Mormon books and games: Good, clean fun–or abomination? (Or both?)

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.

Discuss.

Comments

  1. Fun review, Rebecca, though the following anagram comes to mind: triceps fart.

  2. We got the “Settlers of Zarahemla” for Christmas last year. My kids love it.

    Now I’m afraid to play Settlers of Cataan with the old group for fear I’ll try to buy a temple stone, and be laughed out of the game.

  3. Our high councilman’s talk on Sunday referenced that Gaskill book quite a bit. I thought it was an interesting title–the Troy McClure bit is a perfect fit.

    I think there is some value in things that get our kids interested in the scriptures. We always start off with the comic-strippy Book of Mormon readers with our kids. But I do think it’s possible to go too far. Is it really appropriate to kitschify the word of God? Hrmmm.

    The last Deseret Book catalog we received had a large selection of nativity sets, including one in which all the characters were wearing sombreros. I’m fairly certain the set’s infant Lord was not thusly adorned, but it still struck me as kind of odd. I mean, I’m all for diversity, but don’t we pretty much know for sure that Mary, Joseph and the three wisemen were sombrero-less?

  4. I liked the sombrero nativity! I thought there were some really cool nativity sets in that catalog. It was just the Precious Moments one that gave me the creeps.

    But I think for historical inaccuracy, nothing beats the Veggie Tales Baby-Jesus-Is-a-French-Pea nativity set. That takes it to the HNL.

  5. Allow me to share the mpb mail collection ritual:

    1. Retrieve contents from mailbox
    2. Scan contents and sort for junk mail
    3. Double check junk mail for possible presence of Des. Book catalog. Return catalog to “open and read” pile.
    4. Trash junk mail.
    5. Enter house. Commence mocking Des. Book catalog with spouse. Makes for a terrific date.

  6. My wife doesn’t like to go to Deseret Book with me because I just walk around looking for those sorts of things to laugh at. She agrees that they’re funny, but thinks that I attract too much attention when I mock them…

  7. Mark Brown says:

    I never cease to marvel at the number of ways Mormons can be exploited by grubbing capitalists.

    Me neither. And we like it!

    I agree with mpb, the DB catalog is funnier than the Sunday comics.

  8. Rebecca J,

    Don’t fret, other Christians behave exactly the same way we do in this regard. The first time I walked into a Mardel Christian and Education bookstore I thought to myself, “Desert Book, with crosses”

  9. Mark Brown says:

    By the way, a visit to the Precious Moments Chapel is not to be missed. You can go there on your way to or from Branson.

  10. David (8) – I leafed through a Christian merchandise catalog the other day and if anything, it was cheesier than Deseret Book. But with crosses. I guess that is our saving grace (if you’ll pardon the expression), that we are not tempted to bring the crucifixion into every cheesy indulgence.

    Mark, I clicked on that link against my better judgment. One word: [scream]

  11. I agree that much of the goods being sold are pretty bad.

    I do remember that they had a great “mormon” game, “Crossing the Plains”. As a kid we played that all the time. it was kind of like a board game version of the apple game “oregon trail”, but adapted to the saints crossing. You bought supplies which would help you along the way if you chose wisely. Mandatory rest stops at Winter Quarters, etc where you would roll the dice to see what happened to you. First one to the Salt Lake Valley with a plow, an ox and some seeds wins (or thereabouts anyways). I don’t know what was “Mormon” about the structure of the game, but the narrative was based on it anyway (Invent an odometer, get $50 – fix brother’ brigham’s glasses, and so on).

  12. For what it’s worth, I don’t really think we can even touch the broader Christian market for capitalist religious pop-culture trinkets. For a wildly entertaining and fundamentally sympathetic outsider’s overview, see Daniel Radosh’s book, Rapture Ready.

  13. I wouldn’t even say that much of the material sold is bad. The majority of it is perfectly tasteful. (I was only kidding about us having more than our share–although maybe we do, relative to the population.) None of this taken singly is particularly mock-worthy (except for the Book of Mormon action figures), but as a group of Mormon-marketed items, it is amusing to me. It shows that we are a peculiar people.

  14. Well, technically, they’re not action figures if they don’t have movable parts, are they?

    No, technically, they’re inaction figures. Very Mormon.

  15. BTW, Ronan – I am an intellectual lightweight, so your anagrams are wasted on me.

    Seriously, I can’t even do the Jumble in the daily paper.

  16. I get in trouble all the time for saying that a certain store is whoring out the gospel. And it’s our fault (and sometimes very funny).

  17. I just saw at Seagull Book–a Nephi doll, who speaks scripture when the button is pressed! I foresee an entire line of prophet dolls coming right up.
    What bothers me most about the DB catalog/store this time of year is all the “Believe” Santa merchandise. That’s not the “belief” element I want to get out of my religious merchandise.
    But in my opinion the Boyack and Gaskill books you cited are all excellent (and I’m grateful for Utah libraries where I can check all these things out instead of buying them…)

  18. This kind of post is why I love Rebecca.

  19. StillConfused says:

    I am dating a Jewish Man and my daughter found the following board games at urbanoutfitters dot com: Magical Mitzvah Park, Kosherland (knock off of Candyland) and Matzah Ball Bingo. SO there you go, it appears that all religions have their share of goofy stuff for sale.

  20. Ooh, ooh, ooh! I know the anagram and Rebecca J doesn’t! This kind of stuff never happens. Pardon me for a moment while I revel in my ever-so-momentarily superior eeen-tee-lect.

  21. Does Deseret pattern themselves after the evangelical marketers?

    I think so . . . hook, line, and sinker.

    And it is really fun to go to Walmart and see them together.

  22. Oh Oh! I know it too! But only by teh powers of teh interwebs

  23. Well, I’m a capitalist at heart, so a certain amount of whoring is always going to sit well with me.

    Actually, I was in a conversation a few years ago in which we were discussing a particular series of LDS-themed books, and some were saying that it was wrong for this prominent LDS author to be making money off the Saints by exploiting their thirst for LDS-themed lit–which I thought was kind of unfair and ridiculous. Mind you, I had not (and have not) read this particular series of books, and yes, I am taking great pains not to name names (or titles)–the point being that I have no opinion on the books themselves or their relative merits. But I certainly hope it’s not a moral crime to make money writing books, even if you’re writing for a niche market. And someone’s got to sell the books, so I hope that’s not a crime either.

    To be sure, I could write a whole other post on the dangers of teachers becoming popular to the point of displacing the scriptures and the prophets and even personal revelation, but I’m not going there. I wouldn’t go there. Not with Deseret Book. Know Your Religion, maybe, but not Deseret Book.

  24. Anita (17) – Must. Have. Talking. Nephi. Doll.

    I feel I must reiterate once again (yes, reiterate! again!) that I have no opinion on books I have not read–no opinion that counts, certainly–and I have not read any of the books I mentioned in the OP. But I am pleased to learn that you have found joy therein.

    In the interest of full disclosure, though, I do own multiple Chieko Okazaki books, as well as a copy of Believing Christ. So take that for what you will.

  25. I also have Best-Loved Poems of the LDS People.

  26. Also, Sis. Campbell spoke at our stake’s women’s conference a few years ago, and she was delightful.

    I’m going to see how many comments I can leave on my own post.

  27. MikeInWeHo says:

    re: 8
    With crosses and ugly attacks on your faith.

  28. Ammon/octopus, lolz!!!

    Youtube to go along with that: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2KrYDptrd5k

  29. Re #27.

    Yeah, it is a mixed message. All of the employees at the Mardel in my town are instructed to tell everyone at the checkout to “Have a blessed day.” Kind of a mixed message for us Mormons.

  30. Ronan’s anagram is “crafts per tit.” I think it’s some sort of metric for measuring the effectiveness of enrichment night activities, but I’m not certain.

  31. #9, Mark: EEEeeeeeeeekkkkkk!!!!!!!!!

    #27, Mike: Yuck. One of my roommates freshman year bought that one “Approaching Mormons in Love: How to Witness Effectively to Mormons” or something very similar, so she could try to save me. Good times.

  32. Wow- call me naive, but I had no idea they hated us enough to write that many books about us. Yowza.

  33. Just wanted to say that the possible book titles had me cracking up, so thanks.

  34. Mark Brown says:

    sister blah 2 (31),

    When you live in the Midwest and your Mormon friends and family members from the West come to visit, you might assume that they want to see church history sites. You know, Liberty jail, Independence, Adam-Ondi-Ahman. So I plan several days of sight-seeing centered around those things. Invariably, we have to cut the Mormon history short in order to accomodate plans for Branson and the Precious Moments chapel.

    So, yes, I have been there multiple times. Which probably goes a long way towards explaining how I got this way.

  35. Researcher says:

    A member of my husband’s extended family gave one of my children a Book of Mormon-themed card game for his baptism. I’m not sure what the rules to the game are, but there are good guy/bad guy cards (Nephi, etc.) and virtue/vice cards (peace, war, faith, sin).

    I observed a game one time and overheard my son saying in a very excited tone of voice, “Faith doesn’t work! Faith doesn’t work!”

    Um…many thanks to the makers of that game.

  36. Re. #27- Say, who is this “Ed Decker”, some sort of apologist? He seems to know a lot about the church, might have to check him out, might learn something.

    I kid, I kid…

    Re. #29- I don’t get it…mixed message? What, you won’t take blessings from non-members? Hell, I’ll take ‘em from anyone, Christians, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, Urantians, Ellen Jamesians, I don’t care…

  37. I wonder if Merrilee Boyack is related to any Boyacks we know? If so, that book cover explains a hell of a lot.

  38. There is too much fiction, too many gift books, too much self-help stuff, and too many Michael Wilcox and John Bytheway books (Supersonic Saints, vols. 1-144). And the glut of knickknacks, statues, figurines, action figures, music, movies, overpriced art, and games featured in each catalog make my eyes glaze over.

    Even so, I get an undeniable high from visiting a Deseret Book store.

  39. Rebecca J.,
    You might want to rethink your opening sentence in #23.

    Well, I’m a capitalist at heart, so a certain amount of whoring is always going to sit well with me.

    I always win when we play our Tennis Shoes Among the Nephites board game.
    Hey, at least it makes the kids want to know their scriptures.

  40. #34–Sweet mother of tacky, I just read this on the Precious Moments website: “Inspired by Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel in Rome, ….” er…wow. WOW.

    #37–Which book cover? Merilee is Connor’s mom, if that’s who you were referring to.

  41. 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.

  42. Ranbato (39) – What makes you think I didn’t say that on purpose?

    Mark B. – My condolences.

    Justin (38) – I LOVE SUPERSONIC SAINTS 2! I’ve never read it. I just love the title. SUPERSONIC SAINTS! 2! I must have it for my very own.

  43. M.er.I.Lee.

  44. How have you all missed the wonder that is LOL?

  45. re: 27

    Deseret: Books with temples and attack on my faith.

    But I am thankful for the free capitalism in America.

  46. LOL: What an unfortunately appropriate name.

  47. You Don’t Need To Cross-Stitch Our Family Tree, Just Have Sex with Me Sometimes

    I missed that the first time. That has the makings of a great mormon country western song.

  48. Orwell – I can’t believe I forgot about LOL!

    Todd Wood – SRSLY?

  49. Oh brother.
    My mom mails me a Deseret Book catalogue half way around the world. They’re mildly amusing.
    A dream of mine though, is to go into a really big store and cruise through the stacks.

    Meanwhile, here’s a nifty little story. Before I was married I wanted to know all about s.e.x., without going and buying a book in a regular bookstore- you know? So I went to the LDS bookstore and bought all the books that had to do with marriage and the like, e.g. Sacred Intimacy, with the desperate hopes they would give me the low down on what it was all about and the official church approved ways of doing it.
    No. $80 later and still none the wiser. :-)

  50. Well, Rebecca, I must admit that Deseret is not completely devoid of contending apologetics.

    Since I last checked, I think I am still in the lesser light and believing things that are corrupt.

    And it is really interesting when one reads about an evangelical character in one of the LDS fictional books.

    But I have been told not to get too serious about what I read in Deseret. So I will leave it at that.

  51. Touche, Todd.

    Actually, it is interesting when one reads about a Mormon character in an LDS fictional book. Talk about believing things that are corrupt!

    One of my fondest memories of the Left Behind series was reading about an incident shortly after the Rapture. Somebody mentions Salt Lake City, without commentary. That’s what I call class.

    Now that I think on it, you’ve probably seen the inside of more Deseret books than I have.

  52. #1. Ronan,

    I think that some of the stuff in DB (or other christian stores for that matter) boarder on triceps fart as well. That or Priest craft, one or the other. I’m not %100 percent on that bandwagon though. Partially because i’ve had this LDS themed book going through my head for some time and I don’t want to alienate myself too much. :-)

  53. I grew up with normal face cards, so I’ve never had a problem with them, but we did have a deck of Book of Mormon cards too. I always bring those to girl’s camp, since face cards weren’t allowed. ;-) Thank you, DB! Granted… it can be harder to play certain games (Speed, for example) when the cards have illustrations of Nephi/Ammon/Alma/etc… rather than the typical numerical/suite illustration.

  54. Todd has a point, I think. I mean, DB carries Talmage’s “The Great Apostasy.” I don’t think it’s on the same level as _The God Makers_; but it is, fundamentally, an attack on Todd’s faith. And it’s far from the only one.

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