Even though I didn’t want to admit it to myself, I had to concede that the book that changed my life more than any other was Richard Lyman Bushman’s Joseph Smith biography, “Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling”. I struggled with this because I feel like RSR is a book that has probably changed many lives, and there is something unromantic about that. I thought long and hard about collections of essays I’ve read by Wendell Berry, or Hugh Nibley. I hoped maybe one of Don Delilo’s books, or something I thought might be more personal to my experience, could serve as “the one”. The last thing I wanted to choose was a book that 80,000 people had read in the last 6 years. However, when I really thought about it, there is no book in my short history of reading (I consider the year before my mission to be the first time I really read a book) that has effected who I am more than Bushman’s biography.

Probably one of the reasons it affected me so much is because I read it over the course of about a year. Sometimes with 3 or 4 month gaps between readings. Even though I found it to be a fun book to read, I had no desire to speed through it. I wanted to drink it up slowly. I think because of my decision to baby step through it, it had an even greater effect on my mind. The Joseph of Bushman’s view invaded my thoughts, changed my worldview, and opened my soul for almost 12 months. At probably the most vulnerable time period of my young life, Rough Stone Rolling acted as a constant whisper that God not only accepted me for who I was, but was willing to perfect even a lazy ignorant kid like me. That’s pretty amazing for a book that’s not scripture.

RSR also played an instrumental role in helping me decide on a major as well. I was so fascinated by Bushman’s analytical approach to history that I thought I wouldn’t mind studying how to do that myself. In my eyes, Bushman is not simply a biographer or a historian, he is a master story teller. Not a story teller like Shakespeare or Spielberg; there aren’t villains in Bushman’s world. Well, maybe John C. Bennett, but the goal of RSR was not to be the judge and jury of anyone, including the prophet. The point was to examine complexities, spirituality, and the struggles of mortality. These were all things I was coming to terms with myself, so by reading about the Prophet, I learned about myself.

That is what attracted me to history, and that is also what has attracted me to journalism. I believe that I am so hopelessly imperfect that I need to hear other people’s life stories and experiences so I can learn from them. I’ve found it to be my own pathway to perfection, and I suppose I’ll only know if it works if I get there. It wouldn’t be fair to say that RSR is my “favorite” book, because I believe you know something is your favorite when you want to revisit it as often as possible. I don’t know when I will read RSR again, but it may not be for a while. Instead of acting as a favorite, it has served its purpose as an instigator. Now I feel I must move on to learn about other historical figures that I feel I can learn from; Thomas Jefferson, Teddy Roosevelt, Brigham Young, Parley P. Pratt…the list will hopefully continue until I die.


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