Last week I read my Easter gift from my parents: Outwitting History: The Amazing Adventures of a Man Who Rescued a Million Yiddish Books by Aaron Lansky. It’s a remarkable, wonderful story (and the story is pretty much what’s in the subtitle of the book), but even more than that it’s a fascinating exploration of how culture is created, fought over, transmitted and discarded. The book is filled with fascinating, touching and moving moments.
And of course, after reading it, I began to wonder if on a much smaller scale, the same problem was happening with Mormon literature. And I do mean a much smaller scale. First of all, Mormon books were mostly published in English (with the exception of the Deseret Alphabet and a few foreign language titles) so that barrier to transmission and block to preservation doesn’t exist. And the number of Mormon-related works that were published never reached the amazing amounts of Yiddish books and periodicals that were produced, which means it’s easier to get a handle on a fairly complete collection. And there are academic collections that are fairly good at BYU and elsewhere. So on the whole, I’m not super worried that our Mormon heritage is being tossed out in dumpsters.
And let it be said: most of the Jews that died in the Holocaust were Yiddish speaking. And Yiddish speakers and, especially, writers also faced great persecution at the hands of Stalin. Most of Mormonism’s literary production happened after its persecutions.
And yet, I owe my interest in Mormon literature to three shelves of books at the Berkeley LDS Institute that were donated. I don’t know if all of the titles came from the same family or person. But I’m pretty sure that most of them were donations and not acquisitions. I also owe the title of this blog to Roy Markow (or his descendants, possibly) who donated a copy of Orson F. Whitney’s “Love and the Light: An Idyl of the Westland” to the Berkeley Institute. “A Motley Vision” is taken from that poem (which by the way, I still have. I figure it this way — nobody had checked it out before I did. There were actually two copies. And someday I will return it). The people who made these donations could very well have just tossed the books or given them to Deseret Industries or put them in their basements or attic to molder and suffer water damage. Continue reading “Are we discarding our Mormon heritage? (with Jeff Needle)”