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My Book Report

By Justine Dorton

My 15 hour book challenge turned into more like 25 hours of reading — or, rather devouring — books and articles and websites. Let’s just be honest and divulge right up front: my husband was out of town, and I wanted to have my fair share of therapeutic aloneness. Add to that my pre-schooler’s fantastical love of her cousin, I found myself with a bunch of time during the day to ignore household chores.

In no particular order, I’ve read the following this week:

Mara and Dann by Doris Lessing, The Mayor of Casterbridge by Thomas Hardy, Left to Tell by Imaculee Ilibagiza, the first half of the Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas, several George F. Will articles, the current issue of Foreign Affairs, Time, Newsweek, and The Smithsonian, the October Ensign, and several chapters in Alma. (I also finally broke down and read Twilight one long, sleepless night, too, but that’s going to stay my little secret.)
I wasn’t really looking for a common theme, but wow, did one yell itself out to me. I have walked away from this week of reading with exactly one thought in my head.

People are really, really mean.

Lessing’s post-apocalyptic tale of woe shows the brutality of humanity as it struggles for resources. It wasn’t the most beautiful prose I’ve come across, but the characters were compelling; at once harsh and meek, tortured and torturer. It ran dry in the middle but ended with a strong triumph of the human spirit.

That triumph was even more evident in Ilibagiza’s Left to Tell: Discovering God Amidst the Rwandan Holocaust. I recommend this book absolutely without reservation. It is a powerful journey of forgiveness during three months of complete horror during the genocide that left almost one million people dead. Ilibagiza’s closing paragraphs, which I read through yet another wave of sobbing tears, “I Forgive You”, left me almost unable to make dinner. This book is not for the faint of heart, and tore at my perceptions of what human-kind was capable of — both for good and for ill. Ilibagaza speaks of confronting the man that was responsible for murdering her entire family, and does so with powerful words about this good man, who Satan deceived…this child of God who got caught up in Satan’s work. President Faust’s monumental talk on forgiveness rang clearly through my head as I read what this dear, dear woman was able to forgive

The Mayor of Casterbridge, another somber novel, was a jaunty laugh-fest compared to my prior books. It is by one of my favorite classic authors, Thomas Hardy. But if you’ve read any Hardy (Tess of the D’Urbervilles, Jude the Obscure), you’ll know that Hardy has a penchant for the tragic. Casterbridge wasn’t so much tragic in the Greek sense of the word, but was a painful reminder that we are all capable of terrible things — ALL OF US. Henchard, the main character, was so hate-able sometimes, and so pitiable others. Coming so close on the heels of Ilibagiza’s memoir, I was constantly reminded that good people still do bad things. We all have need of the Atonement, and Hardy (although he was a pretty strict determinist) does a dandy of a job pointing that out.

Monte Cristo is, of course, just a fabulously fun adventure, and everyone should read it. Everyone!

Rounding out my week was my usual weekly litany of political journals and news weeklies. Without forcing everyone to rake themselves through the muck of foreign and domestic policy foibles, I’ll just say this — we’re all in a big heap of trouble. All my fervent efforts at conserving and recycling are being duly wiped out by China’s massive ecological back-handed welcome to industrialized society; I can likely count on political hegemony to drive my Social Security benefits into the ground; Mitt’s having a “Mormon Journey”, whatever that is, Bill O-Reilly is either a racist or he isn’t, Burma probably shouldn’t be killing monks, and Aurthur Schlesinger’s diaries are finally being published (whew). In sum, pain abounded.

Even my Book of Mormon reading this week, in Alma, was all war and pain driven. I actually had to flip ahead to read some peace into my day — thankfully 3 Nephi was just right around the corner. I headed straight there and didn’t stop until the Savior’s words in the America’s had calmed my troubled heart. Add General Conference to this mix, and I could consider myself officially bolstered.

We’re a troubled lot, that much I’ll say. We’ve got it in us — all of us — to be horrible. This week has reminded me to be more committed to the Savior. Actually committed. Not just make-an-extra-casserole-for-your-neighbor kind of committed, but to truly consecrate my life to the Lord. I’m still figuring out exactly what that means, but boy, am I on-board. And I only have one question that lingers still in my mind…ok, two.

How can we be capable of such evil??

And how do we allow the extraordinarily good to permeate us?

About Justine Dorton

Justine is a mother to five children, and has a husband lodged somewhere (probably in the den). She is not very fond of speaking of herself in third person.

5 thoughts on “My Book Report”

  1. This is probably throwing myself out there as a great big dork, but it made me happy to see Mara & Dann at the front of your list. I love that book and wish it had been more successful—wish more people would have read it. It has an extrordinary subtext that focuses on change, how it happens outside of the human idea of mortality, as well as how we affect it. Love that books.

    To answer your questions. In my life—where, if I let them, things like global warming and environmental damage and war and everything else negative can send me into an anxiety fit—I have decided that all I can focus on is trying to fix myself, to not just look for the good to permeate me but to look for ways for my goodness (such as it is) to affect other people. None of that will solve the world's problems, but it brings me some peace, and hopefully helps a few other people along the way.

  2. I'm thinking answers discussing poor ego strength, defensiveness and the like are not the kind of answers you were thinking of. 🙂

    Your first question reminds me of Mormon, in Moroni 9:11-14:
    "O my beloved son, how can a people like this, that are without civilization— And only a few years have passed away, and they were a civil and a delightsome people) But O my son, how can a people like this, whose delight is in so much abomination— How can we expect that God will stay his hand in judgment against us? "

    He couldn't even finish his question, "How can a people like this" because he was so horrified at the evils they were doing.

    I like Amy's response for how to allow the good to permeate us.

    I think I have an ideal in my mind that says if we turn to the Lord over the bad, and express gratitude for the good, we will be able to keep perspective. But, I burned out from hearing so much bad at my job . . . I think it's because I didn't do those things AND because there's more to it than that.

    Monte Cristo is really a good read? I'll have to give it a shot.

  3. Oh, how I loved Left To Tell.

    And oh, how it made me ask those same questions, and wonder if I, too, were capable of such actions–both the evil and the blessed good. I suppose the bottom line is that we are all capable of all of it, and that we have to choose which part we will allow to fill our souls.

  4. I need to read Left to Tell. But I'm scared to, also. It's always hard to open my eyes and deliberately encounter hard things like the human capacity for evil.


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