So a few weeks ago I got Deseret Book’s 2008 Fall Catalog in the mail. I’m not sure how we got on this mailing list, but since they’re not calling me on the phone and demanding my money, I’m going to accept it and move on. I couldn’t resist taking a peek, though, so I opened the catalog, and the first thing I saw was Alonzo L. Gaskill’s Odds Are, You’re Going To Be Exalted: Evidence That the Plan of Salvation Works. Now, I’m sure Brother Gaskill’s book is just fine. Not having read it, I can’t properly judge the value of its message or the delivery thereof. I suppose that technically I’m opposed to people banking on getting exalted. But really, it’s just the title that gives me pause. I’m not sure if I dislike it, exactly; deliberate or not, it has a certain kitschy appeal. I can almost hear Phil Hartman saying, “Hi, I’m Troy McClure. You might recognize me from such Mormon motivational films as Egads, They’ve Called Me to the Nursery! and Odds Are, You’re Going To Be Exalted.” Needless to say, I was inspired to leaf through the rest of the catalog to see if I could find any more items of interest.
Two stand-outs: Strangling Your Husband Is Not an Option (Merrilee Boyack) and You Don’t Need To Slay My Dragons, Just Take Out the Trash (Beverly Campbell). Those wacky Mormon ladies! (You’ll note a paucity of titles marketed to men. No Strangling Your Wife Is Not an Option or You Don’t Need To Cross-Stitch Our Family Tree, Just Have Sex with Me Sometimes.) Actually, my favorite was Sis. Boyack’s The Parenting Breakthrough: A Real-Life Plan To Teach Your Kids To Work, Save Money, and Be Truly Independent–which is not a sexy title, but the cover features a picture of a sullen boy wearing elbow-high rubber gloves and scrubbing a toilet. I think everything you need to know about parenting is right there on that jacket, my friends.
Another selection I enjoyed was Shane Barker’s The Stripling Warrior and Warriorette Workout: Exercises To Increase Your Spiritual Strength. From the descriptive blurb: “Each chapter ends with ‘Warrior Workout Tips’ to help teenagers become spiritually ripped!” Someone at the Deseret Book catalog publisher is having fun, and I almost don’t care if they’re doing it with irony or not.
Take-home lesson: I don’t need to actually buy any of these books to reap benefits. Just reading the catalog was enough to inspire me to write my own LDS-themed books.
* For Us, the Living: Funeral Potatoes and Other Heavenly Recipes That Nourish and Strengthen
* The Ammon Solution: How To Keep Your Chastity When Your Date Is an “Octopus”
* Outsmarting the Female Faith Cell: Ensuring Gender Diversity in the Hereafter
* It’s Not the Crime, It’s the Cover-Up: Modesty Standards for Today’s Youth
* Dude, Where’s My Pew? Welcoming Every Soul
* Relief Society Is Not for Sissies!
That last one is a shameless pandering to the Wacky Mormon Lady market.
The other day I had cause to visit an actual Deseret Book store, as I needed to get my son’s scriptures…ah, what’s the word, not engraved, not inscribed, not embossed–imprinted, perhaps? You know, get his name put on them. I had to perform this same pantomime/Password Plus audition for the lady behind the Deseret cash register, and she got what I meant, so you should too. Anyway, there I was in the Deseret Book, waiting for my son’s name to get…put…on his scriptures, which apparently takes three times as long when somebody’s being trained to do it, so I used the time to browse through DB’s many wares. I admired very nice framed pictures and calligraphied sayings, including a Ten Commandments of Marriage, which I thought contained some very sound advice, but as it was pop-psych sentiment written in faux King James English, there were a few awkward gems– e.g. “Thou shalt give one another space”–as well as some serious subject-verb disagreement issues that rendered it unworthy of my endorsement. (My apologies if you have this hanging in your living room. Sometimes I hate myself for being such a snob.)
I never cease to marvel at the number of ways Mormons can be exploited by grubbing capitalists. True, the Christians have their share of shameless merchandising, but we have more scriptures than they do, and thus we have more than our share of shameless merchandising. I’m really one to talk; my son owns Book of Mormon action figures. Well, technically, they’re not action figures if they don’t have movable parts, are they? I suppose you could classify them as action figures (technically) if they are sculpted in an action pose, but I wouldn’t call King Noah sitting on his fat can and Mormon editing the golden plates “scenes of action,” so maybe I should just call them plastic figurines. Anyway, my son does own such Book of Mormon toys. They lie side-by-side with the likes of Luke Skywalker and Spiderman. He thinks they’re cool. Or rather, he did, when he was five. They were a gift from Grandma, okay? Don’t judge me!
Speaking of my son, though, he got a happy-baptism gift from a friend of the family: a sacrament time activity book. It is obviously meant for older children–i.e., not pre-schoolers–because it has crossword puzzles and word searches and the like. Also, it says, “ages 8-11″ on the cover. Now, heaven knows my children do not pay attention in sacrament meeting–nor do I really expect them to. I require that they amuse themselves silently and endure to the end. So if they’re doing crossword puzzles during the high councilman’s talk, I’m not scandalized by any means. It just occurs to me that “ages 8-11″ is a period of time when one might be encouraging a child to expand their reverence repertoire, perhaps even unto listening–just a little bit–and possibly digesting a small portion of what is being said in sacrament meeting, rather than just increase the intellectual challenge of their pencil puzzles. In other words, I don’t mind looking the other way while my eight-year-old draws pictures of X-wing fighters in church. It’s just the fact of this activity book’s existence implying the absence of some higher law he ought to be living–that bothers me a little. But I’m a hypocrite, so whatever.
I suppose I’m just skeptical that it is more reverent to do scripture-themed crosswords than regular old crosswords. Likewise, I don’t really see the point of “Book of Mormon bingo” or Righteous! A Book of Mormon DVD Game, the latter of which creeps me out because the cat on the front, who I assume is Nephi (see: the bow), looks a little too much like Kronk from The Emperor’s New Groove. Surely I hath naught against The Emperor’s New Groove, for I am verily fond of Kronk, but still–is this a fantasy we want to indulge? I guess it’s a fun way for kids to learn about the scriptures, but how fun do we want the scriptures to be, really? Eventually kids are going to grow up and be expected to actually read the scriptures, and by then they’ll have such an appetite for entertainment that they won’t be able to appreciate the subtle beauty of an old-fashioned arm-chopping-off story (sans digital images!)–that’s what I fear, brothers and sisters.