I want to read good books, but I just dropped a class because I felt it had questionable reading material. How do I know I’m not being too picky?
A scripture we often hear quoted about reading says, “Seek ye diligently and teach one another words of wisdom; yea, seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom; seek learning, even by study and also by faith” (D&C 88:118).
From this we know we should always be learning from good books. The problem is how to know which books are good and what we should do when we are asked to read books we suspect do not fall into the category of good literature.
The thought might occur to some that it would be better to avoid all books and read only the scriptures. Brigham Young had some advice on that narrow approach to life. He said, “‘Shall I sit down and read the Bible, the Book of Mormon, and the Book of Covenants all the time?’ says one. Yes, if you please, and when you have done, you may be nothing but a sectarian after all. It is your duty to study to know everything upon the face of the earth, in addition to reading those books” (Journal of Discourses, 2:93–94). Brigham Young goes on to say that he encouraged his own children to study music and dance, to attend the theater, and to read novels, things that he said, “expand their frames, add fire to their spirits, and improve their minds.”
But in Brigham Young’s day, his children did not have quite so many bad choices mixed up with the good ones. Today we have to do some checking before we spend time reading certain books or watching particular productions.
Here are a few suggestions you might find helpful:
Check reviews. If you know nothing about a book you’ve been asked to read, you can check the reviews that have been written about it. Ask your librarian to help you look up information about the book you are interested in.
Follow the advice of trusted counselors. Other members of your family, your ward, or your school may have had some experience with the class you are in or with the reading selection you’ve been assigned. Find people who understand your standards and your concerns. You may discover someone who has the same interests you have and can offer suggestions for other books you might read.
Talk to your teacher. Most teachers are more than willing to talk to their students about things that may be causing problems. Your teacher may be willing to let you substitute another book. Talking with your teacher may resolve some of your concerns about your assignment.
Seek after truth. The search for truth and knowledge is a lifelong one. As Church members, we should follow the 13th article of faith, which states in part, “If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things.” [A of F 1:13] Don’t be afraid of learning new things. As you pray, stay close to the teachings of the gospel, and become more educated, you will become more confident in selecting your reading material and entertainment.
Literature can be of immeasurable value. Stories are a means of teaching vividly. The Savior himself used stories—parables—to teach the truths of the gospel. Characters such as the prodigal son or the good Samaritan may not have been actual people, but the values taught by these parables are true. As a reader, you can learn powerful lessons about life, including the sorrow of sin (without having to go through it yourself), from the world’s great literature.
In scriptures we learn that we should seek good books (see D&C 88:118). In school, we study world-class literature, but because of what we learn in church, we are wary of reading some books. There are people we can turn to. They are our parents, Church leaders, and trustworthy friends. They can help us choose and reject books.
Angeline Tandan, 15 Surigao City, Philippines
Remember what Joseph Smith wrote in the 13th article of faith [A of F 1:13]: “If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things.” If your book doesn’t fit under one of these categories, you should do your best to avoid it.
Elder H. Andreas Horlacher, 20 Wisconsin Milwaukee Mission
When our English class decided to read a book I thought had questionable language in it, I asked our teacher if I could read another book instead and do a report on it. She said that was fine. You should be comfortable with all of your reading material.
Heidi L. Eyre, 16 Union, Oregon
You know the old proverb, “It’s better to be safe than sorry.” I think that applies to your situation. Even if it’s an assignment for a required class, you can ask the teacher for permission to read another book. Not only would you be keeping your standards, you’d be setting an example as well.
Audry Taylor, 16 Mt. Airy, Maryland
If you’re not sure if it’s good or bad, you could either not read it or pray to Heavenly Father and he will hear and answer your prayers.
Paul Landerman II, 12 Lewisville, Idaho
I once read a book that was questionable. When I read the back of the book about what was in it, I chose to read it anyway. After, I felt awful and unclean. I will never read a book that I question in my mind again.
In the For the Strength of Youth pamphlet under Media, it specifically says, “In short, if you have any question about whether a particular movie, book, or other form of entertainment is appropriate, don’t see it, don’t read it, don’t participate” (p. 12). Today you have to be careful with what you feed your spirit and mind.
Joanna Harrop, 16 Brookfield, Wisconsin