying.

So to answer the question, "Who really needs more than the word of the Lord?"

I do.

I guess that's the simple answer to the question, isn't it?  I could just stop there, and I would have answered it.  But I want to be clear about why that is the answer.  First, I want to be clear that in saying that I need something besides the canonized scripture, I'm certainly not disparaging scripture in any way.  I can honestly say that if I were only allowed to keep one book from my collection, it would be The Book of Mormon.  The Book of Mormon remains the book I have read cover to cover more times than any other book.  The Holy Bible, I will admit, I have only read cover to cover twice, but I have spent countless hours studying specific topics or specific sections.

I read Luke chapter 2 every Christmas Eve, so I've read it at least 32 times. (But I know the number is much higher than that.)  The story of the birth of our Savior still touches me.  I also love to read 3 Nephi chapter 1, to get the story from the perspective of the people in the Americas.  I particularly love the words of  the Savior whispered through the Holy Spirit on Christmas Eve: "Lift up your head and be of good cheer; for behold, the time is at hand, and on this night shall the sign be given, and on the morrow come I into the world, to show unto the world that I will fulfil all that which I have caused to be spoken by the mouth of my holy prophets."

I imagine what it must have been like, for both sets of peoples as they gazed upon the star, realizing that the God they had worshiped was coming to earth to pave the way to forgiveness from sin.  That He would be a mortal man, a baby even.  I marvel at the feelings they must have felt, the emotions that must have run through them.  The stories are powerful and poignant.

I tell you all that, just so that you understand my perspective.  I love the scriptures.  I cherish the word of the Lord.  But that doesn't diminish the fact that I have a need for other stories, other words.  I have a need to learn from other mortal men and women, from their victories, from their defeats, from their thoughts, from their myths and from their tales.

The scriptures themselves even say that we should seek words of wisdom from the best books.  I challenge anyone to watch an entire session of General Conference and see if you can find one session that never quotes from literature outside of canonized scripture.  Certainly, the prophets and many men of wisdom agree that there are treasures to be found in books.

I want to share with you a few books, a few stories that have been transformational in my life.  These books may or may not touch you if you read them.  I fully expect that the books that touch you will be different in many cases.  Your personal experiences and needs are different from mine.  I'm so glad that there is a whole world of books to teach us all the things we need to know.

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C.S. Lewis

This book did not have the most interesting story in the series.  There are other Narnia books I enjoyed more.  However, there was one scene that was so profound for me.

The boy Eustace has been turned into a dragon, which is quite inconvenient.  He wants nothing more than to be a boy again.  But he needs Aslan's help.

"The water was as clear as anything and I thought if I could get in there and bathe it would ease the pain in my leg. but the lion told me I must undress first. Mind you, I dont know if he said any words out loud or not. 
I was just going to say that I couldn't undress because I hadn't any clothes on when I suddenly thought that dragons are snaky sort of things and snakes can cast their skins. Oh, of course, thought I, that's what the lion means. So I started scratching myself and my scales began coming off all over the place. And then I scratched a little deeper and , instead of just scales coming off here and there, my whole skin started peeling off beautifully, like it does after an illness, or as if I was a banana. In a minute or two I jsut stepped out of it. I could see it lying there beside me, looking rather nasty. It was a most lovely feeling. So I started to go down into the well for my bathe.
But just as I was going to put my feet into the water I looked down and saw that they were all hard and rough and wrinkled and scaly just as they had been before. Oh, that's all right, said I, it only means I had another smaller suit on underneath the first one, and I'll have to get out of it too. So I scratched and tore again and this underskin peeled off beautifully and out I stepped and left it lying beside the other one and went down to the well for my bathe.
Well, exactly the same thing happened again. And I thought to myself, oh dear, how ever many skins have I got to take off? For I was longing to bathe my leg. So I scratched away for the third time and got off a third skin, just like the two others, and stepped out of it. But as soon as I looked at myself in the water I knew it had been no good.
The the lion said - but I don't know if it spoke - 'You will have to let me undress you.' I was afraid of his claws, I can tell you, but I was pretty nearly desperate now. So I just lay flat down on my back to let him do it. 
The very first tear he made was do deep that I thought it had gone right into my heart. And when he began pulling the skin off, it hurt worse than anything I've ever felt. The only thing that made me able to bear it was just the pleasure of feeling the stuff peel off. You know - if you've ever picked the scab of a sore place. It hurts like billy-oh but it is such fun to see it coming away.
Well, he peeled the beastly stuff right off - just as I thought I'd done it myself the other three times, only they hadn't hurt - and there it was lying on the grass: only ever so much thicker, and darker, and more knobbly-looking than the others had been. And there was Ias smooth and soft as a peeled switch and smaller than I had been. Then he caught hold of me - I didn't like that much for I was very tender underneath now that I'd no skin on - and threw me into the water. It smarted like anything but only for a moment. After that it became perfectly delicious and as soon as I started swimming and splashing I found that all the pain had gone from my arm. And then I saw why. I'd turned into a boy again. You'd think me simply phoney if I told you how I felt about my own arms. I know they've no muscle and are pretty mouldy compared with Caspian's, but I was so glad to see them.
After a bit the lion took me out and dressed me - (with his paws?) - Well, I don't exactly remember that bit. But he did somehow or other: in new clothes - the same I've got on now, as a matter of fact. and then suddenly I was back here. Which is what makes me think it must have been a dream."
Of course, Aslan is symbolic for Christ.  This scene was so profound for me because there are things we try to change about ourselves or weaknesses that we try to overcome.  We try and try and try to do it on our own, but we just cant.  Then we give it to Christ, and He changes us.  Sometimes it really hurts, but it's only through Him that it's possible to achieve what we really desire.

Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card

The first time I read this book I was a scrawny little kid.  I had felt what it's like to be bullied by people bigger than me.  The idea of a kid who overcomes beings more powerful than him through his smarts was so appealing to me.  It was such an empowering story.

Then I read it again, years and years later, after I had gone through a period where I was no longer the little kid.  I went through a period where I took advantage of the fact that I was bigger than other people.  I became a bully.  Reading this book as an adult and looking back on those times makes me realize how powerful this book really is.  When I read it as a child, I glossed over the parts where Ender was terrified of becoming like his cruel brother.  I ignored his sorrow at having harmed others even if it was only to protect himself.  I felt his empathy and his sorrow for the harm that he committed.

The underlying theme of the importance of empathy for others, even when those others seek to harm you, is incredibly profound.

His Needs Her Needs by Willard F. Harley Jr.

I read this book on my honeymoon.  I had just entered a new phase of my life, and I wanted to be armed with the information I needed.  This book explained that my wife's needs are different from mine.  Having that information articulated for me has been foundational to helping me build a healthy relationship.

Your First Year With Diabetes: What to do Month by Month by Theresa Garnero

After being diagnosed with diabetes, I was terrified.  I had no idea what the next step was.  This book was the perfect comfort.  It started out with something I could read every day.  It was perfect for me.  Each day I would read the new information and just work on that.  At first it was things like, "stop smoking."  It was sure nice to know I was already doing some things right by not smoking.  It added things like, "eat more vegetables", but eventually got more complex, explaining blood sugar, what insulin is, how the pancreas works and various other things.

After a while, I just finished the book rather than delaying it with the month by month information, figuring I was ready to digest everything it had to offer.  I'm actually still in my first year but I've lost 65 pounds and dropped my A1C to 5.6.  This book really helped hold my hand along the way, especially in the beginning when I needed to be spoon fed and take baby steps.

The Foundation by Isaac Asimov

There wasn't anything in particular about this book that moved me or changed me, other than the fact that it was the book that truly started my hunger for reading.  I read this book and then devoured everything written by Isaac Asimov, and branched out from there to other authors.  So, this book made me a voracious reader, and that has changed me more than anything.

The Good Samaritan
I know what you're thinking, "Jeff, this is a Bible story.  I thought you were going to share books besides scripture."  Yes, you're right.  This is a story that comes from Scripture.  It's a good story too.  A story about how we should love our neighbor.  But there's more to the story that isn't in the Bible.  When Jesus asks, which of the three was neighbor unto the man that fell among thieves?  The answer is, of course, the Samaritan, the man that showed mercy.

But why did Jesus use a Samaritan as the merciful individual?  This story actually has undertones of being a lesson about racism.  The Jews hated Samaritans.  They were mud bloods. (Hat tip to the Harry Potter books for giving us the perfect term to describe how the Jews felt about Samaritans.)  Jesus was trying to teach that it's not one's station or race that makes you a neighbor, it's how you treat other human beings.

Do you know where I learned about the relationship between the Jews and the Samaritans?  I can't even remember what book it was in, (thus why I put "The Good Samaritan" as the heading) but it was an essay by Isaac Asimov that I read when I was 13 years old.  Of course, I've studied ancient cultures much more in depth since then, but my first exposure came from an essay written by an atheist.   And, though I've learned that lesson a number of times in different books, and I've delved deeper in scripture study guides and other aides, I will always be grateful to Asimov for teaching me the importance of understanding the deeper context.

I guess the message I'm trying to convey is that I truly love books.  I see value in reading and learning out of any great literature.  I'm not saying we shouldn't study the scriptures, but I am definitely saying that we should study out of all the great books of the world, and glean truth from anywhere that we can find it.

I'm saying that there are much more than 10 books that have moved me or touched me.  I'm saying that I need much more than just the scriptures, and I'm completely okay with that.


  1. You are always welcome to comment on anything I post with your feelings and beliefs. I know the comment you are referring to and my guess is that it was facetious - however, the conversation that might ensue could be just as valuable as anything else. You don't know unless you have those conversations.

    If I didn't want people to interact, I'd just turn the comments off. :D

    1. I'm glad to know you'd be cool with it. I didn't know how the other person would take it, so I decided to just share my thoughts here.

  2. One of my favorite things about you is how much you love to read. I think that is how I started falling in love with you (we could talk about books for hours).

  3. Totally agree about needing more than scriptures....saying that the only books a person would need are the scriptures seems like the right answer, but really, c'mon. I love so many other stories, too!

  4. Couldn't agree with you more. When using scriptures as a foundation for other books and stories, the interconnectedness of this world becomes more apparent and even more beautiful with each additional book. Increased knowledge = increased understanding.

  5. One thing I have always admired about you was your constant desire to learn more. If you had a question you didn't stop until you had the answer. A very admirable trait.


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