Sunday, August 31, 2008

August and Everything After (I LOVE That CD!)

So, wow, it's the last day of August. Where did the time go? It was a crazy busy month for me, with our big move, the kids starting school, and all kinds of other stuff. I tried not to neglect Ye Olde Blog, but it still happened a bit. Even now, after 3 weeks of packing, moving, and settling in, I've got lots of work to do. Anyway, there are just a few things I want to mention:

* I never thanked Debbi over at My Reading Spot for the Brilliante Weblog Award she left me on her site. It was so sweet of her! I'm always thrilled to receive praise from fellow readers and bloggers. Of course, now I have to pass it on, and that's the tough part - not because I don't have any favorite blogs, but because I have SO many. How can I possibly choose?

Two are going to my IRL friends, Tara and Jane. Both of them have fun mom blogs. Tara's is filled with great info on fashion, DIY projects, cooking and much, much more. Jane's contains more musings about marriage and family. Did I mention that she's hilarious? You should definitely check out their blogs for great reading and giveaways. I love 'em both!

Okay, book blogs ... Why do you all have to be so brilliant and entertaining? You make these things so difficult ... I'm going to go with these folks for now:


What KT Reads - KT is a fairly new book blogger, who reviews mostly YA fiction. She's always recommending great books.

Booking Mama - Julie P. is another new book blogger, but man, is she busy! I read a lot of review books, but she seems to do it faster and better than I can. I always read her blog to see what books she's managed to snag - I'm often green with envy over her fabulous "catches."

BestBooks - Julie Smith writes the funniest, most concise reviews ever. It's refreshing to get her perspective in just a few words. Her recent review of Breaking Dawn made me laugh out loud.


* Speaking of awards, I hope you're following the fun on My Friend Amy's blog. I love the idea of Book Blogger Appreciation Week. Unfortunately, I missed the deadline for nominations, but good luck everybody. Fabulous idea, Amy. I love it.

* You've probably noticed that I've been reading review books almost exclusively. That's because I'm often under deadline to finish them. I love review books, but I'm also itching to read some of the novels I've been neglecting. A couple of my favorite authors have come out with new books this month, so hopefully, I'll be getting to them soon. What can you look forward to this month on BBB? Lots of reviews, a couple of author interviews and at least one giveaway. So, definitely stay tuned.

* Okay, this last one is for my 9-year-old son. He has been hounding me about checking out a certain book from the library. The problem is, he's not sure of the title. His teacher read the book aloud to his class last year, then she retired, so I don't have her email address. So, I was hoping some of you teachers/librarians/readers can help us out. According to him, the book was about some boys who race their bikes down Death Hill. That's all he can remember - not very helpful. He thinks the book is by Thomas Rockwell, the author of How to Eat Fried Worms, but we couldn't find any info when we googled him. Any help will be much appreciated!

* My stomach's growling and I've got to get ready for church, so I'm signing out. Have a great week, everyone. Happy Reading!

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Alien Hunter Daniel X Takes on the Reluctant Reader

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

If you're taking the time to read this blog, chances are you're a reader. Maybe you're a sporadic reader, maybe you're a card-carrying bookworm, or maybe you're a completely neurotic, book-obsessed blogger. Whatever your level of bookishness, you're someone who loves books. Have you ever thought about how this love affair started? What made you a reader? Chances are good that there is someone in your life who just doesn't get the book thing. What makes that person so reluctant to pick up a book? Have you ever wondered?

Okay, maybe you've never pondered these questions, but bestselling novelist James Patterson certainly has. He's especially concerned about why young boys, like his 10-year-old son, shy away from reading. The answer? According to the Young Adult Library Services Association, the top reason boys shun the hobby is because they think it's boring. So, what's the solution? How do we stop this trend? According to Patterson, it's simple: authors need to create stories boys can get into. With that goal in mind, he penned a "vaccine for the 'boys don't like reading' epidemic" (quote from promotional materials) called The Dangerous Days of Daniel X.

In order to snag his intended audience, Patterson had to reel young boys in with what they really want - fast-paced, non-stop, over-the-top, thrilling action. He also had to offer up a hero who is cool enough to merit attention, but flawed enough to seem real. Did he succeed? In a word, yes. This is a book that will hook boys, young and old. Girls should like it, too, given that it features several cool female characters.

The story goes something like this: When his parents die at the hands of a homicidal maniac called The Prayer, Daniel vows to get his revenge. But, The Prayer is no ordinary villain - he is, in fact, an evil alien thirsty for human blood. Of course, Daniel is no ordinary kid. Born with special powers, he can read people's thoughts, make things happen with his mind, and transform himself into all kinds of animals. This makes him uniquely qualified to be an Alien Hunter. Armed with The List, which identifies alien outlaws, Daniel tracks them down one by one, always searching for the creature he really wants - The Prayer.

In The Dangerous Days of Daniel X, our hero is after a particularly nasty piece of alien scum. Ergent Seth, Number 6 on the list, wants nothing more than to eradicate all life from Earth and replace it with his buddies from outer space. Hunting Seth down isn't exactly easy, even for a teenager with the coolest powers around. Daniel takes on the task anyway, knowing it could cost him his life. His journey will take him to the mean streets of L.A. and way, way beyond. It's a trip that will test him, amaze him, and bring him closer to the answers he seeks - not about his arch enemy, but about himself and his family.

The writing is trademark James Patterson - he keeps the chapters short, fast and exciting. Action pumps through the novel, keeping suspense and adrenaline high. Patterson never dwells too much on characterization, and this book is no different. Still, Daniel comes off as sympathetic, likeable and very human (well, kinda). Kids will root for him as he takes out alien after alien, not caring that the extraterrestrials are all pretty much interchangeable. Patterson won't score a lot of points for originality with this one (although I really like the elephants), but I'm guessing readers won't care too much. They'll be too busy flinging Wii remotes aside, so they can fill their hands - and imaginations - with a real, honest-to-goodness book. Of course, this is the 21st Century, when every kid's book comes tied to a website, so check this one out. Kids can watch a video game-style trailer, create their own aliens, and follow along as Daniel X steps out of the pages and onto the big screen.

If you've got a reluctant reader, especially one of the male persuasion, give The Dangerous Days of Daniel X a whirl. It just might be enough to convince him that reading's not the most boring hobby on the planet.

Grade: B

Note: For more reviews of The Dangerous Days of Daniel X, check out MotherTalk.com.

Friday, August 29, 2008

What's Wrong With Mormons? Nothing. Nothing At All.

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

If you've ever listened to a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints describe his/her religion, you've probably asked yourself the question, "What's wrong with Mormons?" I mean, do they seriously believe God showed himself to an ignorant farm boy from New York? Do they honestly think Joseph Smith was a prophet? How can they possibly believe they have the only true Gospel on the face of the Earth? What's wrong with these people? C'mon, you know these questions have coursed through your mind before.

In his new book, B. Jay Gladwell asks the very question you did: What's Wrong With Mormons? He goes on to describe his conversion to the Church. Despite his mother's strong dislike for the religion, Gladwell found it intriguing enough to meet repeatedly with the missionaries. Those discussions led to his baptism in 1975 - since then, he has been an active member of the LDS Church. He acknowledges that Mormons have some beliefs that others find odd, if not downright offensive. In order to "set the record straight and ... apply some 'strong reasons,' using the Scriptures, in an attempt to explain why Mormons believe the way they do" (iv), Gladwell outlines several of these controversial doctrines, including:

- The Great Apostasy wiped Christ's true Gospel from the Earth. (Chapter 1)

- The Godhead consists of 3 separate beings, united in purpose. (Chapter 4)

- The Gospel has been restored. (Chapter 5)

- We lived with God before we choose to come to Earth. (Chapter 7)

- "Three degrees of glory" exist in Heaven, where we will return after we die. (Chapter 9)

For each doctrine, Gladwell uses Biblical passages, history, quotes from noted theologians and logic to support the belief. His "evidence," especially in the beginning chapters, is rock solid. After reading his discussion of the Godhead, for instance, you will see very clearly why Mormons believe that God, Christ and the Holy Spirit are individual beings. If a close reading of Matthew 3: 16-17 doesn't grab your attention, try John 17 verse 1 or 3 or 4. I'm telling you, Gladwell's scriptural base and hard logic are irrefutable. Members of the Church will have heard most of the "proof" before, but it still makes for absorbing (and convincing) reading.

I have to admit that the latter chapters may not be as convincing to those who are not members of the LDS Church. Those sections deal with concepts that are uniquely Mormon - marriage which lasts for both time and eternity; families being sealed together; baptism for the dead; etc. Although Gladwell still gleans much of his "proof" from the Bible, he also uses the "Mormon scriptures" (The Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, The Pearl of Great Price) more heavily than in previous chapters. Still, he provides such a logical explanation of these practices, that one cannot help but say, "Hmmm ... that does make a lot of sense." Interestingly, I think the concepts above are ones that non-LDS folks actually find least offensive. Maybe not, though, since my feisty grandmother liked to declare that no one was going to baptize her after she died!

My only disappointment with this book lies in the editing. Typos, discordant sentencing, and clumsy wording definitely detract from content. Still, I think readers will respond to Gladwell's material as well as his earnestness for his subject. Will LDS churches be bursting at the seams on Sunday thanks to his book? Probably not, but that's not the author's purpose anyway. He states very clearly that "this is not an attempt to convert; only the Holy Spirit can do that" (iv). Still, I think a thoughtful reading of Gladwell's book just might have you saying, "What's wrong with Mormons? Maybe nothing, nothing at all."


Grade: B+




Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Note to Expectant Mothers: Ignore the Experts (Except This One, Of Course)

Registered nurse Tori Kropp has some words of wisdom for expectant mothers: Stop overwhelming yourself with expert advice. It's a funny statement considering she's the expert behind The Joy of Pregnancy, which doles out an awful lot of information and counsel. So, obviously, she's not saying mothers-to-be need to steer clear of the library's Pregnancy/Childbirth section - she's simply advising women to calm down and trust their own instincts to guide them through their pregnancies. And read her book, of course.
The Joy of Pregnancy professes to be "The Complete, Candid, and Reassuring Companion for Parents-To-Be," and I think that's an apt description. The book is divided into 10 chapters, one for each month of a typical pregnancy plus one discussing postpartum issues. Each section contains information on how the baby is developing during the given month; the changes the mother's body is undergoing; and other subjects that commonly crop up at that point in pregnancy. Also included are Q & As, advice just for fathers-to-be and helpful illustrations. Kropp does write candidly, and offers plenty of reassurance in the form of statistics, research studies, and stories from her own experience as a nurse and a mother.

While The Joy of Pregnancy offers heaps of helpful information, most of it is geared toward first-time mothers. I did learn a few things I didn't know (even after 3 pregnancies), but most of Kropp's suggestions were ones I had heard before. Although this guide is very thorough, offering more and better information than other manuals, it also lacks the quick, conversational tone that makes books like The Girlfriend's Guide to Pregnancy and the What to Expect volumes so readable. Don't get me wrong - it's an excellent resource, just not my favorite pregnancy guide.

For me, the most engaging part of The Joy of Pregnancy was the introduction when Kropp explains how she decided to write the book. She talks about how often she helped pregnant women who had read so many guides and taken so many childbirth classes that "they were trusting a variety of writers and other 'experts' more than they trusted themselves" (xii). This made them so tense about the experience that Kropp feared women were forgetting to enjoy their pregnancies. Kropp decided to change things in her own practice, advising women to stop reading piles of pregnancy books, and giving them permission to "relax and enjoy pregnancy rather than dissect it and figure it all out" (xiii). I love this idea.


So, while I prefer the What to Expect books more than this one, I still recommend The Joy of Pregnancy as an excellent resource for first-time mothers. It's got tons of great information as well as a relaxed, reassuring focus. Although Tori Kropp likes to trash the experts, I have to say she is one I would suggest listening to.


Grade: B


Monday, August 25, 2008

Chasing Windmills: A Simply Complex Love Story

(Image from Amazon)

Sebastian Mundt, hero of Catherine Ryan Hyde's Chasing Windmills, isn't your average 17-year-old. He's never hung out with friends, never watched a movie and never so much as tasted a bite of takeout. Thanks to his paranoid, germaphobic (I think mysophobic is the proper term) father, Sebastian has led a decidedly sheltered life. When a doctor finally convinces the elder Mundt that his son must breathe fresh air at least occasionally, Sebastian is allowed outside for a daily run. This tiny bit of freedom goes to his head - not only does he make his first friend (his elderly neighbor, Delilah), but he also finds the courage to sneak out of his apartment at night. Too fearful to head to the nearest nightclub, Sebastian spends his precious hours of freedom riding the deserted subway.

One night, another passenger boards the train - pretty Maria, who hides her secrets behind wide-brimmed hats and long sleeves. Although Sebastian has never seen her before, he feels an electric spark between them. After a few furtive glances, he realizes "we weren't afraid of each other anymore. We knew we didn't have to be. I mean, except to the extent that we were afraid of everything" (2). Thus begins the clandestine relationship that will change the pair's lives forever.

Both Sebastian and Maria have reasons to be cautious, but the emptiness of their lives compels them to continue meeting on the subway. Despite their growing closeness, the two remain strangers, unwilling to part with their individual secrets. Even when they decide to run away together, Sebastian doesn't realize all that Maria is hiding. When she shows up one night with her daughter in tow, Sebastian quickly realizes that love is a lot more complicated than he ever imagined.

Sebastian's new-found bravery also leads him to question his life in general. Is it right for his father to keep him cooped up, denying him a normal life? Is he strong enough to stand up to the man he has feared for so long? Why do memories of windmills in the desert keep ricocheting in his mind? What do they have to do with his mother, who died when he was a child? These questions, combined with his desire to whisk Maria away to a safer place, propel him on a literal journey into his confusing past.

The plot seems simple, and it is. Chasing Windmills is basically a re-telling of West Side Story, which is, of course, a re-telling of Romeo and Juliet. There are also subtle hints of Don Quixote, hence the book's title. Thankfully, Catherine Ryan Hyde's immense talent lets her tell the familiar story of star-crossed lovers in a fresh way. Her characters are fascinating, from sassy Delilah; to romantic, but realistic Maria; to Sebastian, an innocent with old-fashioned manners, whose vulnerability makes him instantly loveable. Even the players who remain one-dimensional will draw you in. Add the subtle and evocative beauty of Hyde's writing and you get a story that feels as complex as it does simple.

Complexity comes into play, especially, at the end of the book. I don't want to spoil it, of course, but let's just say I found the finale surprising and less than satisfying. It works; it's just not how I wanted things to end for Sebastian and Maria. I was also disappointed in the portrayal of Sebastian's father. I wanted to know more about this enigma, who never gets the fleshing out he deserves. The plot line just feels unresolved to me. A few other things bugged me about the book, but overall, I enjoyed the read. Chasing Windmills definitely pulled me in, making me care about its characters and their fates.

If you can't get enough of star-crossed lovers who will defy all odds to be together, this is the book for you. It's a sweet, moving ode to first love in all its simplicity ... and complexity.

Grade: A-

Monday, August 18, 2008

Got College Questions? Ask the "Experts" with Easty-to-Read Guide

(Image from Barnes & Noble)


College is all about thinking for yourself, but the authors of How to Survive Your Freshman Year by Hundreds of College Students Who Did (and some things to avoid, from a few dropouts who didn't) aim to prove that many heads are actually better than the mind of one scared, confused freshman. In their definitive (yet not so definitive) guide, Mark Bernstein and Yadin Kaufmann follow the easy style of past Hundreds of Heads how-to books to dole out advice to first-time college students. The book offers expert opinions on everything from stocking your dorm room to choosing classes to getting along with roommates. The experts? Current and former students (oh yeah, and a handful of dropouts).

The book is divided into sections, each with a skimpy introduction and several pages of advice from the experts I described above. Their responses are honest and unfiltered, written in their own, individual voices. It really is like sitting down and chatting with a group of friends. Of course, some of those friends are wise, some are funny, and some are downright bizarre. So beware. Just like having a real conversation, you have to filter out the good advice from the bad. The authors draw no conclusions for you. Thus, if you're looking for a definitive guide, this may not be the one for you. Still, I think the "experts" come up with some pretty good stuff.


Like I said, some of the students are wise, instructing freshmen to bring with them patience, an open mind and a "blank slate" (7). Others are completely practical, advising dorm dwellers to communicate with their roommates during the summer so they can get to know each other and avoid bringing duplicate items. Some of the information rates high on the "duh" scale, as when Hilary Tress, a junior at New York University says, "Bring warm clothes if you go to school up north. I'm from Miami and I didn't know what a winter coat was. Now I have a couple, and an umbrella" (7). My favorite advice is from the class clowns, who chime in with these gems:

"If you're going to steal furniture for your dorm room, steal it from the lounge. They won't find it until they spray for bugs over spring break - then you only have a few weeks of classes left anyway." - J.G., Florida State University, Graduate (p. 59)


"Do a lot of things your mother would disapprove of. Tattoos, body piercing, spring break trips; as long as you can act like an adult, the sky's the limit." - Anonymous, Mississippi State University (p. 215)

"Fall in love with someone in your class right away; student, T.A., professor, whomever. You'll be hard-pressed to skip class. If there is no one in your class to love, then pick someone to hate and show up every day to make his or her life a living hell." - S.P., University of Georgia, Graduate (p. 107)


Like I said, the students' advice remains unfiltered, touching topics like drinking, drugs and having sex in the dorms. I have to say upfront that I went through 4 years of college without doing any of those things, but apparently, life at the most sober school in America (BYU) is not considered normal. The book also covers topics I never had to deal with, considering things like Facebook and MySpace were not around back in the Dark Ages when I went to college. So, even though some of the information won't be relevant to you personally, How to Survive Your Freshman Year does offer some good, solid information for college-bound freshman. Given its quick, easy format, this is one book a new freshman might actually read.

Grade: B

Friday, August 15, 2008

True Disciples of Christ Must Look Beyond Me

I use the word "preachy" a lot to describe books. Usually, writers get this criticism when they
have an obvious message they are trying to get across (Save the Earth! Never judge a book by its cover! It's more important to be nice than popular!) in a none-too-subtle way. This time, however, when I say "preachy," I mean it literally. In Beyond Me: Living a You-First Life in a Me-First World, award-winning Christian author and speaker Kathi Macias sermonizes on how we can become true disciples of Jesus Christ by living a life focused on serving God and others, instead of ourselves.

Macias hits the "whys" pretty hard, noting that if Christians don't stand for "real life, eternal life" (19), then who will? Taking a stand, she admits "is a costly calling. Choosing to take a stand for life in the face of a culture of death may very well cost us everything. And yet, it is the very reason we are here on this earth today" (19). To combat our dark, selfish world, Macias insists that we must not only believe in Christ, but also live an exemplary life as He did.

Considering that we are all sinners, who will fail in our desire to live virtuous lives, how do we cultivate a "you-first" life? Using examples from the Bible, Macias offers some pointers: She suggests softening your heart, keeping it open to whisperings from the Holy Spirit; living the Golden Rule; modeling Christ-like love; and seeking the Kingdom of Heaven instead of obsessing about material possessions. She also recommends showing more gratitude toward God, giving Him credit for all the ways in which He blesses us above and beyond what we really deserve. Macias writes:

Perhaps because we have so many worldly goods and conveniences, and because we so fiercely pursue our own happiness and success, it is easier for us to count God's gifts as possessions we've earned in our own strength rather than as gracious blessings. (154)

A big part of becoming a true disciple, according to Macias, is using those things with which we've been blessed to bless the lives of others. According to her, "We need to see God's blessings - wealth, possessions, family, time, health - as priceless treasures that we steward to further His kingdom and benefit others, not as things to horde for our own pleasure" (159).

Kathi Macias makes it clear that following Christ is not for sissies. It will take lots of work, lots of time, lots of prayer, and lots of faith. However, it will be worth it. Despite or efforts to pattern our behavior after the Savior's "not everyone will suddenly become a Christian. But the difference between the believers and the rest of the world will be undeniable. Then, whether or not the lost repent and turn their lives over to God, they will have been convicted, and they will be without excuse when they stand before the Judge of the universe" (181).

Obviously, this book is meant for those who are already "born again," or those who have fallen away and desire to return to the fold. It's not going to convince unbelievers of Christ's divinity. However, I think it offers some excellent advice for enriching our relationships with Jesus Christ. Although I don't agree with all of Macias' ideas or interpretations, I do agree with her overall message - Living a "you-first life in a me-first world" will create a kinder, gentler existence for us all.

If you read this blog often, you've probably noticed my almost ritual avoidance of religious non-fiction and deep-thinking in general. I read to escape - books in this genre often feel like work. Beyond Me is no exception. It's well-written enough that you aren't going to cringe your way through it, but the writing doesn't sparkle brightly enough to make you read it for the language alone. Read it for its message, even if you have to indulge in a little caffeine to make it through.

Grade: B

Sunday, August 10, 2008

We Have A Winner (Actually 3)!

Well ... we are in our new house. It was a huge, exhausting job, and we're not even done yet. I'm tired, sore and really happy - the house is fabulous!

Anyway, I finally picked some winners for the two giveaways I'm hosting. I like to draw names out of a hat, but I'm just way too weary for that, so I assigned numbers to each of the contest entrants and let Random.org do the drawing for me. So, without further ado, I announce ... the winners!

The 2 copies of Immortal go to:

Sadiejean & Karen from Planet Books

One copy of The Questory of Root Karbunkulus plus 2 dogtags go to:

Christy

Thanks so much to all who entered, and to the authors/publicists for providing me with copies of their books to give away. If the winners would please email me their mailing addresses, I will get these to you as soon as I can. My email is: blogginboutbooks@gmail.com . Congratulations, you 3!

Friday, August 08, 2008

A Monsoon and A Monster Move


So, I've mentioned our big move a couple of times. We were planning to close on the house two weeks ago, but the mortgage industry has not been good to us :( You'd think in this market they would be down on their knees begging for our business. Yeah, not so much. The bank gave us a sizable loan, but they wanted mountains of paperwork and an explanation for every financial transaction we've ever made. My husband finally said, "Lock me in a room, strip me naked, ask me anything you want - just let me close on this **&!@& house." Okay, he said it without the profanity, but you get the picture. Anyway, we will finally close today. We pick up the U-Haul this afternoon, and will be carting things to the new house until our old one is empty. Sounds fun, huh?

My computer will be off during the move, but I will still be picking book winners tomorrow. If you haven't entered my giveaways, do it now. You can just scroll down through my last few posts to get all the info. I have 3 books up for grabs, so the odds are fairly good. My IRL friend, Tara, is also giving away a book on her blog, The Well-Rounded Woman. You can get all the details here.

I've got a couple of post-dated reviews that should show up as I'm unpacking and getting my kids ready to start school. Once I get settled, I'll be back with a vengeance. I've got a tower of review books to read as well as Stephenie Meyer's Breaking Dawn and more giveaways. So, stay tuned!

Oh, I almost forgot. The photo up top was snapped by my husband as we were standing on 1 of the balconies at the new house (it has 2 - dh is so excited). It was a colorful, monsoon-y night. About an hour after this picture, the heavens heaved and it poured down rain. We were at a swimming party; I got completely drenched as I made a mad dash for the parking lot. I loved it. What can I say? You can take the girl out of Washington State, but you can't take Washington State out of the girl!

Enough chit chat - I've got to finish packing. Wish me luck with this monster move!

Saturday, August 02, 2008

(Even More) Great Giveaways

Thanks for all of your comments on my post about R-rated books. I've enjoyed reading all the different perspectives out there (even those that make me feel like a sinner). Keep 'em coming!

I just wanted to remind you of the two giveaways I have going right now - you can win copies of both Immortal by Traci L. Slatton and The Questory of Root Karbunkulus by Kamilla Reid. I haven't read the former yet, but you can read my review of the latter here. To be in the running for Immortal, make a comment on this post; for Root Karbunkulus, click here. You may enter both. I will draw the names of the winners on August 9.

Because of vacation and packing for our big move, I'm very behind on my blog reading. I have noticed a few new giveaways, though - if you have something fun going on on your blog, I'd love to know about it!

* Bookfinds is giving away 3 signed copies of Megan Kelley Hall's gothic novel Sisters of Mercy. You can find all the info here.

* Literary Feline and Hachette Books is offering you a chance to win 14 books. No, that's not a typo - 14!! Click here for details. Oh! I just realized today you only have about 54 minutes left to enter. Hurry on over there.

* My friend Jane is hosting another installment of Things That Must Go. Prizes are books this time - yay! Get all the info here.

Friday, August 01, 2008

R-rated Books: An LDS Perspective

Gaye over at Inside A Book left me an interesting comment about how much profanity I can tolerate in a book. I began typing a lengthy response, then decided the issue might be better discussed in a post. Plus, since I'm still in the middle of Linda Greenlaw's first mystery novel, I don't have a book to write about, so here goes ...

Most of you know that I am a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (more commonly known as Mormons). Have been all my life. Since I was a child, I've heard the church's admonition to "Seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom (D&C 88:118)." When leaders expound on this verse, they usually mention the scriptures, the classics, and other wholesome, uplifting literature. It goes without saying that the "best books" are those that uphold LDS standards of decency - they must have no profanity, sexual innuendo, explicit "love" scenes, vulgarity, or excessive violence. Deseret Book, the LDS Church's publishing company, follows these standards, publishing only books that fit the aforementioned requirements. As a result, LDS bookstores generally offer shelves 3/4 full of scholarly and clean non-fiction. Fiction offerings are few, and usually focus on bygone eras when life was more genteel. Novels set in our century surface more and more, but tread lightly in areas that could be considered offensive to the church's general population. While these books offer spiritually uplifting stories, they often "censor" reality, creating tales that are sappy and unrealistic.

Don't get me wrong - I understand why church leaders encourage us to read only the purest, most inspiring books. They make us feel good. I definitely feel lighter and happier after reading a book like Anne of Green Gables than a darker tale, a la Stephen King. So, I'm not disagreeing with the Church's stance, I'm only saying that it limits what a person can read. Am I trying to justify my less-than-stellar habits? Absolutely.

So, what's a fiction-loving LDS bookworm to do? Deseret Book's meager, but sanctioned offerings pale in comparison to the mountains of murkier titles begging for perusal in libraries and bookstores. Thus, LDS readers have a few options: (1) They can vow to read only "clean" books, thereby keeping their thoughts pure and consciences clear, (2) They can stick to books they know to be in the PG-PG-13 categories, thus feeling only slightly guilty when they come across swearing or questionable scenes, or (3) They can read whatever they want, cringing and feeling tremendous guilt when they digest R-rated behavior. I think most LDS readers fall within the last two categories. In our defense, I believe most of us use "filtering" behaviors (i.e. skipping over swear words or replacing them with more acceptable terms [this is where the famous LDS expression "Oh heck" comes in handy], or flipping past racy sex scenes). The question Gaye asked me is, where do I fall? Are there some things I can tolerate and some things I can't? Where do I draw the line?

I wish I could say that I read only books that are clean and uplifting, but that would be a lie. And Mormons don't lie. At least, they aren't supposed to. I read to learn and to experience things I otherwise wouldn't be able to. Therefore, I don't want my fiction censored. I want to know what it's like to live through war, poverty, scandal and life-threatening danger (all without leaving my comfy couch, of course). I crave authenticity. Still, I don't want to fill my head with trash, so I try to be discerning. A book must offer me substance, some kind of moral or discovered beauty to justify my journey through whatever filth also lies between its pages. Am I occasionally distracted by a substanceless Stephen King horror story? Well, yes, but I try to resist.

If you know any Mormon kids, you probably know they are encouraged not to watch R-rated movies. Ever. It's the same principle as reading only the "best books." A movie like Se7en doesn't exactly produce happy feelings (trust me, I know). Instinctively, we all know this, but no one likes to miss out on the newest book or movie. Countless LDS parents hear their kids whine, "But, it only has a couple bad parts" about the latest hit film. This can be countered easily with a popular LDS "object lesson," in which a teacher (or parent) offers a student (or child) a delicious-looking brownie. When the student/child eagerly reaches for the confection, the teacher/parent frosts it with a layer of their own saliva (or mud, or mucus, or whatever). Obviously, the student/child rejects the ruined treat, to which the teacher/parent replies, "C'mon, it's only got a couple bad parts." Persuasive, no?

The problem for me lies in a movie like Schindler's List. It's full of nudity, violence and haunting images. However, when I watch it, I feel educated, moved and inspired. Although the film carries an R-rating and contains disturbing content, to me, the end justifies the means. Again, I know I'm justifying my actions, but this is how I watch movies and read books. If a movie provides only raunchy humor and vulgar language, I turn it off. If the F-word shows up on every other page of a novel, I close it. My tolerance level may be higher than other Mormon readers, but there's definitely a point at which I can no longer take all the filth that appears in so many current novels.

I know there has been a discussion on Chris's blog about the way Stephenie Meyer (who is LDS) wrote the love scenes in her adult novel, The Host. Several people contend that because the characters do not have sex, the relationships are not very realistic or "adult." In some ways I agree, but I also respect authors who dare to write "clean" books. If more writers did, LDS readers would have an easier time of it. Until then, we have to choose wisely, filtering the books that are worth it from those that aren't, which wouldn't be that difficult if it wasn't for that darn Stephen King ...

This is probably way more information than Gaye or you wanted, but her question made me think. So, I'm turning her question to you as well - Does profanity/vulgarity in books bother you? What can/can't you handle? Do your religious or moral beliefs have any influence on what you do or don't read? I'd love to hear your opinions!
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