Sunday Reading

Here’s a real problem I face every Sunday morning, and I’ll bet I’m not the only one: What do I bring to church to read during Sacrament Meeting? There are some ground rules I have developed to guide my choice of books. Perhaps you have your own suggestions.

First, it has to be a thin book. I was considering bringing my copy of Rough Stone Rolling along last week but decided it was just too visible. A good rule of thumb is it shouldn’t be any thicker than your Triple Combination. Also, a pleasantly subdued cover is a must. No bright orange covers to call attention to the non-conforming book by your side.

Second, no paperbacks. I mean the small trade paperbacks you read on BART or airplanes. Wrong size, plus reading Tom Clancy or some sci-fi novel in church (even an OSC novel) is just not kosher. Not quite as bad as playing a video game on your cell phone, but close. I think there’s a “some redeeming religious value” test that any book read by an adult during the meeting must pass.

Third, not too orthodox. This one is tricky. If you are reading a book by Boyd K. Packer in Sacrament Meeting, for example, you face the potential criticism that Elder Packer would not want you reading his book during Sacrament Meeting. It is more comfortable to read something by an author who likely wouldn’t mind you reading her book during the meeting. Any historian should do the trick. GAs who have passed on to the spirit world are also fair game, for some reason.

Following these guidelines, you may find your Sunday meeting reading to be the best part of your day. No distractions — the phone won’t ring and there’s no fridge to beckon. I ended up with Widstoe’s Rational Theology last week, which met all three of my guidelines. And what did you read last Sunday?


  1. 2 books: Happy Mouse (with a real squeaking mouse!) and Amazing Animal Senses (lots of popup fun).

    I’m guessing you don’t have kids with you :)

  2. john fowles says:

    Third, not too orthodox. This one is tricky. If you are reading a book by Boyd K. Packer in Sacrament Meeting, for example, you face the potential criticism that Elder Packer would not want you reading his book during Sacrament Meeting. It is more comfortable to read something by an author who likely wouldn’t mind you reading her book during the meeting. Any historian should do the trick. GAs who have passed on to the spirit world are also fair game, for some reason.

    That was really, really good. I like the way you think (sometimes).

  3. john fowles says:

    I am tempted every Sunday to do this but feel it would be disrespectful to the speakers, as uninteresting as I find them.

    But I would say that any FARMS book would fit your criteria (sorry Dave, über-FARMS-basher), except perhaps the first.

    I don’t think Rough Stone Rolling is too big. I’ve seen people reading it in my ward during sacrament meeting and it didn’t stand out (except, of course, I noticed it). B.H. Roberts would be a good suggestion. You might consider reading other studies of theological topics and religious history as well (i.e. from non-LDS sources).

    Or make good on President Hinckley’s challenge to read the BoM, although that might run afoul of your third criterion, since Pres. Hinckley would likely disapprove (but that is only my assumption, and I could be wrong).

  4. Consider Sterling McMurrin, as well.

  5. not too orthodox

    LOL! Oh yeah, that’s necessary, IMO.

    Seriously, I usually print something out and slip it into my lesson binder and read it. Print-outs are ultra-safe, even if it’s something thoroughly unorthodox. They look like lesson notes or something official, boring, and time-consuming, yet you’ve chosen something ultra cool that would knock the socks off the people sitting behind you if they could get a peek.

    Also, as a student, I usually have flash cards with me (in case the print-out sucks or I finish reading everything), so I run through those without too much problem. And you can quickly shove them into your shirt pocket if somebody gets nosy.

    Hey, diaper bags full of toys/goodies aren’t just for the kids, man. Adults need them too. Pass the Cheerios.

  6. I caught up on my Book of Mormon reading. I’m now halfway through Alma.

  7. I print out long threads/posts from the Bloggernacle that I’m unable to get to during the week and sneak-read them during Sacrament meeting.

  8. Paul Wright says:

    In the Rainforest : Report from a Strange, Beautiful, Imperiled World, by Catherine Caufield is a nicely written book about the perils of the Amazon basin and other endangered rainforests. It seems a wholesome Sacrament Meeting read, because it treats a compelling problem–the danger of losing this irretrievable natural resource–in a nicely written way. Why stew over the the Sky God’s Plan of Salvation when there is plenty to fight for in the here and now. The fight to preserve, economize, use sparingly, and free ourselves from the corrosive effects of our disposable lifestyle is, I believe, a fight with moral overtones. Who can possibly believe the Book of Mormon has the narrative power to sustain your interest. It is kind of goofy, [etc.]. By the way, as a less-than-orthodox seminary teacher and Gospel Doctrine teacher covering the Old and New Testaments twice, Church History once, I managed to teach the entire five years without once making reference to the Book of Mormon. You know what–nobody noticed.
    Paul Wright
    [edited 11/1]

  9. It is kind of goofy, anachronistic to a fault, disjointed, and laden with internal contradictions.

    Funny, for a second there I thought you were talking about the Bible, and were making a segue into higher forms of criticism… my bad. :)

  10. I long ago gave up trying to read Mormon books exclusively in Church. I’ve since learned the trick is pulling a dust jacket off a book that matches Dave’s description above, and placing it on the book you actually want to read. I’ve read everything from a biography of George Washington, to Harry Potter, to Raymond Chandler while my fellow Saints believed I was immersing myself in Joseph Fielding Smith.

    Well, maybe that is a tad disingenuous. Perhaps I should use Hugh B. Brown dust jackets instead?

  11. Maybe it is because I have been blessed with excellent wards or because I have little ones that I have never had the temptation to read at church. Moreover, it is not to say that I am completely engaged by all speakers, but it is an excellent time to meditate in between helping my son color and passing around the snacks.

  12. Oh man, you guys are too much!! I feel guilty reading my scriptures, especially after some admonition from somewhere to pay attention to the speakers. Last week, it was a Christmas activity book and some kind of buzz lightyear story.
    By the way, after years of being in a ward where I had personal translators in both sacrament and relief society, and sometimes SS, (not speaking the language of the meetings), I can only tell you that when you are not allowed to even space out for short periods of time, church can be mind-numbingly exhausting.
    You mention BART. Are you a Bay Area guy, Dave?

  13. You people need more time sitting on the stand. Then you can listen to the speakers, or pray silently that they’ll speak the truth, say something interesting, bear testimony, sit down, etc. etc. Who has time to read?

  14. When I was in high school, I used to do my homework in Sacrament Meeting. Now I prepare my Primary lesson. Or email people on my blackberry.

    Occasionally, I’ll bring in “Peace is Every Step” by Thich Nhat Hanh. I highly recommend this book for surreptitious Sacrament Meeting reading. Or C.S. Lewis. “Mere Christianity” is a thin volume, and C.S. seems to be one of the few outside influences acceptable to incorporate into a Church lesson. So people noticing your reading this might not be too suspicious. And the Screwtape letters usually make me feel guilty enough to stop daydreaming and pay attention. Curse you, Wormwood!

  15. I don’t read. If I’m not listening (rarely) or spacing out (more common) I help little boy with his drawings or we play tic-tac-toe. And if he’s happily playing alone, I write. I carry a composition book with me and write about whatever strikes my fancy, or pick an incident from my hurricane experiences and write about it in detail.

    If the speaker is insufferable, which only happens rarely, I leave.

  16. Grant Palmer or Michael Quinn would be good choices.

  17. Tanya Spackman says:

    I brought Rough Stone Rolling last week. I don’t mind the size.

    I don’t usually bring a book, though. Really. No, really. Only sometimes. It has less to do with being a good Sacrament Meeting listener and more to do with peer pressure, though. I sit with a friend and her family. Her family includes three teenage sons, who spend most of sacrament meeting drawing anime-type stuff (they’re actually quite good). Apparently my friend and her husband are only mildly annoyed by the drawing, but if the boys happen to whip out a book, they are instructed to put it away and listen. Since I’m sitting right there with them and am friends with the boys, I generally feel like I need to not be doing exactly what their parents are telling them not to do.

    But last week I just really wanted to read the book.

  18. “who spend most of sacrament meeting drawing anime-type stuff”

    Do they ever draw Ligers?

  19. I haven’t been attending church as much recently, but I was really enjoying William James’ Varieties of Religious Experience a few months ago. Looks churchy (it even has the word religion in it!) and it’s a fascinating read. Especially helpful during F&T meeting.

  20. I usually just read the Bible Dictionary, but you all have given me some great ideas about changing the dust jackets (hopefully it won’t weight too much on you souls ;) ).

  21. I’ve heard that slipping a book into a triple combination scripture jacket (either standard or large size) also works.

  22. Too bad you’re not Catholic. Then you could just catch up on podcasts.

  23. Tanya Spackman says:

    Eric, yes, they do. I didn’t realize ligers were anime. I thought that was just random drawing.

  24. Pshaw. Reading books in Sacrament is so 2003. No, writing books during Sacrament is where it’s at.

    (before I was given a calling that inspired a bunch of 7 year old kids to look to my behavior for guidance, I managed to read the entire New Jedi Order series of Star Wars novels, and after I got my calling I got all the way through chapter 3 of Helaman before losing track of what I was doing; I had to start over in 1st Nephi when I realized I’d forgotten what exactly had happened in all of Alma, again)

  25. I make up Boggle boards in priesthood. I take two or three words, randomly scramble the letters in a 4 X 4 square, and play according to the Boggle rules. All you need is a pen and a piece of paper. The best part about that is that I’m about thirty percent listening. Which is good, because the fare presented is typically worth about thirty percent of the time spent on it.

  26. Floyd the Wonderdog says:

    I was given some good advice years ago. If the speaker can’t hold your attention, even after you have struggled to do so, write the talk that the speaker should have given using the assigned topic. I find that it is great fun.

  27. I’ve been required to sit on the stand the past few years during sacrament meeting. However, I always find time to read a chapter or two (in between repenting of the past week’s sins) of The Book of Mormon during the passing of the sacrament. Also, interesting articles stuffed into my quad or books loaded onto my PDA can easily and unobtrusively be read during pregnant pauses in F&T meeting or if the speaker has become somewhat repetitive. Of course, such materials also form the basis for the “ad hoc” remarks I frequently must deliver at the end of the meeting if we’re still shy of the 65 minute cut-off for the closing hymn and prayer. I must say, however, that I listen intently to about 90% of the talks and 100% of the music. Sacrament meeting for me is usually a spiritual high. Perhaps it has something to do with the lack of fussy children on the stand and the requirement that I look like I’m awake with that ever-so-slighly upturned mouth and friendly countenance.

  28. I compulsively make lists of everyone in my family along with their birthdays.

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