Sunday, August 11, 2013

Good books

In the very last chapter of The Magician's Nephew, when all the loose ends of the story are resolved and good has triumphed over evil (for the time being), C.S. Lewis remarks, "When things go wrong, you'll find they usually go on getting worse for some time; but when things once start going right they often go on getting better and better." This resonated with my soul today and brought to mind a number of scriptures:

  • D&C 122: If thou art called to pass through tribulation...above all, if the very jaws of hell shall gape open the mouth wide after thee, know thou...that all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good.
  • 2 Nephi 2: ...thou hast suffered afflictions and much sorrow.... Nevertheless..., thou knowest the greatness of God; and he shall consecrate thine afflictions for thy gain.
  • Job 13: Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him.... He also shall be my salvation...
  • D&C 121: ...peace be unto thy soul; thine adversity and thine afflictions shall be but a small moment; And then, if thou endure it well, God shall exalt thee on high; thou shalt triumph over all thy foes.
There are others, I'm sure, but that list will do. The point is that mortality is full of trials and tribulation, but also bounteous blessings and joy. We need to experience the pain to appreciate being healed. Reading this today was a good reminder that sometimes the toiling may seem to last indefinitely, but that eventually it will be over and it will be worth it and it will all be okay.

This is my second time reading The Chronicles of Narnia. My cousin Craig introduced them to me on a drive down to Utah from his family's farm in Grassylake, Alberta. He had them as book-on-tape (which is an antiquated term since even "back then" they were technically book-on-CD and of course nowadays they'd just be on some sort of iDevice) and was somehow shocked that I was not familiar with the story. With my mother being who she is, I now find myself wondering how this series slipped under the radar. At any rate, he put on The Last Battle and tried to explain the backstory to me whenever I'd get confused. 

I didn't read through the series, though, until I married Andrew. We read them on our honeymoon while we trained and planed around Europe. I finished the series before we got back to the States. He must've been working on something else before starting because he didn't finish them until we were escaping the heat in our hotel room in Dubai eight months later (he had to take a break from C.S. Lewis in order to complete a semester of school and a study abroad in Jordan, which was a little time consuming).

I remember it being good. I remember it being thought-provoking. I remember The Last Battle making a lot more sense after reading all the stories leading up to it. But I guess I forgot that in between because this book was so good. I don't know what the girls got out of it, necessarily. Though Rachel was able to follow the storyline I'm not sure how much of the symbolism she caught onto. That's alright because I'm positive that I learned different things from the book this time around as well. 

I think that's the mark of a good book: that it keeps teaching you over and over again.

I recently read a talk by President Monson that he gave on the day the Conference Center was dedicated. He talked about "go[ing] to work and perform[ing] well our part," and challenged us to rededicate our lives and homes to this purpose.

"Happy homes," he said, "Come in a variety of appearances.... There are, however, identifying features which are to be found in a happy home, whatever the number or description of its family members."

He listed three things: 
But the point that obviously is of concern to this post is how to make your home a library of learning. He says:
Concerning making our personal lives and our homes libraries of learning, the Lord counseled, "Seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom; seek learning, even by study and also by faith." (D&C 88:118)
The standard works offer the library of learning of which I speak. We must be careful not to underestimate the capacity of children to read and to understand the word of God.
Because, seriously, Rachel almost read an entire of chapter of the Book of Mormon out loud, by herself. She wouldn't let anyone cut in for a turn. And when the chapter was over she tried to get started on the next one! Anyway, President Monson continues,
As parents, we should remember that our lives may be the book from the family library which the children most treasure. Are our examples worthy of emulation? Do we live in such a way that a son or a daughter may say, "I want to follow my dad," or "I want to be like my mother"? Unlike the book on the library shelf, the covers of which shield its contents, our lives cannot be closed. Parents, we truly are an open book in the library of learning of our homes.
We love family scripture study and try to be inspiring examples for our children, but I think that actual, physical reading material also plays a big role in the library of learning.

President Ezra Taft Benson talked about selecting good reading material in a fireside address he made at BYU in 1979. He cautioned:
with the abundance of books available, it is the mark of a truly educated man to know what not to read. “Of making many books there is no end” (Ecclesiastes 12:12). Feed only on the best. As John Wesley’s mother counseled him: “Avoid whatever weakens your reason, impairs the tenderness of your conscience, obscures your sense of God, takes off your relish for spiritual things, . . . increases the authority of the body over the mind.”
The fact that a book is old does not necessarily make it of value. The fact that an author wrote one good work does not necessarily mean that all his books are worthy of your time. Do not make your mind a dumping ground for other people’s garbage. It is harder to purge the mind of rotten reading than to purge the body of rotten food, and it is more damaging to the soul.
I suppose that doesn't say much about what makes a good book as it does about what constitutes poor reading material, but it's easy enough to reverse the polarity of the statement. We are looking for things that strengthen our reason, increases the tenderness of our conscience, solidifies our sense of God, sweetens our relish for spiritual things and increases the authority of the mind over the body.

Obviously the best books are the word of God, but I think that The Chronicles of Narnia certainly fall under the "good" category, as do many other books. And I'm glad that I have the opportunity to share these good books with my children.


  1. I've been through the series twice now with my kids and I seriously can't get through it without getting choked up in several places... the symbolism is so beautiful. I think The Magicians Nephew might be my very favorite one. The part where the evil witch is trying to convince the child to take the fruit back to his mother? She's so subtle... so seemingly good... and so evil... Amazing.

    We also just finished a fantastic book called Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin. Great moral, fun writing, interesting story; so if you're looking for another read, I think your kids would love it!

  2. Dr. J and I read them when we first got married out loud and we've read them to the kids once. I've always like the symbolism but his actual writing style is not my cup of tea.

  3. Well, I first read The Chronicles of Narnia when I was a BYU student, and I LOVED them. Loved them. I had my own set. And then, when we lived in California, my usual babysitter was reading the books. And one day she took one home. And then a) she did not give the book back and b) she was not allowed to baby sit for us any more. I was too timid at the time to figure this out--her mom was from South America, English good but not great, and she was tall and intimidating to me. And so I just was quietly hurt when her daughter, the babysitter who had been, confided that her mother was angry that we had subjected her daughter to this VILE reading material. And that she couldn't return the book because her mother had confiscated it.

    A couple of years later, in "The Friend" in the summer issue, when they always printed a two-page spread of recommended books for summer reading, The Chronicles of Narnia was one of the featured series. By then I had sold the incomplete set of books at a swap meet--with most of my books, cutting down on what needed to be moved from California to Canada.

    Just before we moved, the mom returned the book, and apologized for her earlier attitude, and her coldness towards us because of the book.

    So...that was probably one reason why I didn't introduce the book to my kids (of the Nancy and David group) when they were young. I still have hurt over that situation with the book--I really need to let go of that! The other reason was that I did introduce them to my kids (of the Kelli and Abbi group) and they were less enthused about them than I thought they would be, so I thought I had probably introduced them to the girls too young. After all, I had been 20 when I first read them...

    So I just left you to discover them on your own. Besides, we needed to read Baby Island over and over again, right?

    1. Thanks for sharing that story; sorry it still leaves you with a bitter taste in your mouth. :/

      I'm not upset that you didn't read them with us because I did eventually learn about them. It's just that it was a the type of book that it seemed like you *would* have read to us. You read a lot of good books to us—and we finished Baby Island not too long ago (the girls loved it).

    2. I loved Baby Island. I'm going to find that to read to Emmy because I think she'd love it too. And I guess I'd better read Narnia too!

    3. Baby Island! I remember that book! I wonder if I still have a copy in my closet at my parents . . .

  4. And may I suggest a good book? Probably your kids are too young for it, but you will like it, I think. It is called "My sister lives on the mantelpiece" by Annabel Pitcher. Super good.

  5. And thank you Lindsay and Mom for the book recommendations. :)

  6. Just used this blog post as the basis of my FHE lesson for tonight. Thanks Nancy!