You’re looking for a book

.

Two Sundays ago, a member of my ward engaged me on the old question of the Great Mormon Novel. We were interrupted before we could finish our conversation so I wrote him an email. (You’ll note references to that conversation in the first couple books mentioned.) But hey—why not send it to you all as well?

The main difference between the email and this post is that I’ve added Amazon links since I’ve already promised to lend my copies to someone else.

Looking for those links, Amazon suggested some other books I might have liked to add to this list. Yup, Amazon. You’re right. I missed a few.  You should all feel free to fill in the gaps down below.

.

Hello, J*****. Here are some books I can lend you.

My criteria were: Written by a Mormon. About Mormons. Very good. That was it.

First, Magdalene by Moriah Jovan. This is the sex book that takes its shape from the Atonement story. It’s part of a series of novels about a Mormon family that date back to the 1700s up to the present day. You don’t have to read one to understand another, but they do share nice resonances when read together. This is my favorite. And, if memory serves, it’s the only novel here with the bishopric meetings and disciplinary counsels you were asking for. (when I’ve written more about a book, I’ll link to that writing in case you decide you care to read more, like so: more)

The Giant Joshua by Maurine Whipple. This is the 1942 novel we talked about that had Mormon up in arms. The novel has the sort of nuance we talked about, but it was about polygamy at a time we really really did not want to talk about polygamy. Any talk about polygamy was too much talk about polygamy and needed to be shut down. Any book that can be this hated deserves a second look. (more)

Dorian by Nephi Anderson. This one’s even older than Whipple’s. Anderson was working hard to make Mormon art good art, but then he died. It’s almost that simple. Anyway, Dorian is his final novel and although I no longer consider it his best, it’s good. The first time I read it I had an experience similar to the first time I read Jane Austen. Bonus: I can give you a copy of this one, since I have like thirty copies (not an exaggeration.). In short, it’s about a Mormon kid from a small town who’s intellectually ambitious. The only educated man in town is theologically minded and has a plan to combine science and religion into one great whole. Meanwhile, there are two girls and a boy’s got to choose. (more)

The Backslider by Levi Peterson. This is the first novel I thought of when I was trying to come up with Great Mormon Novels that Jordan Might Like. In part, because Peterson is clearly following in the path of people from the Faulkner/Hemingway era and I seem to remember you being a fan of that era of American lit. This is the story of a cowboy with good moral intentions and plenty of moral failures. His groin does a bit too much of the decision-making here, but even more controversial is the theophany at the end of the novel. Which for my money is one of the most beautiful passages in Mormon lit. (more)

Love Letters of the Angels of Death by Jennifer Quist. I love this book so much. One of the best books of any stripe I’ve read the last five years. I do think the final pages are a misstep, but they’re the only part of the novel Lynsey liked, so take that as you will. (I handed it to her saying she had to read it that this was a novel about us and—it didn’t take.) Anyway, if you read the title carefully, you’ll catch on to the novels central conceit way quicker than I did. This is the only novel listed here that’s about Mormons but in a way that only Mormons will be able to tell it’s about Mormons. But it’s unquestionably a portrait of a Mormon marriage and one that I find heartachingly beautiful. (moremoremore)

The Death of a Disco Dancer by David Clark. This poor book has the worst cover of the bunch, but it’s a terrific read. Its protagonist is a deacon in Arizona coming of age just as his senile grandmother moves in with the family to die. It’s funny and it’s potent. (more)

City of Brick and Shadow by Tim Wirkus. This is the only missionary story I’m including. mostly because I’ve kind of avoided it as a genre and kind of because the few others I’ve read aren’t that great. But I haven’t read the ones that are supposed to be best so … who knows. Anyway, this one is a missionary / mystery / noir / gangster / magical realism novel. Plus it takes some digs at multi-level marketing, but you’ll be spending most of your time in Brazilian slums, so bring soap. (more)

Bound on Earth by Angela Hallstrom. This I put last because it might not be a novel. It’s a short-story collection about a single family and they tie in well enough for me to consider it a novel, but I leave that as an exercise for the reader. Incidentally, the author also put together the most important / most broad recent collection of Mormon short fiction. (moremore)

Mothers, Daughters, Sisters, Wives by Karen Rosenbaum. This is another collection that might be a novel but it’s a little further away from noveldom than the last one. But of course you should read it because you know Karen and because she is an amazing writer. I can give you a copy of this one too because I bought a copy and then she gave me one. I haven’t finished it yet, so it’s not officially on this list, but hey. Karen.

Byuck by Theric Jepson. I can give you a copy of this too. I have loads. (more, but not by me)

Mother’s Milk

.

The first impression Rachel Hunt Steenblik’s Mother’s Milk gave me—and this may sound negative, but, for reasons I’ll explain, it needn’t be interpreted that way—was of a notebook filled with bits and pieces of poetry yet to be written. Many small fragments, repetitions, recursions, moments, ideas, pieces, jots, tittles. It feels like finding a poet’s moleskine on a bus bench and piecing together what she was working on.

Here’s my spin on why this … chaotic unfinish is appropriate for Mother’s Milk: Although there is plenty of evidence Heavenly Mother is in our discourse (evidence, evidenceevidence, evidence), it definitely feels like there isn’t. (Likely reason for this feeling [outside most people being unaware of what does exist]? There plain is not enough stuff.) Certainly we have not seen a single-author collection exploring this theology (I suppose this comes closest). Therefore: A collection that feels like the first steps of order being formed from chaos is exactly what people wanted to read—even if they didn’t realize it. Continue reading “Mother’s Milk”

Claire Åkebrand’s What Was Left of the Stars

.

You likely remember Claire Åkebrand from your studious rerereading of Fire in the Pasture. I’m happy to say you can now add an all-Claire volume of poetry to your shelves.

What Was Left of the Stars came out earlier this year from Serpent Club Press. I’m not sure how aware the Mormon poetry-reading public is of her collection, but I fear the release of this volume has been overwhelmed by the enthusiasm for Mother’s Milk (which I am currently about a third through and will write about when finished).

Now, I’m not about to claim that this is a “Mormon” book in the way some books are—this may be by a Mormon, but it’s not exclusively for Mormons nor indeed is it even about Mormons unless you know The Code.

But with that in mind, I’m going to do a Mormon reading of the collection’s first section, which is heavily centered on the Garden of Eden.

The first time I read this first section, I was amazed by how every poem was a distinctly Mormon look at Eden—or, to be more specific, how the poems seemed to be about the Endowment. Not just the Endowment’s version of that tale, but the actual physical act of being in the temple and “doing” an Endowment.

Rereading those poems, I wonder if my first read wasn’t a tad overread, but certainly that reading is valid and it’s the angle I want to present now.

(Incidentally, scripture is one of Åkebrand’s go-tos in the collection, even beyond this first section—among others, expect startling appearances from Lazarus, Lot’s Wife, and the angels of Revelation.) Continue reading “Claire Åkebrand’s What Was Left of the Stars”

Paragraphs on three very different things

.

let Me Drown with MosesLeters to a Young Mormon Pilot

 

 

 

 

 

 

Let Me Drown with Moses by James Goldberg (2015)

This collection consists of just fewer than fifty poems so no single description will cover all it has to say, but here, I think, is a key thought to carry into reading it: The speakers of these poems (generally, one assumes, Goldberg himself) genuinely love what they are writing about (their faith, their family, etc). But this love does not cause them to fall into blind raptures. No, love rather allows them to see more clearly all their beloved’s features, whether cracked or smooth. This is perhaps clearest and most moving in “And the People Deceived Me (The Prophet’s Lament).” Brigham Young’s lament follows a series of poems that reenacted grotesque actions taken by Mormon settlers against their Native neighbors. The prophet is horrified by the evil his people have done and wishes to have his mantle removed—but simultaneously he is grateful to have sipped God’s bitter cup and to have had his heart broken open in similitude thereof.

Letters to a Young Mormon by Adam S. Miller (2013)

Sometimes the way we teach the gospel does not in fact suggest that the Lord’s yoke is easy nor that his burden is light. I remember plenty of self-recrimination in my younger years as I examined my many failures as a Latter-day Saint. In this slim volume that takes the form of letters to his daughter, Miller addresses basic-if-fraught concepts like sin and love, and spins them out in new ways that feel true and generous. His means of taking these bits of gospel and connecting them one to another into a sensible whole can seem simple at times, but simultaneously reveal the complexity of a religion that transforms lives. As someone who views life as narrative, I was particularly struck by Miller’s descriptions of people creating their own story instead of trusting the story God has planned for them. This is thinking rich for further exploration.

Pilot by pd mallamo (2017)

I read Mallamo’s new novella as a proof provided by the author, but the nature of the work is such that some aspects—such as its paucity of terminal punctuation—may be errors about to be removed or may be a deliberate artistic choice and, really, how could one tell? The story is of a Moldovan girl deceived into a life of prostitution in more Western lands, making it as far as L.A. as she is bought and sold. The story itself is something of a phantasmagoria of hope and despair and bemusement filtered through a series of benefactors and pimps and, perhaps, God. Although the novella, I would argue, is nearly areligious in its attitude, it is rife with religious thoughts and feelings and even one of the better written scenes of revelation I’ve read. This story intends to upset the possibility of answers even before asking any questions. In the end, even happy endings are unlikely to satisfy in this world. But if we must live a fallen life, at least we can experience pleasure and pain along the way.

#MormonArtsSunday in Berkeley

.

This is our ward’s fourth annual Mormon Arts Sunday, though I’m the only one really aware of that fact. This year I brought back the sacrament-meeting topic from year one, What Creating Teaches Me About the Creator.

Speaker One

Our first speaker was a fifteen-year-old writer of stories, novels, and screenplays. He noted two things about God he’s learned from creating:

First, sometimes he feels frustration when art doesn’t turn out the way it’s supposed to. Yet our Heavenly Parents don’t strike us down with lightning!

Second, sometimes when writing you can get in the zone and that is true joy! This, he said, helps us understand our Parents love for us.

The rest of his talk, for a while, had me worried he was going off the rails comparing Odin to Jesus (he started, after all, by comparing Odin’s mead to Jesus’s Holy Spirit), but he ended up having a great point. Continue reading “#MormonArtsSunday in Berkeley”

Welcome The Krakens

.

Have you ever heard of Garrick Infanger? I haven’t.

Have you ever heard of The Krakens? Not until tonight, I hadn’t.

I was searching for information on LDS artist Heather Dixon and found a brief interview with her on this Krakens site. Further explanation reveals it is curated by one Garrick Infanger (of whom I have never heard) and has been since, I think, 2015.

And it is awesome.

It has people I know well and people I’m immediately excited to discover and people I never would have thought to look for. It covers the oldies and it covers those who make things happen.

It is, in short, a great addition to the Mormon Arts world and I commend it to you.

also on Instagram

Mormons as Normal People:a brief look at the Mormonelements in Anthony Holden’s Precious Rascals

.

I wasn’t aware of Anthony Holden until only just recently when a mutual friend pointed me in the direction of his new book, Precious Rascals. I just finished reading a pdf of the book, which I concluded then immediately ordered a hard copy to share with my own family.

Precious Rascals is half comics diary, half memoir. Holden is sharing with comics he made first for himself and perhaps his wife, then for his children—sort of a large plates in funny-pictures form. The comics are charming and funny, and the accompanying prose is charismatic even when it risks becoming self-indulgent (which isn’t often; largely it’s as fun as the pictures).

I’m writing about his book here because the way he deals with his family’s LDSness is interesting. Interesting largely because it is utterly matter-of-fact. He doesn’t feel the need to make it a big deal; he doesn’t feel the need to secretize their Mormon identity.

It is, in other words, a healthily unapologetic way of being publically Mormon. So if you need a theory-centric reason to buy a book that will make you laugh, let that be it.

Here are a couple more little bits to show the range of Signifying Mormon seen in the collection: