Chris Bigelow, founder of Zarahemla Books, recently published a guest post on Blog Segullah on Mormon literature’s middle niche. In the comments, author and blogger Angela Hallstrom said that she’d like to see Deseret book develop this Mormon niche and market it to all the LDS book clubs. That seems unlikely, but it occurs to me that there is something that we can do. Plus I have been itching to trot out this really cool Google application as well as launch AMV projects*. So I respectfully request your help in creating a list of middle niche novel (or short story collection) recommendations for LDS book groups.
Updated 4/7/08 to add this point of clarification — Titles should significantly feature Mormon characters and/or themes. For example, Saints by Orson Scott Card is fine. Ender’s Game is not (even though Ender’s mother is Mormon). /update
Here’s how this is going to work:
I have created a Google Docs spreadsheet that can be fed through an online form. I want all of you to submit your recommendations via this form. I will then crunch/format all the data and post it in some sort of usable way on a static (i.e. non-blog post) page here at AMV and announce the finished list with a blog post. All of us will then forward the page link to people we know who are in LDS book groups as a resource for them to use when considering what books to read.
Thanks to all who have submitted so far. Titles in the spreadsheet as of April 18, 11 a.m. CDT:
Long After Dark
Hooligan: A Mormon Boyhood
Passage to Zarahemla, Tennis Shoes Among the Nephites, Tower of Thunder, Eddie Fantastic
On the Road to Heaven
Go In Beauty
The Conversion of Jeff Williams
Heresies of Nature
Bound on Earth
The Pictograph Murders
Fine Old High Priests
Bound on Earth
My Mom’s a Mortician
Funeral Home Evenings
The Final Farewell
Bound On Earth
Cold Train Coming
Some additional points that may be helpful:
1. This list isn’t technically for all LDS book groups. Rather it is for those LDS book groups that focus more on national works than Deseret Book titles; that read more fiction than self-help/devotional works. These book groups tend to read middlebrow literature (and some nonfiction) — Life of Pi, the novels of Anne Tyler, A Prayer for Owen Meany, Gilead, 1984 or A Brave New World, Secret Life of Bees, Anna Karenina, Freakonomics, etc. I use the word middlebrow with pride, here. It’s what I like too.
2. I will try to update the list of titles that have already been entered at least once a day, but it’s possible that there will be multiple entries for the same title. I don’t see that as being a problem because different folks may have different perspectives. What I will probably end up doing is combining entries for the published page (maybe even doing a Zagat-style format with quotes) — however, I will also link to the spreadsheet so that anyone who chooses to can see all the raw data.
3. I don’t think we want a ton of titles. I’d say 8-14 would be ideal. Maybe up to 20. If we go way over 20, I may then do a vote on which titles to include on the AMV page. We want this to be useful, but not overwhelming. And if we do whittle down the titles, people will still be able to view the spreadsheet with all the titles.
4. I’m only going to keep the form open for 10-14 days. If you have a title in mind, please fill out the form now.
5. I have not set the form up to ask for information from the submitters and don’t have any sort of secret way to track it either. This is completely anonymous. And there’s a chance I will edit what you write when I post the list (although for the third time — I won’t touch the spreadsheet except to delete stuff that’s obvious trolling) so that there is an evenness to the style and length of each entry. But please don’t let this put you off. I tend to take a pretty light touch as an editor and besides, everyone knows that I am the most benevolent of all benevolent dictators.
6. Yes, I’m asking for some brief comments about content. I understand that this is a controversial thing in the field, but Mormon readers like this sort of info. And especially since this is for use by book clubs, it’s probably better to be up front about a minor sex scene or a couple of swear words than for it to come as a surprise. In my experience, many middlebrow Mormon readers will take a chance on a book if they know what to expect (and then not be really bothered by it). That said, if nothing comes to mind, don’t worry about it. Don’t feel the need to go through your favorite Mormon middle niche novel or short story collection and count every swear word.
7. I’m asking for your help. I honestly do want it. But I also want you to be restrained. I’d say limit yourself to 3 submissions at the most. To just the titles that you really, really love — not those you think should be on the list. Of course, I have no way other than word print analysis to know how many you submit. But I’d really like us to be able to say — this is the best of the best of middle niche Mormon fiction that would be of interest to those Mormons who enjoy middlebrow literature.
8. As always, I’m open to suggestions, feedback and tangential conversations. You can reach me at my first name @motleyvision.org.
Thanks for your help. And if this goes well, there will be more projects in the future.
*AMV projects are going to focus on small, not-super-time-intensive, yet meaningful projects that collect/present/analyze data related to the field of Mormon arts and culture in an interesting, hopefully useful, way. The goal is to be more PR-friendly than the academic projects and more critical** than the publishers projects. The LDS book group recommendations project is the perfect example of what AMV projects is intended to be.
**As always, when I use the word critical here at AMV, I mean literary criticism, not finding fault or being in a state of emergency.