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November 21, 2012
Latter-day Books
Books to be Thankful for: Hope and Hymns
by Laurie Williams Sowby

Elder Gerald N. Lund, well known for his narrative skills as a prolific writer of historical fiction, puts them to effective use in his The Divine Promise of Hope, a combination of LDS doctrine and personal narratives (Deseret Book, 378 pages in hard cover, $25.99).

Subtitled Look Up, My Soul, the book explores the definition of hope, its relationship to love and charity, and how people develop, strengthen and maintain hope, especially in the face of life’s most distressing trials and losses.

The author takes his theme from 2 Nephi 4:19-30, dividing the book into four sections: the importance of hope, the need for aligning our lives and desires with God, the value of perspective, and “Fulfillment,” which offers practical helps for gaining and maintaining trust in God and in the Savior’s Atonement.

Elder Lund’s doctrinal explanations come from 35 years’ experience as a Church Education System instructor who knows how to use effective teaching techniques without being “cutesy.” He makes ample use of scriptures and sprinkles his own words liberally with quotes from General Authorities to build understanding of concepts and principles.

But what really stands out in this book is the experience of “ordinary” people in applying the principles, people with whom Elder Lund has been personally acquainted. Uplifting, encouraging reading comes in the powerful, touching, and hope-promoting stories from real people dealing with real-life trials and tragedies ̶ and finding hope. The stories appear on shaded pages to distinguish them from the author’s words.

To the author’s credit, he credits these other writers. His doctrinal background is amplified by their personal narratives in an unexpected synergy. End notes for each chapter and a good index at the end make it The Divine Promise of Hope a useful resource to return to again and again.

Back in 1988, after the “new” [1985] LDS hymnbook came out, Karen Lynn Davidson penned a useful and carefully researched volume titled Our Latter-day Hymns: The Stories and the Messages. It was a Christmas gift to me from my in-laws. I was one of many Sunday School choristers who made good use of this book during those years when we were all learning the “new” hymns. I still have my well-thumbed hardcover copy in my library and have referred to it many times in the decades since.

In 2009, Deseret Book published a “revised and enlarged” edition with updates, and slightly tweaked (542 pages in soft cover, $29.99). It proves every bit as useful as the original volume.

Have a question regarding original text compares with “new”? It’s probably answered here. Need to know the genesis of a new hymn, the history behind one of Eliza R. Snow’s many hymn texts, or how a composer and lyricist came to create a hymn together? That’s all here too. What’s not here are “traditional” or apocryphal stories that the author could not authenticate with facts.

The introduction gives a history of the 1985 hymnbook and as well as LDS hymnbooks in general, from the time Emma Smith compiled a text-only version (minus music notation) to the publication of hymns from the 1985 hymnbook into many languages. “Hymnbook Trivia” should appeal to those interested in details such as numbers and key changes.

Useful lists of hymns newly added, not retained, or given new titles precede the background on all hymns currently in the hymnbook, numbered in order. Brief biographies of composers and authors are given, as well as the original tune for “The Spirit of God,” as specified by its writer, W.W. Phelps. Unfamiliar original melodies for a couple of other now-familiar hymns also appear in the appendix.

There’s a wealth of information and some delightful surprises to be found in Our Latter-day Hymns. And you don’t even have to be a chorister to enjoy and learn from this evergreen.

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