This is the rough draft of my introduction. It's a thousand words, so I will feel absolutely okay about speaking as quickly as I can. I do feel a little weird about not saying Jesus once in the entire talk, but I think he will forgive me. If I accomplish my goal, it will work out.
I haven’t often been asked to speak in church about controversial Broadway musicals—mostly, I think, because I don’t really like most musicals. I mean—Wicked about bored me to tears. And so I hope Frank won’t mind.
I’m just kidding of course. The musical’s supposed to be entertaining and everyone knows the real Book of Mormon is boring, or, in the words of Mark Twain, chloroform in print. Or, to quote the New Yorker review of the musical, “The actual Book of Mormon, whose hieroglyphs Smith ‘translated’ while peering at peep stones in the bottom of his hat, lives up to Edmund Wilson’s estimation of it as ‘a farrago of balderdash.’”
But let me tell you something: you bring that attitude to me and I will slap you. And I can do it. Unlike when I’m teaching school, no one can fire me if I slap you here. Because here’s the thing: the Book of Mormon is not boring. If you find it boring, you’re reading it wrong. But don’t worry. I’m here to help.
First, let me say that we generally find what we’re looking for when we read a book. Edmund Wilson—the guy who called the Book of Mormon “a farrago of balderdash” also dismissed Tolkien as “juvenile trash” and Lovecraft as “hackwork.” He lacked the capacity to read work outside his established tastes. And most haters aren’t likely to have taken the book seriously on its own merits. If you think Mark Twain read even 10% of the Book of Mormon you are nuts.
So this is my thesis. While sure, yes, the Book of Mormon is the the most correct of any book on earth and the keystone of our religion and you’ll get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts than by any other book, okay, that doesn’t do you any good at all if you don’t read it. Think of Parley P. Pratt. The first time he held the book in his hands, “I read all day; eating was a burden, I had no desire for food; sleep was a burden when the night came, for I preferred reading to sleep. As I read, the spirit of the Lord was upon me, and I knew and comprehended that the book was true, as plainly and manifestly as a man comprehends and knows that he exists.”
So look. I don’t want to take away from that. From Moroni’s promise that when you read it God will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost.” Nothing I say will be more important than that. You have to read, you have to pray, etc, but FIRST YOU MUST READ.
And I want to help make that happen.
First, you should know I’m not a big rereader. As I was preparing this talk, I realized this may be Harry Potter’s fault. I got so sick of trying to reread them in time for each new release that eventually I called it quits. And I’ve hardly reread anything since. Yet I keep working on the Book of Mormon. Mostly, sure, because it’s supposed to be good for me, but that reasoning hasn’t gotten me to read Proust yet. If I didn’t like it, I wouldn’t be able to convince myself.
Yet—let’s face it—no matter how compelling a book, you can burn out on it. Especially if it’s a chore—at-least-one-chapter-a-night. That will never work.
Now join me in 1998. I’m off my mission, living in a Provo apartment. I’ve read the Book of Mormon at least half a dozen times by this point and kinda feel like I got it. You could give me any chapter in the Book of Mormon (Alma 12! Ether 6!) and I could tell you what it was about. Probably can’t do that anymore, but I sure could then.
Result being? I was in dire risk of getting bored.
Then I happened across an article about how Maori Saints read the Book of Mormon. And guess what? They read it completely differently than we do. They ignore those chapters and verses and read it for epic generations-spanning story. This idea was wild to me. I was taught to look at the verses as necessary and inspired breaks in the action. After all, when we read scriptures in Church, don’t we say read chapter x verse y and not worry so much about the surrounded verses or story? You bet we do.
Yet the chapters and verses as they exist in our current edition have nothing to do with the Golden Plates or the original translation. It’s just something Orson Pratt came up with in the 1870s. And, while I’m on the question of design, what’s the font? This font doesn’t look like fun at all. It looks . . . well, it doesn’t look “fun” anyway.
Anyway, so I tried to read the Book of Mormon Maori-style. As fast as I could so I wouldn’t get caught up on the chapters and verses. And you know what? It was a different experience.
Because unlike Parley P Pratt, we’ll never have the experience of coming to the Book of Mormon without ever having heard of it before. Whether you grew up with it or came to it later in life, you did not come to it without any bias. You can’t have that experience. You already think something about this book and the trick in enjoying reading it now is to somehow move beyond all we already know and come to it somehow fresh, somehow willing to experience something new.
For the rest of my talk, I’m going to share with you examples. I’ve got them all here and I’ll move through them until we run out of time. At which point I will stop. I don’t know what order I’ll go it and I don’t know how many I’ll get through. But through them all, I want you to remember that the Book of Mormon can absolutely be an enjoyable read.
Some addition reading for examples I plan to be using:
The Book of Mormon - Artifact or Artifice?
The Book of Mormon, Redux
Could Feminism Have Saved the Nephites?
Understanding the Book of Mormon: A Reader's Guide
The Book of Mormon: A Reader's Edition
And as long as I'm selling books in this svithe (generally something I NEVER do), here are two excellent novels I was thinking about using for examples of Card's ideas:
Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell: A Novel
And, in closing, you may also flit off to the last svithe posted.