An article in Meridian Magazine, written by Davis Bitton, included the following quotes:
"Works of fiction have been sent forth like an overflowing flood, and the public taste has become so vitiated thereby that everything virtuous, truthful or heavenly is unpalatable, and is rejected with disgust." -- George Q. Cannon
Also from George Q. Cannon: "From the character of a man's reading one may tell just what he is full of. Is he filled with sickly sentiment, heated imaginings, dreamy unrealities — this condition being brought about by his reading? If so, he is more than likely to be a devourer of novels — love stories, exciting adventures, tales of impossible "heroes" and all that goes to make up the fanciful and the exaggerated in literature.
“The actual business of life — its everyday trials and victories, its experiences framed in joy or sorrow, its rebuffs and its welcomes, its frost and its warmth — all this seems to him commonplace, if not even vulgar. He either becomes a prey to disappointment — one of the large class who believe the world has some grudge against them and will not give them a chance — or he plods along without ambition because things are not such as his imagination has pictured them."
"Novels not regulated on the chaste principles of friendship, rational love, and connubial duty appear to me totally unfit to form the minds of women, of friends, of wives." -- Sarah Wentworth Morton
"The consciousness of virtue, the dignified pleasure of having performed one's duty, the serene remembrance of a useful life, the hopes of an interest in the Redeemer, and the promise of a glorious inheritance in the favor of God are never found in novels." –- Timothy Dwight
If you would like to read Davis Bitton’s conclusions based on these quotes, please do follow the link and read the article. But now I would like to present my thoughts and feelings about these statements.
I am a voracious reader and a media reviewer. I read over two hundred books a year, and skim probably twice that many for content. I will be among the first to tell you that novels can be destructive. If you spend your time reading books with a lot of violent or sexual content, it will degrade you and remove you from the higher purposes of life. Your relationship with God and with yourself will suffer. Even if you aren’t necessarily a religious person, you will find that reading such books pulls you away from your family and from regular responsibilities. The counsel given in these quotes, to avoid books that would give us a fractured view of reality, is wise and sound.
However, being a voracious reader and also being careful to avoid certain types of content, I will be among the first to tell you of the power of a novel designed to uplift. Leif Enger’s “Peace Like a River” instilled in me a strong desire to become more a woman of God so I might be able to work miracles in the lives of those around me. Rachel Ann Nunes’ “Where I Belong” helped me come to peace with the warring factions within me, mother vs. author. “Lifted Up” by Guy Morgan Galli intensified my testimony of the Savior. Yes, these are all lessons that are included in religious instruction, but for some reason, I hadn’t grasped them as fully as I should have, and it took the vehicle of fiction to drive the point home to me. To argue with the last quote above, yes, you can find Christ in a novel.
“At Home in Mitford” by Jan Karon showed me the strength that comes from being a good neighbor. “Two Women of Galilee” by Mary Rourke helped me to understand the land and the politics at the time of Christ. Not every novel is designed to distract us from life’s most important lessons.
I thoroughly believe that we should be careful of what we read. I have noticed for myself, as I look for good books to review for Families.com, how even reading one questionable sentence before discarding the book can affect me. But there are so many wonderful, uplifting, inspiring books to be found in the world of fiction, and it would be a shame to discard the entire genre based on those that are less than respectable.
As I’ve spoken with many, many LDS authors over the years, I’ve heard countless stories that go something like this:
“I got a letter today from a girl who told me that my book helped her solve a problem with her mother/bring her back to church/decide to break up with a boyfriend who was pressuring her to have sex. She says if she hadn’t read my book, who knows where she’d be now.”
Fiction does have a place amongst God-fearing people. Use wisdom. Use judgment. But don’t automatically label all novels as questionable just because of the large majority of them that are.