Sunday Lit Crit Sermon: Spencer W. Kimball on The Power of Books

SpencerWKimballAt this point, the sense I have is that Mormon attitudes towards literature and media stabilized by the middle of the 20th century, and hasn’t changed too much since then. LDS leaders generally praise classic works, especially those from at least 50 years before the discourse, while cautioning against the bad in media, especially the portrayal of sex, violence and profanity. And speakers often complain about the declining values in the media.

Perhaps the following excerpts from an article by Spencer W. Kimball and his wife Camilla will give a sense of what I mean. In most ways their comments could appear in a Church magazine today, except for the references to current technology.

Kimball wasn’t himself known for any literary efforts, at least not as far as I’m aware. Like many General Authorities of his era, he did write theologically and inspirational works, although his two most important works, Faith Precedes the Miracle and The Miracle of Forgiveness are perhaps more doctrinally oriented than the more inspirationally-oriented works that we tend to see today.


The Power of Books

By Spencer W. Kimball and Camilla E. Kimball

Since time immemorial men’s thoughts have been directed, their emotions swayed, their lives influenced, and their actions stirred or curtained by the expressed thoughts, and experiences lived by others.

Real thinkers are the small minority, and the followers in thought and act are the great majority.

People are changed by what they hear and what they read. Alexander Smith says: ”Books are a finer world within a world.” And we heartily agree if he refers to the ”best books.”

While there have been books and records all through the ages, they are far more abundant today, and even a person of moderate means may have an adequate library in his own home and have access to numerous books and magazines through public libraries which boast millions of copies. There is little excuse for even the poorest folk in our day to be without good reading material.


Numerous people fail to take advantage of these opportunities. Many people spend hours in planes with only cursory glancing at magazines, and in the train or bus, time is spent “sitting and thinking,” and in many cases, “just sitting,” when there could be such a constructive program of reading. People in beauty parlors, professional offices, waiting rooms, and elsewhere waste precious hours thumbing through outdated magazines when much valuable reading could be done in these islands of time. For example, the Bible can be read in a year’s time with but a little time each day.

Good reading habits should be formed in early childhood. Since women, generally, have the greater responsibility in training the children they should make a study of their facilities.

We might ask each mother: Is there a dearth of good books in your home? Is there sufficient reading material of good quality and high standard for each child, so that each will read the appropriate books as he grows up — those books which will whet his taste for good things, stimulate his ambition, properly stir his emotions, and increase his love for the beautiful and proper things, and develop his faith and build his character?


Sometimes one becomes surfeited in reading the difficult subject matter which takes concentration, and he needs variety. There is available a wide selection of books which will give development to the aesthetic and the cultural. Music, drama, poetry, fiction, and other cultural fields are available to everyone. The contributions come to us from great minds and great hearts and great sufferers and great thinkers.

In addition to all the serious study there should be time for just plain reading for pleasure. Here one needs assistance to select that which is pleasurable in a worthwhile way. There are countless works of fiction which help us to understand ourselves and others better, and to get real pleasure in the learning.

There are great books which stimulate our thinking and help us to establish values. A typical little volume, exciting to read and of wholesome thought, is Gift from the Sea by Anne Lindbergh. It could be read many times. She found the simple life reminiscent of Thoreau’s Walden which influenced the thinking of Relief Society women last year.

The women of the Church should find no difficulty in selecting reading material for themselves and their families with The Childrens Friend, The Instructor, The Era, The Relief Society Magazine, the Church Section of the Deseret News, and all the lessons of the auxiliary organizations.

Mothers have also the well-written lessons in literature, social science, and theology which can give them a liberal education if they are dutiful in their pursuit. The sisters should not be content to hear the lessons only, but should let that lesson be only the appetizer to induce a total reading of the books referred to.


Among the ”best books” to be read are the numerous commentaries of the leaders of the Church, too numerous to list, but which are stimulating and clarifying and written to give a better understanding of the Plan. The Articles of Faith is a type of gospel explanation books. Home memories of President David O. McKay, is an example of ideal home life and character-building books. The Way To Perfection, by President Joseph Fielding Smith is a gospel treatise. Our Lord of the Gospels, by President J. Reuben Clark, Jr., is a comprehensive arrangement making the study of the scriptures easier for the student. It must be remembered that all books published by Church authors are not official Church publications, and the reader must be discriminating and selective. But all these numerous books have much of value in them for the discriminating student. In all the commentaries, good as they may be, it must be remembered that none takes the place of the original source material.

Conditions may have been such that few people could talk to Browning, Shakespeare, Scott, or Emerson, but almost everyone in our world can profit by their written thoughts. Few of us could travel with Byrd to the South Pole or with Peary into the frozen areas of the North, but everyone can read of their experiences and of the conditions in those desolate areas. Few of us can travel to the Sistine Chapel in Rome and see the great array of masterpieces of the great artists in the great art galleries of the world, nor can we sit in their studios and see them work, but relatively few need be deprived of seeing the works of the masters, for home libraries may have faithful reproductions.

Not everyone may kneel with the Prophet in the Sacred Grove nor on Mount Sinai with Moses, nor on the Mount of Transfiguration with Peter, James, and John, yet nearly every soul in our world may see the pictures of artists and read the true record of these world-stirring events. Few of us may, at this time, fly into space, yet we may do so by proxy as we read the exploits of the astronauts.

Through books we may come to know the kindliness of Abraham Lincoln, the devotion of Sweitzer, the vision of Franklin, the faith of Abraham, and the sacrifice of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Few of the billions of earth can walk with God as did Adam and Abraham and Moses, yet, in the world in which we live, the scriptures are available to nearly every soul, and, through them, men can become intimately acquainted with their Heavenly Father, his Son Jesus Christ, and with conditions and opportunities and expectations of life eternal.

Relief Society Magazine, v50 n10,
October 1963, pp. 724-730


I like the way Kimball puts all this. I don’t think its too different from what other General Authorities have said in the past 50 years and more, but its still nice to see it printed in a Church magazine from a prominent authority.

3 thoughts on “Sunday Lit Crit Sermon: Spencer W. Kimball on The Power of Books”

  1. .

    I was going to make the same comment (and leave the same link), but it seems less self-serving if I just let William do it.

    Something I wonder about is how to help kids without a reading heritage but now with access in their pockets to get nosing about in the best books.

  2. William, I haven’t read it, so I didn’t think to include it as literary. But given what I know about it, that does make sense.

    Th., Off the top of my head, I’d say reading aloud to them may be the best way to get them started and interested. But I do think that is a great and important question.

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