- Too simple: I'm nearly finished with my second reading of the text and I don't feel that the language of the book is overly simple. I feel that it strikes a reasonable balance between a book that is easily translated but also doesn't feel like you're reading an elementary school book.*
- Too pretty: Yes, it is too pretty for my taste. That doesn't really bother me; I've generally been ignoring that sort of thing for a long time. There are many women who love the prettiness and I don't mind their getting it in this book. Some of the photos are interesting (and I wish there were more identifying information about them) and I generally like the collages, but I could have done with just the photos of the women whom the stories were about (those are the best photos) and the collages (minus a flower or two) and skipped the rest of the photos and decoration. It also makes the file a lot larger to download which is a problem for women who will not get the book in person, but cannot download a large file.
- White-washed: This is probably going to depend on your perspective. If you want it all, go read In Sacred Loneliness instead. But I thought this book dealt with some difficult topics too and didn't just ignore all the difficult parts. Could it have done more? Of course, but I felt it struck a decent balance.
- It's not really a history: No, it's not. That's disappointing, but I think what has been written instead is valuable anyway even if it's not really a history. It's still a historical work and despite my reading a fair amount of Church history, I learned a few things. I had hoped for a real history when the book was first announced, but it's okay with me that it isn't because there are many other resources out there for me to learn about RS history. It is unfortunate, however, that this will likely be the only think many women read about RS history because there is so much more out there.
- Women's voices are much less noticeable toward the end of the book: Yes, this is true, but that would only have to be in comparison to the beginning of the book. Compared to nearly any other Church publication, even the less-frequent female voices (but still half of the quotes are from women) toward the end are far more noticeable than women's words in any other book. Is that enough? Not really, but it's a major improvement. I sincerely hope that having this book will make it easier for women and men to talk about women and use their words in Church settings.
So, here are my own thoughts.
I had a very hard time reading the sections about Relief Society sisters in places like the former Czechoslovakia who were able to meet together as Relief Society sisters (after being baptized clandestinely) and have some visits from Church leaders, or at least have contact with Church leaders. Must have been fewer Church attorneys at the time.
I liked how the story of Mary and Martha was rethought and the emphasis on female disciples in the New Testament. We hardly ever talk about these women and I hope they get a lot more notice now. President Beck highlighted Mary and Martha in her RS Meeting talk- there was a lot that was familiar in the RS Meeting after reading this book
Of course I liked the chapter on the worldwide Relief Society, despite the discomfort I already described above. I also thought the visiting teaching chapter was really good. That was where I learned a few things. I feel as if I can finally get behind visiting teaching now. I *love* how President Beck has reshaped visiting teaching into something more worthwhile.
For me, what this book really does is asserts that there is something more to RS that just a meeting on Sunday. It's easy to reduce RS to that one meeting or to some fluffy crafts on a Saturday morning. Certainly it was emphasized that RS is under the direction of the Priesthood, but I feel that it was also saying that RS is part of the Priesthood, not under it (President Beck makes this clearer in some of her not-General-Conference talks). I come from a family who loves and supports Primary, but I feel more drawn to RS. Not the Sunday meeting, but what RS can be beyond that. I hope that ward and branch Relief Societies around the world can do more to make RS more, but also to support women who want to do more because they are part of RS.
In the end, I very much like this book, but I'm discouraged by how often, for many different reasons, we're not willing and/or (especially) able to make RS what it can be. I think there could be much more emphasis on getting more women in a given ward or branch involved and not just having it be able taking dinners to families with new babies or dutifully visiting women the last week of the month. We need more creativity and I hope this book get some of those creative ideas going. There isn't one right way to be a Relief Society and there is so much more we can do. We need to make ourselves a more prominent face of this Church.
*Back to the too-simple concern: I've seen many people argue that it's better to write a book that challenges people, that makes them stretch. I agree- as long as you're providing the necessary tools for people to stretch. So many of our LDS publications assume a certain basic knowledge that isn't there for a lot of members of the Church. This isn't because they aren't well-educated, or unwilling to stretch, but because their religious background hasn't prepared them to read The Book of Mormon (First and Second Nephi in particular expect that the reader is familiar with the Bible), or the current Relief Society manual, or even Gospel Principles. Those same converts are especially disadvantaged if they are isolated and don't have anyone to ask who Peter, James, and John are; or what the Articles of Faith are; or what Isaiah is talking about. There is nothing published that is basic enough for those members. I think this book actually comes closer to filling a little bit of that need without being fluffy.