Saturday, April 14, 2007

Literary Suggestions for Mormon Reading

With spring comes the chance for relaxation in the summer months. People often decide to pick some books to pass the time or enjoy a sunny day on vacation. Below are a few books with themes that might be of interest to Mormons. At the least, Mormon readers should be aware of them. The list is, of course, far from complete and hopefully others can add their own suggestions. Included is the name of the author (if known), name of the book, and a brief description of why they are spiritually or religiously of importance.

1. Epic of Gilgamesh by Unknown Author.

As anyone familiar with the Bible can recognize, there are some stories that are very much related to the Creation and Flood narratives. It is an interesting collection that any Christian or Jewish reader needs to become familiar with. Some say it puts doubt on the Biblical events, but it can just as easily enhance our understanding of them.

2. Antigone by Sophocles.

As one person put it, "This is a powerful story about familial duty, social customs, gender roles, and the relationship between the individual and governmental authority." Of most importance to religious readers is the struggle between religious duty, unrighteous dominion, and the intersection between faith and secular rules.

3. Beowulf by Unknown Author, Seamus Heaney (Editor).

Not all of it is of the same religious importance, often reading like a blockbuster adventure story. However, there are themes that witness to the uneven line between the pagan and Christian era of the West. It is really about the passing of a time soon to be long forgotten, mixed with ideas about the Fall and Salvation.

4. Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri.

One of the most impressive religious writers in history. He looks at the best and worst of humanity. Outside of the Mormon conception of Heaven and Hell, there is no other Christian with such a large vision of the eternities.

5. Paradise Lost by John Milton.

The Epic story of the Fall. It is among the few times that it is looked at almost as a fortunate event that shaped the better half of humanity. No words can describe it beyond its own telling.

6. Shakespeare.

The greatest playwrite of the English language. His stories may not be unique and beyond criticism, but his writing is astonishing. Themes touch on love, hate, damnation, salvation, family, country, right, wrong, spirituality, intellectualism, and other human conditions. He is the inventor of the Western literary human.

7. The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne.

A classic story of sin and redemption. It looks at taking punishment to such an extreme that there is no room for repentance. Ultimately, judgement is left to God and the individual. The end might not be satisfying to some who want to see the protagonist be more penitent.

8. Poetry of William Blake.

Most people are familiar with a few of his shorter works, particularly from his sketchbook publications. However, the depth and breadth of the poetry (and even prose) is an amazing collection. There are also many areas, particularly his fascination with the spiritual America and the ancient source of truth, that Mormons will recognize as part of their own yearnings. It is not easy reading, but well worth the effort.

9. My First Summer in the Sierra by John Muir.

It doesn't take an environmentalist to enjoy the sublime narrative of this book. The prose is as much poetry as any other writing. Vivid descriptions of nature and scenery place the reader in an Eden on Earth. Athough the only non-fiction in the short list, the spiritual power behind the words make it worth mentioning. Become enchanted with God's Creation, from the lowly ant to the mighty mountains, in ways that will enliven the Soul.

10. The Chosen by Chaim Potok.

Exploring the different aspects of religious faith, friendship, and family when coming from the same background. This is the only one I haven't read, but it comes highly recommended. Mormon writers have used this author, if not this book, as an example of what a good religious story can be when well written.


Anonymous said...

It's like you're channeling my 9th/10th grade summer reading lists. I'm having prep school flash backs...

Jettboy said...

I know none of these writings are unheard of and probably on school reading lists no matter where you go. Although I love other books of a more contemporary and less literary quality, my heart belongs to the classics.

If anyone knows other books that are of religious or Mormon interest, go ahead and suggest them. A few books that don't exactly match my original list of ten include:

The first three books (don't bother with the others) of the "Dune" series by Frank Herbert. It explores the promise and the dangers of religious prophetic traditions.

"A Canticle For Leibowitz" by Walter M. Miller Jr. The classic search for rebuilding both body and soul of a world destroyed by nuclear war.

And, it must be mentioned, anything by Orson Scott Card.

Anonymous said...

Today I finished Leadership and Self-Deception. Great book, and a quick read. It discusses, in secular terms of course, what "sins of omission" are, calling it self-betrayal. I found it very interesting, and highly applicable to our own lives as we strive to follow the promptings of the Spirit.

Anonymous said...

I don't see why these books are any more "of Mormon interest" than they are of general human interest, other than the fact that Mormons tend not to read outside the "canon" of standard works and apostle tomes. Why do you think these are of particular use to Mormons? The Epic of Gilgamesh is interesting for Mormons, I think, because it provides some evidence that the Biblical story of Noah as we have it is (at least partly) fictional.

Jettboy said...

Peter, I agree with you. They are, more or less, generic religious human interest. Mormons are, after all, religious and therefore should be familiar with these.

I did pick a few of them, like Epic of Gilgamesh and William Blake, because the subject matter does cross Mormon themes. Most of the others are just, well, important.