Recently, I’ve been think about how ordinary members use church history in their everyday lives. In my limited experience, few members read much church history, especially if it wasn’t published by Deseret Books. I realize this isn’t news to anyone reading this blog, as we’ve discussed in several of Ben’s recent posts why many church members resist more academically-oriented literature if it challenges accepted oral traditions, is seen as unaccessible due to academic prose and/or jargon, among other reasons. But I’ve wondered what more we could be doing to encourage ward members to see the benefits of incorporating more academic history into their busy schedules.
So what do people read? This probably varies by ward and region. I’ve recommended Rough Stone Rolling to several people in my stake. Some have actually bought it and read it; others tell me every time I see them that they keep meaning to buy that book I mentioned (“What was it called again?”). Curious to know more, I asked those who had read it a couple of questions yesterday. First, had they read an academic work on Mormon history before Bushman’s book? The answer was invariably no. What did they like about Bushman’s book? They all liked that it portrayed the prophet in a much more complex fashion than they had seen before, and even though it had some eye-opening parts, they were glad they had read it. Were they more or less likely to read another academic work on church history after having read Bushman? Most said they were more likely to do so, if they had a good recommendation. So I recommended Givens’ By the Hand of Mormon. This last issue was a recurring theme in the answers I received. Most people who I talked with like to read, but they don’t know where to find academically-oriented church history books that they can “trust.”
So, what do y’all think? Have you talked much with members of your wards about their reading habits? Are there better works that I could be recommending other than Rough Stone Rolling? Several people, when I mention the book’s length, have shown some hesitance to commit to such an endeavor. What other books would y’all recommend?