A Fifteen-Week Reading Course in the Mormon Novel

As I’ve been thinking about Tyler’s proposed online Mormon literature course(s), I’ve assembled my ideal schedule for a fifteen week reading course on the Mormon novel that could be shortened to ten weeks as needed. I’ve also included alternate texts that cover the same ground historically but focus on different themes and aesthetic approaches.

The schedule is a work in progress, but it seeks to cover as much ground as possible with works that–in my opinion–represent more or less what was happening (or not happening) in Mormon fiction at the time of their publication.

You’ll notice that I have generally left “genre” titles off the list. I did this not to be controversial, but rather to focus on a narrower understanding of the Mormon novel and show an evolution of approaches for portraying lived Mormon experiences. In some cases, I’ve also privileged more influential or historically significant books over better books from the same era as a way to give students a kind of fluency with texts that have had an impact on developments within the Mormon novel form. As a teacher, though, I’d encourage my students to read the alternate texts as well, either along with the primary texts or as an additional reading course.

Week One: Corianton by B. H. Roberts (serialized version)

Alternate: Hephzibah by Emmeline B. Wells

Week Two: Added Upon by Nephi Anderson

Alternate: John Stevens’ Courtship by Susa Young Gates

Week Three: Dorian by Nephi Anderson

Alternate: The Castle Builder or Piney Ridge Cottage by Nephi Anderson

Week Four: The Evening and the Morning by Virginia Sorensen

Alternate: The Giant Joshua by Maurine Whipple

Week Five: The Ordeal of Dudley Dean by Richard Scowcroft

Alternate: For Time and All Eternity by Paul Bailey

Week Six: Charley by Jack Weyland

Alternate: Charlie’s Monument by Blaine Yorgason

Week Seven: Summer Fire by Douglas Thayer

Alternate: Saints by Orson Scott Card

Week Eight: The Backslider by Levi S. Peterson

Alternate: ???

Week Nine: Sideways to the Sun by Linda Sillitoe

Alternate: Secrets Keep by Linda Sillitoe

Week Ten: And the Desert Shall Blossom by Phyllis Barber

Alternate: Pillar of Light by Gerald N. Lund

Week Eleven: Salvador by Margaret Blair Young

Alternate: Beyond the River by Michael Fillerup or Aspen Marooney by Levi S. Peterson

Week Twelve: The Angel of the Danube by Alan Rex Mitchell

Alternate: Falling toward Heaven by John Bennion

Week Thirteen: Rift by Robert Todd Petersen

Alternate: The Conversion of Jeff Williams by Douglas Thayer

Week Fourteen: Bound on Earth by Angela Hallstrom

Alternate: The Friday Gospels by Jenn Ashworth or A Song for Issy Bradley by Carys Bray

Week Fifteen: The Scholar of Moab by Steven L. Peck

Alternate: Byuck by Theric Jepson


12 thoughts on “A Fifteen-Week Reading Course in the Mormon Novel”

  1. I’m not sure what week to slot it in, but Patricia’s The Pictograph Murders deserves consideration. Maybe that’s a Week 11 (and maybe instead of Aspen Marooney since Peterson already has another title on the list).

  2. That book kept staring back at me from my shelf as I was typing this up. I haven’t read it yet, so I’m not sure where to place it.

    Of course, there are a few books that did make the list that I haven’t read yet–but I know enough about them to know how to place them.

    I should just repent and read Patricia’s book.

  3. I think this is a solid list. I’m wondering, though, how it relates to Tyler’s project. Even at 10 weeks, this is a lot of reading and it’s all in one particular form (novel) and genre (literary/mainstream) fiction.

    But I think it points to what could be an interesting direction. It’d be cool to have a set of these. And then derive from them an overall survey of Mormon lit. For example, if you could only choose four novels to fold into the general survey, which ones would they be? What about two or three?

    I could see units like the one above for poetry, creative non-fiction, film/theater, the short story, and genre fiction. That’s six major areas. Let’s say, using the semester model (which may not be the right one to use, but it provides a basic framework), you devote 4 weeks to novels, 2 weeks to poetry, 1 week to creative nonfiction, 3 weeks to film/theater, 2 to short stories and 3 to genre fiction. That’s a 15-week semester and a decent overview of the field, especially if for some of those weeks, you have a few critical essays that you assign.

  4. .

    I was just thinking about this yesterday, actually. (And Patricia’s book’s been sitting untouched by my bedside for over a year not….)

    The only book that was on my short list that doesn’t turn up here anywhere is Jennifer Quist’s Love Letters. Which I think would make a nice companion to Angela’s book.

    As I’ve been thinking about Mormon novels lately, I’ve been falling toward a gender-based framework. So many novels seem to be about what it means to be male (Rift, Scholar of Moab, Backslider, Lonely Polygamist) or, less obviously, what it means to be female (Giant Joshua, Bound on Earth, Survival Rates [doesn’t count; short story collection)])

    Anyway, that’s a sideways comment. A discussion for sometime else.

  5. WM–As I understand Tyler’s project, he wants to create an online course on Mormon literature as well as additional courses that explore Mormon literature in more specialized ways. (I could be projecting my own vision on his, though.) I see this list as the beginnings of my thinking on a novel course. It is probably too reading-heavy at this stage, although I don’t think reading a novel a week is too much of a challenge. If nothing else, it provides interested parties with a recommended reading list to tackle at their own pace. I’d like to see similar lists in others genres.

    EmJen–I think those works would be thematically very similar, and I actually thought of placing them together, but I’m trying to preserve a sense of chronology too. Although I own it, I haven’t read Issy Bradley yet, but I imagine (hope?) that it responds to a different Mormon cultural context than The Backslider. Of course, I have read The Lonely Polygamist, and almost put it as an alternative to The Scholar of Moab, because I see more commonalities between those books than with The Backslider.

    Theric–I completely forgot about Love Letters…and it would make a very good alternative to Bound on Earth. I’m halfway through the novel, so I should probably finish it and write my review.

    I had the same thought about a gender-based framework, by the way. Looking back at the list, I think most strongly address gender and gender roles in one way or another.

  6. I would suggest Elders by Ryan McIlvain or No Going Back by Jonathan Langford instead of The Conversion of Jeff Williams, which I think is one of Thayer’s weaker works. Vernal Promises would be a good alternate to The Backslider, in my opinion. I liked The Lonely Polygamist, but remain stubborn in my opinion that it’s much more of a “Utah” book than a “Mormon” book, and much less Mormon than anything on this list.

  7. Even if no actual “courses” are developed, this makes a great prioritized reading list. (It’s appalling how many of the titles on this list and mentioned in people’s comments I haven’t read yet…)

  8. Jessie–I’m actually a big fan of “The Conversion of Jeff Williams” and I wasn’t a huge fan of “Elders”–but I don’t think either novel is as good as “Rift,” which I need to reread.

    Someday I’d like to teach The Backslider and Vernal Promises side by side as I see the latter being a kind of rewriting of the former with some significant differences. That said, while I’m a fan of Jack’s short story collection, I wasn’t a huge fan of Vernal Promises. I should probably reread that one as well.

  9. Scott, why are you specifying the serialized version of Corianton? (I assume instead of the novel version published much later). I’m not criticizing, just asking what your logic is.

  10. Kent,

    I chose the serialized version as a way to talk about how Mormon novels were first published as serials in popular Mormon print journals.

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