Library Journal this month ran an interesting article offering a big-picture perspective on the world of LDS and LDS-related publishing, highlighting close to 40 books on doctrine, history, sociology, comparative theology and devotional topics, as well as periodicals, video, and internet resources. The article’s aim is to help librarians choose recent, reliable books about Mormonism, whether they work in a public or small academic library. You can see there are a few classics on the list, as well, that are still in print in recent editions.
The article is interesting for a roundup of quality works and for its explicit and implicit comments on how authorial perspectives can help and hinder public understanding of the Church. It is encouraging to see how many good resources are available, and also to see this topic receive detailed treatment in this national publication. Mainly librarians will read the article, but informing librarians about what books might be appropriate purchases for their libraries can make a big difference in informing the wider public. The web version of the article appears in two parts, a main article and a continuation. The print version is much more attractive, with color images of many of the book covers, etc., but there is some material that only appears on the web due to length constraints.
The Table of Contents page of the print edition accurately notes, “Mormonism has been sensationalized more often than most other religions. These 37 resources, with more on the web, bring perspective to your religion collection.” Fortunately, in recent years we have seen an increasing number of authors able to write about Mormons and Mormonism in a way that both Mormons and non-Mormons find inviting and helpful. This article tries to highlight some of these titles. Believing Mormons may be surprised, however, to see that some of the books that helped define their understanding of the Church are not listed here; in fact, it’s likely that most Mormons won’t have read more than one or two books on the list.
While Mormons have made real progress recently in helping the wider world understand them and overcoming misconceptions, a lot of people remain mostly unaware or misinformed. Mormons often find this frustrating, but it seems to me the primary responsibility falls on us to let ourselves be known in a way that is helpful, easy to understand, and appealing. As Elder Ballard has reminded us recently, our very eagerness to tell people about ourselves sometimes becomes an impediment. Other times we are simply too absorbed in our own Mormon routine to make ourselves accessible to others. For example, you may notice that while the very first work the article recommends is the LDS edition of the scriptures, it does not list specific publication information as for other titles. The authors of the article (one of them is my mother, who has been a librarian for 15 years) were unable to list a specific recommendation because new copies of the LDS edition of the scriptures are not easy to obtain through the standard channels which librarians normally use. The Church offers them in a great variety of sizes, formats (quad, triple, etc.) and colors through Distribution Services or Deseret Book, but the many formats cannot be unambiguously identified by an ISBN, the standard numbering system for books. The LDS quad, for example, as standard as it gets, is only available used on Amazon.
The article invites reflection on a few questions:
What do you think of this list of recommendations?
What books do you wish were on this list that do not exist? or in other words . . .
What more do Mormons need to do to let themselves be better understood?
What issues, events, people, etc. provide the best opportunities for building bridges of understanding or cooperation?
What can Mormons learn about themselves from the way non-Mormons respond to us, or (mis?)describe us?