My father turned 60 in February and we went home to celebrate. That Sunday, in the church foyer, were copies of Jane Austen’s Emma and Sense and Sensibility and I brought them home. (Our paperback copy of Emma is falling apart and our copy of Sense and Sensibility has the heft of a family bible.) Ends up both the books were published by Deseret Book (along with six others) under one ISBN assigned to The Best Books: Classics for LDS Homes. The books are as follows:
Now I have nothing against these books, but they seem rather . . . homogeneous, don’t you think? They’re all written by women, they were all published between 1811 and 1911. Only one has a male protagonist. Three Jane Austen novels.
And, most interesting to me here, nothing recognizably “Mormon.”
I can get the female slant (they’re DB’s primary market); I can get the date range (young enough to read easily, old enough to be both “classic” and, vitally, public domain); I can get Jane Austen (even book collections need a rockstar to headline). But I can only see sad reasons for rejecting Mormon writers:
- Even Deseret Book editors/readers don’t believe that classic LDS lit exists.
- While LDS “classics” may exist, they would dilute the value of a collection featuring true masterpieces like The Secret Garden and The Scarlet Pimpernel.
- This collection’s purpose is just to let people feel smart and cultured without having to read anything they don’t already love and no one already loves classic LDS lit.
- These books were made to look pretty on a shelf and impress one’s girlfriends and, girlfriend, nobody’s impressed by LDS lit.
The thing is, we have written books worthy to sit beside these eight. I don’t know how many exactly, but I think one would have been enough to not only satisfy me but wow me. I would’ve suggested Dorian by Nephi Anderson. It is, in my opinion, Jane Austen good. I’m convinced that anyone who loved these eight books will love Dorian. Here’s my Deseret Book-friendly pitch:
It’s less upsetting than Jane Eyre! It’s less violent than The Scarlet Pimpernel! It’s hero is as good as Mr Bingley and mentored by a more spiritual Matthew Cuthbert! It’s really nice!
I’m going to withhold judgment on Deseret Book though. I’m guessing this set wasn’t a huge success as it was published a few years ago and still has no follow-up set. Maybe the second set, had it been released, would have had Dorian.
And Moby Dick.