Years ago, when I had more money than responsibilities, I took to collecting books. But as the world crowded in on me, I sold the collection to pay for college and such — all except for three "keepers."

I plan to take those three books with me to the other side when I die — or at least have them stuffed into the pillow in my casket. No, I don't have a Gutenberg Bible or a signed first edition of "Paradise Lost." The books I have are much more valuable. They are what's known in the trade as "presentation copies," books signed by the authors and given to me to read.

And I did read them. And though reading them likely lowered their value as collectibles, it enhanced the value of my life.

The first book is "Legacies of Jesus," given to me by Lowell L. Bennion just before he died. He said it was so slight he felt embarrassed even calling it a book. But it holds a library's worth of good advice. Bennion highlights what he sees as the four essential teachings of Jesus — humility, integrity, love and faith. This from his thoughts on "humility":

"Some of us have mistakenly identified humility with stage fright. I believe that this condition, sympathetic though I am to the sufferer, is actually the opposite of humility because it is based on self-concern. The Chinese call it a fear of 'losing face.' . . . Those who are humble feel no need to seek for worldly honors or recognition. Rather, they focus on the needs and well-being of others."

The second book in my little trio came from Elder Neal A. Maxwell, "The Promise of Discipleship." It was the last full-length book he wrote before he passed away. Elder Maxwell often talked about "obedience," but, to me, he seemed more interested in "submissiveness." People can be obedient for many reasons — out of fear, business concerns, social status — but a willingness to submit is the true test of discipleship. For Elder Maxwell, life was always more about discipleship than leadership.

Finally, the third volume was given to me in appreciation for something I'd written, by President Thomas S. Monson. It is an edition of "Live the Good Life" that has been bound in leather and embossed in gold. Along with the book, President Monson sent a note. I hope I'm not telling tales out of school in sharing it with you.

"Being a publisher and printer by profession," writes President Monson, "I can't help but add something I learned in the printing and binding trade. A genuine leather book cover will repel imitation gold stamping. The gold must be 24-karat gold and the leather must be genuine leather for the one to receive the other."

In other words, the book cover itself is a lesson in "authenticity."

In the end, let me say I wasn't given these books because I was anyone special. Just the opposite. They were given to me because the authors saw a man floundering around in life and wanted to offer some help. They hoped something between the covers might help me along my way.

And it did. In fact, what I found was more valuable than any book. I found three pieces of a treasure map — a map that leads people to something more wonderful than all the book collections in the world.


E-mail: jerjohn@desnews.com