Essays Mormon Literature

Turn yourself into a Mormon literature curator for your local community

I’ve discovered the coolest thing ever. The Library Item Request. Seriously.  World changing! Did you know that you can walk into your library and make suggestions as to what books they purchase for your community? Did you know that they will listen to you? I’m living proof. I have personally, as of this moment, curated a collection of Sarah M. Eden novels for my local community.

The first time I made an item request, I felt like I had to convince the library that it was worth their time. I’m a Mormon who lives in Pennsylvania and we’re a rare breed out here. Our library doesn’t stock Mormon authored and themed fiction the way Utah libraries do. That means that my LDS fiction obsession is an expensive habit. I don’t have the budget or the advantage of geographic location to read LDS fiction the way I used to. Deseret Book and Covenant have extremely high e-book prices. I’ll wait over a year for an ebook title to go on sale for $2.99. But this has problems. Not every book goes on sale and the numbers in my bank account are a bitter brick wall.

The library is the happy compromise I’ve found between these two problems. The library purchases the book so the publisher and author get compensated (as they should) for their work. More than they would if I waited for a sale. More than they would if refused to purchase because of price. More than if I had solicited a free copy for review.  I get to read the book and check it out from the library again if I want to reread it. I feel like I help both the publisher and author by extending their reach into a new community and increase their opportunities to introduce themselves to new readers.

I’ll tell the women I visit teach, “Hey, I ordered this awesome book in at the library. It’s a regency published by covenant/Deseret Book. I love it. Check it out and read it.” Running a Relief Society book club is often a common feature of the ward. It is easy to tell them each month if you’ve ordered something new into the library.

So, I am testing this request power. Sure, I “conned” my library into ordering clean, regency romances by an LDS author but everyone loves regencies! Could I really I order a religious/LDS themed novel and have it be approved for purchase? Yes!  I sent a request for Gilda Trillim: Shepherdess of Rats by Steven L. Peck and Ruth by H.B. Moore. I got an email notifying me that the library would purchase both titles and thanking me for my request.

But I’m pondering on the implications of this new found power. What if one member of each ward ordered a single book into their local library once a year? This gives each stake a handful of LDS literature books to read. That’s just one year. By the third year they could have up to 15-20 titles that stake members could choose from. People complain that asking non-member friends and co-workers to read the Book of Mormon is really hard. Well, of course, it is! It’s like asking someone you’ve only been on a first date with to move in with you. It would be far less weird and scary if you asked someone to read a Mormon-themed book that also overlapped with their own interest.

Say, you see a guy reading mystery novels on his lunch break–recommend him something by Sheralyn Pratt, Stephanie Black, Julie Bellon, Clair Poulsen, etc. See if he responds with interest to the Mormon themes in the book. Then maybe you can go all missionary on him, but it never has to become a missionary thing. It could just be a way of making a friend who you’re allowed to be authentically Mormon with. The world is getting more secular and I think it’s important that people are exposed to religious points of view without agendas attached. I think fiction is really fertile ground for people to explore what it looks and feels like to live a religious life without being dragged into a commitment schedule and weekly meetings.
So, pretend your local librarian comes to you and asks what three Mormon titles* you’d select for your local library for both members of your stake and the community at large? Pretend you have no restrictions.** Here’s my three.

  1. House on a Hill by Annette Lyon

I’d chose this book because we recently had a temple built in Philadelphia. There is a higher probability that both members and non-members would pick up the book because they are interested and curious. A reader who wants to know a little more about temples and what they mean to the people that built them would be satisfied. It’s also a clean historical western romance which is on trend right now.

House on a Hill is currently only $1.99 on Amazon Kindle. That’s a great deal.

*What other LDS literature explores what temples mean to us?

     2. Being Sixteen by Ally Condie

Hands down, no other author I’ve read nails what it feels like to be both Mormon and a teen like Ally Condie. It doesn’t have a Mormon title or cover but it would be easy to find on the shelf next to Condie’s other books for teens. I think the success of her national market Matched Trilogy and the fact that her backlist isn’t gigantic would maximize the possibility for discovery on the shelf.

*What other LDS literature explores what it is like to be a teenager in the church today?

 3. Other side of Heaven by John H. Groberg

         This one was super hard. The other thing that many non-members know about us is that we have an all-male priesthood and frequently send out missionaries. I felt like it would be good to cater to that curiosity. I wanted people to have access to what it was like to be male and Mormon. (note: my other two choices are extremely female-centric novels written by women. Guys are valid too.) To have access to both the grief and joy that comes with using priesthood power.   

*What other books explore the struggles of being male in the contemporary Mormon church? What literature do we have that helps people understand the roles of a bishop, stake president, etc? What literature speaks to exercising the power of the priesthood?  

* It occurs to me that books are very much my thing, but maybe books aren’t your thing. Libraries stock DVD’s, CD’s and other media. Feel free to adapt to your preferred format.

** My library only allows books published within the last year to be requested.

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