SALT LAKE CITY — From the second word, he is Hal, an instant informality that is a promise kept throughout a new, intimate, lesson-rich biography about President Henry B. Eyring.
Strikingly personal, the book ranges from why his strong-willed mother insisted Henry B. be called Hal to how, today, President Eyring is handling his sweetheart's decline due to memory loss.
The use of the nickname may be what first removes President Eyring's tie and loosens his collar, takes him out from behind the Conference Center podium from which he has delivered so many talks as a member of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and places the reader right next to him in a unique way.
But the unusual design of "I Will Lead You Along: The Life of Henry B. Eyring" helps sustain and add to the intimacy. For example, an easy-to-read typewriter font appears frequently, giving the impression of sitting next to President Eyring and reading along as he types his journal entries at the end of long days, days important to the direction of the church or to his tender courtship and loving marriage or to his fatherhood and career.
In other places, sketches appear in the margins, dozens of them culled from the drawings he made and then pasted into the journals he copied and gave to his children each year for decades.
"It's not a description of his life, it's an invitation into his life," said Sheri Dew, who wrote biographies of two church presidents and is the chief executive officer of the book's publisher, Deseret Book.
"The whole goal of the product team was to make a print book look and feel interactive," Dew added. "I think they did a splendid job of helping you want to keep reading."
The bin with President Eyring's journals arrived at Deseret Book and caused a commotion as editors and designers sifted through the sketches and watercolors in them. Eventually, dozens of images were spread across conference room tables.
Access to such an overwhelming amount of artwork is rare in publishing. Generally, authors cull the images first, limiting choices for art direction.
"We said, 'This book needs to look just like his journals,’ ” Deseret Book product director Jana Erickson said.
Art director Richard Erickson (no relation to Jana) and the rest of his team created a cover that hints at the typewritten journal entries reproduced inside.
"We wanted to communicate on the outside of the book what happens inside, and the spine on the cover does that," Jana Erickson said. "It announces that this is going to be something personal."
Then they set out to make a 500-page biography match the intimacy of its content.
"You can just look at the side of the cover and recognize it's different," editor Emily Watts said, "and then you open it and see it's not as daunting as some big books."
Creating that effect wasn't as easy as it sounds, Richard Erickson said. The first typewriter fonts were too clunky and difficult to read. The art team added full-bleed photographs at the start of each chapter, but Erickson recognized a risk: Too many elements would create clutter.
In the end, he said, they succeeded. They used about 5 percent of President Eyring's sketches.
"It's a comfortable read," he said with a broad smile. "I even love the paper we used. It feels like a journal you've opened."
"Seeing the journal entries and the pictures gives it almost a scrapbook effect," Jana Erickson said.
An example of how the art direction interacts with the text appears during a story of President Eyring's self-reflection during rougher-than-expected recovery from cancer surgery in 2005. He spent time pondering a conversation from the previous year with Elder Neal A. Maxwell of the Twelve that came just weeks before Elder Maxwell died of cancer.
"Hal, you have a great mind and a gift for perceiving risks," Elder Maxwell told him. "But if you're going to reach your full potential to contribute in the kingdom, you're going to have to become as good at seeing possibilities as you are at seeing pitfalls. We need you to be a problem solver, not just a problem spotter."
The authors, President Eyring's son Henry J. Eyring and Robert J. Eaton, briefly point out that President Eyring could have objected, that he had been a problem solver in business, in church callings and as the president of Ricks College, now known as BYU-Idaho. Instead, President Eyring chose to take the counsel to heart.
"Throughout his term in the Quorum (of the Twelve Apostles) he had felt the burden of being one of its more notable naysayers. Thus, he welcomed Elder Maxwell's clear, actionable agenda for personal change."
The book's design adds to the story. In a quote in the margin on the same page, President Eyring says, "Trained as I was, at the Harvard Business School and around the dinner table at my home, I almost always shot holes in things — not trying to destroy, but to identify imperfections."
The method is repeated throughout the book, as quotes and journal entries illustrate President Eyring taking counsel or becoming aware himself of something he needed or wanted to change, and then working to develop himself.
"You see him wrestling with all the things we wrestle with," Dew said, "his pride, work-life balance. You see him wrestling to overcome the natural man. There are so many nuggets that are applicable. I can't remember when I've learned so much by reading a biography."
So why is he known as Hal and not Henry, like his father?
"I've never thought it was a pleasing-sounding word — nor beautiful to look at," his mother confided in her own journal. She insisted he be Hal.
Hal's love for his parents, with their polar opposite views of nurturing, created a longing to marry and raise a family. He thought often of the children he wanted to have, and imagined them as redheads, like his mother.
When he faced temptation, the authors related, he would remind himself, "I can't do that — the Redheads are counting on me."
Finally, he met Kathy Johnson.
"That's the best person I've ever seen," he thought. "If I could be with her, I could be every good thing I ever wanted to be."
Their courtship and marriage and parenting fills several chapters.
"It may be the best marriage manual I've ever seen, without being a marriage manual," Dew said.
One journal entry from 1973 describes President Eyring's love for his wife and his desire to be a better husband.
"Despite a good day of working at my office and playing golf with Kathy in the evening, I managed to be too gruff and tense to give Kathy a good day. I've miles to go to learn how to be kind when I'm feeling pressures. And not other kindness makes much difference since life is mostly pressure."
The book ends with a chapter that shows Kathy's memory loss, "requiring Hal to re-win her hand daily and sometimes hourly."
Booksellers consider sales figures proprietary information. Sitting in a conference room with an extraordinary view of Temple Square recently, Jana Erickson did what every other bookseller in her position does; she declined to provide sales figures for "I Will Lead You Along."
There are other ways to determine a book's popularity in a market, however.
Walk into the Wal-Mart in Orem, Utah, last week, and you would have found the Eyring biography on racks near one entrance, essentially a point-of-purchase position.
"That tells you something," Erickson allowed.
So does the book's long-running place — it has been out since November — on Deseret Book's own best-seller list.
"It's been on our best-seller list since it was released, and that's unusual," Erickson said.
It already has had multiple printings. In journalism parlance, a news story that will last a long time has "legs."
This biography has legs.
The personal nature of the book is ironic in a sense. "President Eyring was not wild about" the idea, Dew said. "He would have been happy never having a biography written of him. He eventually gave kind of a reluctant consent."
Dew said the use of so many journal entries makes the book feel fresh and authentic.
For Watts, the book's editor, "This is not someone looking at him, this is Hal telling his story. It's personable because you're hearing this from him, and he was candid in his journal."
He told his journal in 1983 his tongue had been clumsy as he made a presentation while the commissioner of church education to the Quorum of the Twelve.
"Unlike some other times in my life where I've been blessed in performance, my ability seemed constrained today," he wrote. "Hours later, I began to see the blessing: By speaking less well, I listened more, learned more, knew that I was in the presence of prophets, and had one of the great experiences of my life. I'd forgotten that it's hard to get your ego fed and learn at the same time."
Such stories resonated with Deseret Book's Jana Erickson.
"He made me want to be better because I saw him striving to be better," she said. "He made me feel like it's all right that you're dealing with things, because he had weaknesses and had to learn things. I love the feeling of seeing someone trying to do his best."
In 1971, President Eyring typed, "I sense willfulness whenever I seem to be decisive. I only hope I can learn to be submissive and decisive as we try to do the Lord's will for the Church Educational System and Ricks College."
The journal entries, in that typewriter face, are powerful for those who have watched and listened to President Eyring speak, because the voice is plainly recognizable as he describes mistakes and choices made in his career and as a church leader and the lessons learned.
One lasting lesson involved a procedural mistake President Eyring made soon after he became a member of the church's First Presidency in 2008. He reluctantly confessed the mistake to church President Thomas S. Monson, whom he knew brought a printer's eye for detail to proper procedure.
"Oh, Hal," President Monson said with a chortle, "I've done worse than that myself. It won't be any problem at all."
President Monson then described how to fix the mistake, but President Eyring continued to fear that President Monson would now doubt his judgment and not trust him to carry his full load as a counselor in the First Presidency.4 comments on this story
He had learned to listen carefully to President Monson's stories because they often served as parables. Later that day, he heard President Monson deliver a story he felt sure was intended for him. Its lesson was that people make mistakes, but being honest and truthful about them is everything.
The authors write that President Monson frequently remarked that he has never seen three more different personalities in a First Presidency than the one at work today, with President Monson, President Eyring and President Dieter F. Uchtdorf. "He apparently meant that as a compliment," the authors wrote, "and Hal made every effort to qualify for it."