Too many LDS think they cannot or should not read novels outside of the approved LDS book club list. I was one of them. Though I'd written since the age of six, I stopped soon after joining the church, well aware of the stories I used to write and convinced they weren't worthy now that I belonged to the True Church.
I also stopped reading. I thought and felt that if I was to read anything, it should be strictly church related - either the Scriptures, Church authorized material, or even things like "The Work and the Glory" (snore!)
Then came the day six years ago this May when I suffered a miscarriage. As I've only miscarried once, I don't know if the physical toll I took is common or not (I was only 6 weeks along), but it was significant. Bed rest. I was bored to death.
Wanting to help, Eric suggested I watch Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone since I was so hell bent on not reading the books. I'd rejected them as too trendy in high school and had little interest in them as I lay on the couch then. Being Eric, he eventually talked me into watching the movie - and right after I started reading again.
But I still didn't write. Why? I was scared to death it would change me, that I couldn't write anything worthy of the faith because if you want to write well you have to get in the minds of your characters. Realistic characters will not resemble The Cleaver's or the Brady Bunch, and I'm not a fantasy writer. I thought I'd have to stick to the clean cut stuff, and since I knew I couldn't, not without serious sacrifice to the integrity of the story, I didn't even try.
Then a year and a half ago the final Harry Potter book came out. A friend of mine and I were chatting in the hallway at church, giddy over the release when a member of our ward happened by and stopped to join our chat. He quickly made it quite clear he hated the Harry Potter series.
"If people would read the scriptures like they read Harry Potter, the world would be a much better place."
Oh how I wish I had Eric's wit. When I related that gem to him, he said "Well, if they would write the scriptures like they wrote Harry Potter, then maybe people would read them more!"
But I digress. Besides pissed off, the conversation left me feeling condescended to, guilty, and stupid. I went home in a huff. I was tired of having so much to say and denying myself the catharsis of writing it down. I wrote my very first "article" (op-ed?) on the Harry Potter series entitled In Defense of Harry Potter that night.
At this point, though, I didn't think I'd ever write fiction again. I still didn't trust myself, didn't think I could do it.
Then I discovered Stephenie Meyer and her Twilight series. I don't want to get too much into this, but the book and the story and author behind it inspired me. Though I could critique the writing technically, the fact that I read that first book, 500 some odd pages, in under two days speaks volumes.
I started writing. While I love my children and Eric, I finally found my love for writing again. The prospect gave me extra umph in the morning. It was spectacular and freeing - I was a person with actual, real interests. Revelation!
I started reading more books. I gave Wuthering Heights another chance since I was neck deep in high school senioritis the last I'd read it. Heights is now easily my favorite book.
I reread the likes of Dickens, Hemingway, Fitzgerald. I was even a good Mormon girl and read Jane Austen. I read Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson (every young girl and boy should read this book. So powerful) and A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray among a few others. I read books that disappointed and others that inspired. Some did both. It was wonderful to read again.
Then a friend of mine, a non-member friend, suggested I read The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger. This friend of mine has never steered me wrong, so I read.
And ohmygosh what a fabulous book. Seriously, it's right there with Wuthering Heights.
But if it were a movie, it would be rated R. The f-bomb is dropped repeatedly and there is one sex scene in particular that is, I'll concede, perhaps too graphic. But it didn't bother me. It might bother others though. Another entry.
The f-bomb though. We wince, we say it's offensive. It's not the prettiest word in the world, no, but when writing stories we need to stay true to the character. That may sound like a cop-out, but if you'd step outside the door you'll find many people drop it often, especially if they're like the characters in this novel. Good books are much like real people and real life, and believe it or not, real life outside the church isn't always clean and pretty.
And really, it's a lesson we could all stand to learn: It's the message, stupid. It's the person.
Yes, there are probably a few things you could do without, but you learn to love those characters despite their "awful" flaws - and shouldn't we when it comes to real life characters? Shouldn't we realize that people are more than their language and their actions? That they're human beings (well, 99.99% of them at least)?
While The Time Traveler's Wife may not have some huge life altering message for some, it causes you to think, to cry, to relate and love people despite their unattractive traits - isn't that worth something?
We talk an awful lot about being missionaries to others, about loving everyone, but how many of us have non-member friends? I'll tell you I don't have many, but I have non-member family. I've learned something from watching many of my LDS friends. Some insist those who aren't members have no morals (seriously). I can't imagine these people truly befriending others. We talk about loving the sinner and hating the sin, but I don't think we accomplish this. We often cannot make the distinction. We're afraid to emphatize or "tolerate" for fear of condoning, but guess what?
You cannot "help" those you do not understand, empathize with, or care to even get to really know.
So read a book John Bytheway didn't author. Get past the offense and get to know the people. Get past the offense and hear the larger message. Getting past the offense may be uncomfortable and really difficult, but it's important. You have to, have to get over yourself. There are amazing people out there who don't hold to the same value system you do, but that doesn't make them any less. Beware lest you start to believe you're better.
You cannot befriend anyone with whose flaws you cannot get past. Guess what, you have them too. We're a very weird, stifled bunch to the outside world. You want to be understood and accepted? You must accept and love people as they are.
Even the "wicked" (sarcasm alert) have lessons to teach us. I know we like to think we're the most righteous, but we're not so righteous that we have nothing to learn from our fellow man.
Don't be out to change people. Be out to love them and befriend them.
You'll love what'll happen when and if you do.
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