Brigham Young and the history of reading in the West

July 30, 2007 | 38 comments
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Brigham Young’s condemnation of novel reading during the last two decades of his life is a perfect example of a much-studied moment in the history of reading, the hypothesized “reading revolution” of the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. But the peculiar trajectory of Brigham Young’s attitude, from wary tolerance of novel reading to blanket combination of it,[1] is unusual.

Another thing, I will say to the young ladies especially, that if I should live to have the dictation of a stake of Zion that would live according to the Order of Enoch, this nonsensical reading would cease. This “yellow-covered” literature would not come into the houses of the Saints….I hope that my children know as much about the Bible, Book of Mormon or the Doctrine and Covenants as they do about yellow covered books.[2]

These few sentences written by Brigham Young in 1873 neatly summarize nearly every essential element of the change in reading during the nineteenth century, and concerns about it.[3] The expansion of education had brought literacy to many new readers among women, children, and the working classes, which up to that point had been predominately illiterate groups. The anxiety over this change was focused on a particular medium, the small, cheaply-produced books such as those referred to by Brigham Young as “yellow-covered” literature.[4] But the anxiety over the new reading environment in the nineteenth century was not just a matter of who was reading what, but how they were reading it. George Q. Cannon’s description from 1884 is as good as any of his contemporaries’:

They are only happy when they can take refuge, as a dram-drinker would to liquor, in novel reading. They bury themselves in their novels and allow their feelings to be wrought upon by the painful trials and woes of their heroes and heroines, who only exist in the imagination of their authors.

Addiction, absence, and excessive emotionality are common ways to describe the scene of the novel reader utterly lost to the world.[5] A companion thesis to the “reading revolution” is the suggestion that the end of the eighteenth century saw a transition from “intensive” to “extensive” reading. According to this thesis, the dominant reading practice up to that time involved the repeated reading of one or a few texts (typically the Bible or a catechism) that were carefully and methodically digested, memorized, and reinforced by oral preaching and recitation and hymn singing. But in the nineteenth century, reading in the United States and Europe came to be dominated by the relatively superficial reading of many different texts one after another, and this kind of reading was a much more private and intimate affair.

And this, I think, points to a possible solution to the contradiction between Brigham Young’s tolerance and even enthusiasm for the theater, as long as its content was appropriate, at the same time he was condemning novels without regard to their contents.[6] The problem of the novel for Brigham Young and many of his contemporaries, Mormon and non-Mormon alike, was not, I think, one of content, but one of media. Theater is oral, communal, and public, while novel reading is (by the nineteenth century) silent, individual, and private, and hence unfettered by any community norms of reception or response.

The differences between the media of the theater and the novel might also help explain Brigham Young’s turn against the novel. In 1853, Brigham Young wrote that his children “shall go to the dance, study music, read novels, and do anything else that will…add fire to their spirits.” In 1862, on the way to roundly condemning novel reading, he at least conceded, “I would rather that persons read novels than read nothing.” In 1873, he took a harder line: “If I had the dictation of a society, all this would stop, you would have none of it.” In 1877, a week before he died, Brigham Young told a son to “avoid works of fiction; they engender mental carelessness and give a slipshod character to the workings of the mind.” What had changed during those two dozen years? The project of building Zion in the valley of the Great Salt Lake was well under way in 1853, but in 1862 and 1877, that Zion was under constant threat of annihilation from the outside. The importing of novels did not just seem to dilute the Saints’ economic strength, but the novel’s mode of use also appeared to weaken the community’s hold over the individual imagination and to offer wavering Saints the chance to flee Deseret into private imaginary worlds.[7]

Soon after Brigham Young’s death, the novel and novelistic modes of reading were victorious in Utah and the United States and the rest of the western world; today, novel reading is considered to be a core cultural competency, and the type of reading against which other modes are judged. Mormon scripture study still preserves the reading practices of an early age, however; when we memorize and recite and underline scriptural verses, and comment for 20 minutes on a single verse in a sacrament meeting talk, we are re-enacting very old ways of accessing texts. But novel reading found its own place in Mormon culture, too. The promotion of Mormon Home Literature in the nineteenth and early twentieth century can be seen as an attempt to use the medium of the novel to create through private reading the internal, personal experience of a Zion that couldn’t, in the end, achieve physical existence and independence in the midst of the Rocky Mountains.

—————

[1] As argued in Richard H. Cracroft, “‘Cows to Milk Instead of Novels to Read’: Brigham Young, Novel Reading, and Kingdom Building,” BYU Studies 40 (2001): 102-31.

[2] This, and all citations here, are as cited by Cracroft.

[3] The go-to articles on the reading revolution and nineteenth-century expansion of literacy are Roger Chartier, “Was there a Reading Revolution at the End of the Eighteenth Century?” and Reinhard Wittmann, “New Readers in the Nineteenth Century: Women, Children, Workers,” both in A History of Reading in the West, ed. by Guglielmo Cavallo and Roger Chartier, trans. by Lydia G Cochrane (Amherst: U Massachusetts Press, 1999).

[4] For France, Chartier has studied similarly colorful books knows as the bibliothèque bleue.

[5] For a comparable German reaction, see Die Lesesucht, a chapter from a devotional book for young readers printed in 1831.

[6] Cracroft notes this contradiction but I don’t think he resolves it. After he shows that Brigham Young’s objection to novel reading was not primarily about undesirable content, I’m skeptical of his suggestion that Brigham Young’s approval of the theater is explained by the fact that stage dramas could sometimes be uplifting.

[7] Thus I agree with Cracroft, although for somewhat different reasons than those he lays out, that it is in the end Brigham Young’s “all-consuming vision of the destiny of the kingdom of God” that led him to condemn novels.

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38 Responses to Brigham Young and the history of reading in the West

  1. Sarah on July 30, 2007 at 7:12 am

    I bet semi-anonymous blogging and the internet in general would have driven him crazy, then.

  2. Adam Greenwood on July 30, 2007 at 8:45 am

    I see what Brigham was getting at, but nowadays that ship has sailed. Of course some novels are communal–Harry Potter, for one, and in our own community, the Work and the Glory series. I suppose that if I take Brigham seriously, I should try to read the Mormon novels that the Saints like, whether its the ones with mass popularity or the high-falutin’ ones that the literary types like, but so far my reaction to both is a big Ugh. I like OSC though, including Saints and Folk of the Fringe, so maybe that gets me middlebow communalism creds?

  3. Jonathan Green on July 30, 2007 at 9:42 am

    Adam, that’s an interesting question. Now that the toothpaste is out of the tube, what do we make of Brigham Young’s take on novel reading? One option is to lump it together with odd things that Mormons said in the 19th century, but that would be a terrible waste. Another option is to turn to Brigham Young for a critique of contemporary culture: every kid in school is taught today that reading novels is good and appropriate, but people with a different perspective saw dangers that we no longer see, so let’s take a closer look at the propaganda of reading, etc., etc. A third option is to look for the reasons that Brigham Young didn’t like novel reading; if it all comes down to avoiding obstacles in building Zion, then it makes more sense to increase efforts to build up Zion (in the current sense of the term) than to toss out our paperbacks.

    As far as individual and communal media go, I think we have to distinguish between the mass audience composed of individuals, and the communal experience shared by even just a few people. Short of reading a novel out loud to a handful of listeners (like a household gathered around a Bible-reading father centuries ago), I don’t know if novel reading can be a communal experience. It is possible, however, to build up a community of people based on their reading of the same novel. Does that make sense?

  4. Clark on July 30, 2007 at 10:44 am

    I think the “private vs. public” thesis fails since what he’s condemning is novels and not reading. Surely if I read non-fiction it is nearly as private an experience as reading a novel. Rather I suspect what is going on, as you allude, is some fear of a new media but perhaps the same worries parents had with television and (of late) video games. There’s the idea that they ought be outside playing with friends. So what’s at worry is that one is (a) wasting time better spent being social or improving oneself intellectually and (b) it’s affecting ones morals. The exact same charges made today.

    When I was in SF a couple of weeks ago there were billboards everywhere encouraging people to turn off the TV. Honestly, is that really much different from the rhetoric coming out of Brigham Young? Yeah, I suspect those today railing against TV and video games would love kids to be reading Harry Potter. But what they really want is kids to learn, exercise, play, and socialize.

    The more things change the more they stay the same.

    And, I should add, I think there is a lot of truth in Brigham’s worry – perhaps if at the time people were more balanced in their reading he wouldn’t be so upset. It looks quaint today simply because things are so much worse. And I say that as someone eagerly awaiting Halo III and who expects to waste many hours (to my wife’s consternation) on that game. But at least I can point to a large non-fiction library and the “social” discussions on blogs. (grin)

  5. Adam Greenwood on July 30, 2007 at 10:49 am

    Our modern approach is that novel reading helps build up Zion if the novels help make the individual reader better: they have good morals, they improve our minds, etc. I like your point that reading stories out loud is itself a communal experience. As a kid my father and mother would read out loud to us in winter evenings and thats always meant a lot.

    I agree with you that individual reading of novels, no matter how many people do it, is not communal, but that some communal experience can be manufactured out of it via watercooler conversation, blog discussions, reviews, and so on. Harry Potter is an example.

    What I’m getting out of this is that maybe writing for the smaller Mormon audience may be a good thing even if it doesn’t reach as many people.

  6. Adam Greenwood on July 30, 2007 at 10:51 am

    I bet semi-anonymous blogging and the internet in general would have driven him crazy, then.

    I think the Journal of Discourses was the 19th century Times and Seasons. Totally onymous, topics of all kinds, and just a little loopy.

  7. Bob on July 30, 2007 at 11:03 am

    Only questions: “novel reading is (by the nineteenth century) silent, individual, and private, ” How did BY know there was a ‘problem’? Was it a problem’, or a ‘solution’? Why only women, what were the men ‘using’? Is it still on going today, or has TV, Movies, iPods replaced it? To be clear..in my home my wife reads this light stuff, I do the heavy reading…I guess.

  8. Ardis Parshall on July 30, 2007 at 11:53 am

    With apologies for contradicting a senior scholar like Richard Cracroft, I believe he is very much mistaken in characterizing Brigham Young’s stand as a blanket condemnation of all fiction. With one exception, the context condemns material that distorts normal views of life and humanity, stirring up passions beyond acceptable bounds — the tabloid-y, soap-opera-ish, bodice-ripping stories that are still looked down on by readers with any taste or training. In my opinion and based on my familiarity with a huge quantity of Brigham Young’s writing and speaking, that is what “novels” meant to him; he made a distinction between “novels” on the one hand, and “books” and “reading” and “study” and “poetry” and “comedy” on the other. He condemns only “novels,” not other types of literature, fiction or not.

    The one exception is Brigham Young’s advice to his son to avoid fiction and to sell his Dickens. In its context (a private letter), written to a son away at school, engaged in an intensive technical/engineer course, it seems far more likely that it was intended as counsel to one individual in temporary circumstances, and Prof. Cracroft is stretching to insist that that single statement applies to all fiction at all times and to all Saints. I suspect Prof. Cracroft and his research assistant did a digital word search of “novel” and “fiction” and formed a distorted view of Brigham Young’s references to books.

  9. DKL on July 30, 2007 at 12:10 pm

    I agree with you, Ardis. I’d go further. The perception at the time seemed to be that there was a preponderance of bodice-ripping (great term, by the way) fiction in the novel medium/form, such that one might feel feel justified using very general terms to condemn novels. One might, for example, condemn television programming while still allowing for people to watch general conference on TV, or even admitting that there are programs worth watching.

    Besides, if we condemn all fiction, than we have to ditch the New Testament.

  10. Clark on July 30, 2007 at 12:34 pm

    Bob, I suspect given the largely agrarian community Brigham figured the men were out in the fields or busy stuck doing HTing. (Yeah, the last bit is a joke – but the asymmetry your bring out is interesting)

  11. William Morris on July 30, 2007 at 12:53 pm

    It would be interesting to study the development of the Mormon romance novel, both in terms of publishing and reception as well as content (esp. content in relation to the romance novel market in the U.S.). My understanding is that courtship stories were very popular in late 19th century Mormon society (as they were in the rest of the U.S.) and my sense is that Mormon romance novels tend to be courtship narratives that track more closely to the strictures of the original courtship model than other romance novels.

    ——
    Whether or not Brigham Young’s condemnation of fiction was blanket or not, I would note (as I have in the past) that one of the larger communal reading efforts in Mormon society — Deseret Book’s Time Out for Women book club — includes very little fiction, focusing instead on devotional and self-help titles. From May 2004 to Aug. 2007: 13 works of fiction, 42 works that are inspirational, devotional and/or self-help.

    Out of the fiction titles, the only works that would sort of count as literary fiction are Neil A. Maxwell’s _The Enoch Letters_ and Alcott’s _Little Women_ (or at least as far as I can tell).

    Source: http://deseretbook.com/time-out/past-titles

  12. Bob on July 30, 2007 at 1:36 pm

    #10: Wow Clark, hurry and get your post deleted! You’re saying the little woman, with 14 kids, had more free time to read Novels, than the man to stop under a tree for a little break. They re going to come after You!

  13. Ardis Parshall on July 30, 2007 at 2:02 pm

    William Morris, DesBook’s Time Out for Women club may not be the best measurement of community acceptance and reading preferences — DesBook leans so heavily toward its own titles as book club selections that there is an obvious commercial bias there. My ward’s RS book club — independent, not DesBooks sales effort — choses fiction exclusively.

  14. Adam Greenwood on July 30, 2007 at 2:07 pm

    Any argument that all fiction is unprofitable has to take into account Christ’s parables, which in some ways are edifying fictions. Plays, which Brigham Young loved, are usually also fictional.

  15. Jonathan Green on July 30, 2007 at 2:34 pm

    Clark, no, the way people read novels is very different than the way people read non-fiction, and in the late eighteenth and nineteenth century it was a new and, for some people, threatening thing. Brigham Young and George Cannon condemn novel reading in exactly the same terms that contemporaries and predecessors had done, and they keep coming back not just to cheap, sensational literature, but to the way people read novels with emotional abandonment. Brigham Young seems like all but a textbook case of reaction against novel reading.

    Any theory to explain his attitude can’t be based on the content of the novels, because light entertainment on the stage seems to have been acceptable; why was roughly equivalent material in novel form not acceptable? And one has to account for Brigham Young’s increasing dislike of novels. It wasn’t a new medium to him in 1853, when he was well disposed towards it, and even less so in later decades when he was condemning it. I think the scholarship on reading history in the 19th century might help explain what’s going on.

  16. Ray on July 30, 2007 at 2:41 pm

    Even in our day, most highly educated people draw a clear distinction between “popular fiction” and “fictional literature”. Seriously, how long has it been since the list of “classics” has been updated for High School English classes? My children can’t stand about half of the books they read in those classes (for good reason), and there are hundreds of more contemporary works that are amazing, but the biases and snobbishness of academia carry a clear disdain even for some excellent “modern” fiction. (I had someone tell me that Toni Morrison’s “The Bluest Eye” was too recent to be a classic – and that William Goldman’s “The Princess Bride” was just popular comedy trash. I think the first assertion is simply idiotic, and the second overlooks some truly incredible examples of literary devices that kids actually would enjoy reading. End of soapbox.)

    If you substitute “popular fiction” for “fiction” in the BY quotes, I think any controversy disappears.

    Having said that, I personally can’t stand the concept of “Mormon fiction” – other than something like the Work and the Glory series that helps history come alive for many members. (I haven’t read it, but I understand the reasoning and have no real problem with it.) The Mormon romance fiction and the adaptations of popular books and series with a Mormon hero/heroine twist drive me crazy. Must be the academic snob in me.

  17. queuno on July 30, 2007 at 2:45 pm

    I read his words and the context and equate it to pulp fiction and blogs today.

    (Not that I’m opposed to pulp fiction and blogs.)

  18. Ray on July 30, 2007 at 2:52 pm

    There is a difference in reading to learn and reading to escape – and obsessive reading to escape that keeps the reader from doing other critical things, thus neglecting “duty”.

    BY wasn’t shy about endorsing extremes, especially if he perceived a threat. I think that’s all that was going on. In his mind, what started out needing general counsel ended up needing direct restriction, based on an inability of the common man to follow the initial counsel. That seems perfectly in character for him.

  19. Adam Greenwood on July 30, 2007 at 3:02 pm

    Excellent point, Ray.

  20. Clark on July 30, 2007 at 4:28 pm

    Johnathan but I see blanket condemnations of TV, Internet and video games that is, if anything, more extreme than anything BY laid out.

  21. Ray on July 30, 2007 at 4:54 pm

    Clark, from whom?

  22. Nick Literski on July 30, 2007 at 6:28 pm

    I don’t think Brigham Young would have appreciated the “Wreck of the Glory” series. While he admittedly had concerns about Lucy Mack Smith’s outlook on William Smith, his loudest criticism of her manuscript was centered on what he saw as historical inaccuracies–even though modern research has found she was generally quite on the mark. Ardis can correct me if I’m wrong, but didn’t he go so far as to condemn Lucy’s inaccuracies as “lies?” I suspect he’d have had little tolerance for the exploits of the Steeds.

  23. Adam Greenwood on July 30, 2007 at 6:32 pm

    Brigham Young didn’t appreciate lots of things, but one difference is that Lucy Mack Smith was writing history while the Steeds are fiction.

  24. Bob on July 30, 2007 at 6:38 pm

    If we are talking about BY, we all know what happened: he would come home after a hard day and see 20 or 30 of his wives reading this stuff. It we are talking about the stuff, then I agree with most here: These ‘novels’ got the ‘blood up’ too much for the times, like Fast Dancing and Rock and Roll music in the 60s. I also agree with Ray: more important, we need a new reading list for today. What should we or our kids be reading today? Can we/is there a replacement for “Catcher on the Rye”? Is Harry Potter the best WE can do for OUR times?

  25. Jacob on July 30, 2007 at 7:23 pm

    Raise of hands (figuratively!)! Who has ever gotten into an argument with a significant other because he/she/they wanted to talk, and you were reading?

    I think that’s what Brigham Young was talking about.

  26. Nick Literski on July 30, 2007 at 7:55 pm

    Adam #23:
    You know that, and I know that. Tell it to the many, many LDS who show up at church historical sites like Nauvoo (where I lived for almost seven years), asking the missionary guides where the Steeds lived. IMO, that series has been really detrimental in that way. In fact, in the recent LDS church survey about learning history, the majority of respondents said they get their “church history” from fictional series such as (and even the question specifically named) the Work and the Glory.

  27. Bill MacKinnon on July 31, 2007 at 9:07 am

    A fascinating post, Adam. Thanks. As is often the case, I find myself persuaded that Ardis again (#8) makes great good sense after reading more of BY-in-the-raw (letters) than all of us combined. Ray (#18) also makes an excellent point about BY being driven into taking an extreme position after seeing initial counsel go unheeded.
    As I’ve said before here in a different context, understanding what BY said on secular subjects is often a challenge. He was a moving target. When and when not should one take what he said at face value? Paul Peterson has argued that his violent imagery during the Reformation of 1856-58 was often a case of hyperbole and extremism for effect to get the attention of rough-hewn backsliders; Will Bagley and Dave Bigler have argued that he meant exactly what he said most of the time and should be paid attention to rather than not taken seriously. Bagley (and I at times) have stressed his micromanaging style yet Tom Alexander (and I at times) have commented on the extent to which Utahns of the mid-nineteenth century politely disregarded his counsel. On educational matters, he often pointed out (sometimes bragged) that he had only eight days of formal education and Utah Territory’s school system was a laggard, yet he was instrumental in the founding of what are now BYU and UoU and pushed hard (with George D. Watt) for the creation of the Deseret alphabet to help emigrants and others to learn to read, an innovation that his flock ignored and buried with him. BY saw to it that some of his sons and grandsons went to West Point and Annapolis, and grandson Richard Whitehead Young went to Columbia Law School after USMA. On the eve of the Utah War BY had the Nauvoo Legion pepper the War Department with requests for manuals on military tactics, drill, and artillery and drove congressional delegate Bernhisel nuts with demands that he scour the bookstalls of D.C., New York, and Philadelphia for such books, a request that Legion Adjutant James Ferguson repeated of U.S. Army Capt. Stewart Van Vliet on 13 September 1857 as he was leaving GSLC to return to Washington. So was BY anti-intellectual/anti-education, or a picker-and-chooser who sometimes sounded that way while taking extremem positions? I think the latter, as Ardis and Ray have said, if I understood them properly.
    BY had a love-hate relationship with educated professionals, especially physicians and lawyers. Yet when he died (apparently of appendicitis) in 1877 he was attended by doctors, including one who was a nephew whom he had encouraged to go east for medical school as a T&Ser pointed out several weeks ago. John M. Bernhisel, his long-time delegate in Congress was a medico as was Mrs. Thomas L. Kane, whom he admired/respected greatly. As has also been discussed by Nate, the Prophetic hostility to lawyers was legendary (couldn’t charge legal fees in Utah under territorial law; no citing of British or American common law as precedents in Utah court cases), yet from the beginning he was careful to surround himself with several (not a lot) accomplished lawyers like Seth M. Blair, James Ferguson, Hosea Stout and even dabbler-lawyers like Apostle George A. Smith and William Adams (Wild Bill) Hickman.
    The hostility to novels is indeed an intriguing phenomenon. I was surprised to read Ardis’s paraphrasing of BY’s advice to his son (I presume Willard Young, a West Point cadet) to sell his Dickens, since BY’s discourses and letters in earlier years showed a great fondness for Dickens, especially novels like “Little Dorritt.” His frequent references to the U.S. Government as “the Circumlocution Office” was right out of Dickens. I woonder if Eliza R. Snow ever commented on her husband’s fulminations about novel reading. I wonder if daughter Susa Young Gates ever commented, especially since she was, among other things, a novelist (see “John Stevens’ Courtship. A Story of the Echo Canyon War” published by The Deseret News in 1909.). Gates-as-novelist brings to mind not only her father but the pithy note that Bobby Kennedy wrote to a cabinet officer after an especially embarrassing gaffe made by a cabinet officer’s spouse that landed in the “Washington Post”: “Can’t you control your wife…or are you like me?”

  28. Bill MacKinnon on July 31, 2007 at 9:10 am

    Sorry, kudos to Jonathan rather than Adam! Getting old…too many novels…

  29. Bob on July 31, 2007 at 10:46 am

    #3: “It is possible, however, to build up a community of people based on their reading of the same novel. Does that make sense?”
    See :”Uncle Tom’s Cabin” or “The Jungle”.

  30. William Morris on July 31, 2007 at 10:51 am

    Ardis (#13):

    Sorry if I wasn’t clear. I know that Time Out for Women isn’t representative of all Mormon (mostly RS) reading groups. But I do think that their choice in titles is suggestive of the idea that reading novels is not as “good” or “productive” as reading devotional/self-help.

    Ray (#16):

    Mormon genre fiction (what you seem to be referring to) is a subset of Mormon fiction. I’m sure if we tried, we could find some Mormon fiction that you would like.

  31. Justin on July 31, 2007 at 11:17 am

    The advice was given to Feramorz Young.

    Salt Lake City, August 23, 1877

    Elder F. L. Young

    Annapolis, Maryland

    My dear son Fera,

    A day or two ago I received your letter acknowledging the receipt of mine of July 17th. As ever I was glad to hear from you. I trust, when next you write, you will feel more encouraged; possibly, the warm weather having moderated, you will feel more of your natural vigor and energy and the prospect will appear brighter before you. Nothing worthy of obtaining is ever engaged by us without perseverance. “There is no excellency without labor.” You must, therefore, strive on. The experience you gain will be invaluable. Experience is a good schoolmaster though the “school fees are somewhat heavy.”

    You must permit me, my dear son, in the love that I bear for you and your brothers and sisters, to say that I do not esteem the perusal of novels a wise means of increasing your desire to read. I should be very foolish if because I had a poor appetite I took to making my meals of poisonous herbs or berries because they tasted sweet or were otherwise palatable. It would be better for my appetite to remain poor than that I should destroy my vitality. Novel reading appears to me to be very much the same as swallowing poisonous herbs; it is a remedy that is worse than the complaint. I certainly wish you loved reading. I hope that taste will yet be developed in you, but developed by all means with good, healthy, mental food. Read all good books you can obtain, the revelations of God, the writings of His servants, descriptions of His works, as seen in the animal, vegetable and mineral kingdoms; peruse the lives of the good and great of various ages and nationalities; make yourself acquainted with art, science and manufacture, and before long you will find an interest growing in these things that it will be no longer any trouble to read, but you will read eagerly and whilst so doing you will be fitting yourself for future usefulness.

    Some excuse novel reading on the grounds that it gives them insight into the ways of the world, its life and society, others on the ground that they thus become acquainted with the best authors, their various styles and peculiar beauties. To the first plea I would say that the views of life given in most works of fiction are greatly strained or entirely false, and every elder in the Church of Jesus Christ who performs his duty will have enough experience in the vicissitudes of real life to satisfy him by the time he grows old. To the second excuse I would answer that the Bible and many works of history &c. contain as good, graceful, grand, unadulterated English as any romance that was ever written. Avoid works of fiction; they engender mental carelessness and give a slipshod character to the workings of the mind. To strengthen the mind, increase its perceptions, develop its powers, we should read the true and the wise. The perusal of the rest is worse than time wasted, it is time abused. Sell your Dickens’ works and get Stephens’ & Catherwoods’ Travels in Central America, or Josephus’s or Mosheim’s History. The Bible is a very interesting book when read as history, especially to those who believe the truths that it teaches.

    Dean Jessee, ed., Letters of Brigham Young to His Sons (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1974), 313-15.

  32. Ardis Parshall on July 31, 2007 at 11:58 am

    Sorry if I wasn’t clear. I know that Time Out for Women isn’t representative of all Mormon (mostly RS) reading groups. But I do think that their choice in titles is suggestive of the idea that reading novels is not as “good” or “productive” as reading devotional/self-help.

    You were clear, William; I wasn’t. It may be my cynicism peeking through, but I was saying that the choice of books for Time Out for Women was based not on “good” or “productive” categories so much as on pushing the sale of Deseret Books-published titles, which are overwhelmingly devotional/self-help and underwhelmingly fiction. I think the book selections for that program are far more about commercial profitability than they are about what most interests women or would be most beneficial to read.

    You said “Little Women” was on the list; I didn’t see it, but was scanning fast. The fiction that I did see — “Tangled Roots,” “The Trial,” “Midway to Heaven,” etc. — are among Deseret Books’ relatively few adult fiction titles. Time Out for Women is a commercial venture, pure and simple, not by any stretch an indication of interest or moral value.

    There may, however, be some reflection of what Deseret Book thinks Relief Society leaders think women think they ought to read, in public, among other Mormon women, which may or may not (I think not) reflect what they would choose if it were not a RS-sponsored group.

    /rant

  33. Bob on July 31, 2007 at 12:53 pm

    #30: for Ray. I am trying to get you to Kenneth B. Hunsaker: “A Literary History of the American West”, It outlines all the Mormon Novels during the ‘Golden Years of the Mormon Novel’ A great 11 page breakdown. But it’s locked in BYU or TCU.edu.or…well, you try.

  34. William Morris on July 31, 2007 at 2:26 pm

    Ardis:

    Agreed. I wonder if DB’s acquisition of Covenant will lead to the inclusion of more genre fiction. So far, it doesn’t seem like it.

    _Little Women_ is one of the Aug. selections (which are listed on the main book club page rather than the archives page I linked to).

  35. Bob on July 31, 2007 at 3:05 pm

    31# “Sell your Dickens’ works”. Is this the ‘trash’ BY is talking about. Or our we talking about a lot of homesick ladies in Salt lake reading about there ‘losted’ homes in Liverpool?

  36. Ardis Parshall on July 31, 2007 at 4:52 pm

    35: When BY refers to novels, we’re talking about this: “In our part of the land many of our young women just hope and pray, if they ever thought of prayer, ‘I do wish some villain would come along and break open my room and steal me and carry me off; I want to be stolen, I want to be carried away; I want to be lost with the Indians, I want to be shipwrecked and to go through some terrible scene, so that I can experience what this beloved lady has experienced whom I have been reading about.’” Brigham Young, 23 July 1873.

  37. Bob on July 31, 2007 at 6:20 pm

    #36 Love it! That’s so my BY! But HOW did he know this? I get this funny picture of him either reading these books, or him just sitting there as some “young woman” tells him of the wonderful tales. I am sure his ‘enjoyment’ would have carried onto the “The Twenty-Seventh Wife”. (also “The 19th Wife”, which Random House will publish in August, 2008.)

  38. Miss Lulu on April 28, 2008 at 4:43 pm

    #36 Sounds like a certain very popular vampiresh obsession to me!

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