My 2009 Mormon Literature Wish List

For those of you keeping track: this year I read sixty-eight books (if you don’t include the Calvin and Hobbes and Fox Trot compilations I skim while brushing my teeth and the countless picture books I’ve read my kiddos) and twenty-four of them were Mormon–not quite as many as last year and not enough of them are Mormon classics, but I still stumbled on to some really satisfying reads. Here’s my ranking of the Mormon books I encountered during 2009. (Here’s my 2008 list.) Just in case any of you are still looking for Christmas gifts I’ve conveniently linked the titles to Amazon.com (which means if you buy them after clicking through from AMV some of your money will support the hosting costs for our site! Thanks in advance!!).

Books I wish I owned:

Byuck by our very own Theric, er, I mean, Eric Jepson. This is the best link I could conjure up for this quirky never-published novel about the fight to stay single while attending BYU. So sad it never made it into print. Maybe if we’re all really nice Theric will serialize it on his blog!

No Going Backwards by Jonathon Langdon. Gay Mormon teen. Need more? Then check out the website.

Slumming by Kristen D. Randle (To read my interview with Randle click here.) What I loved about this book was how uncompromisingly Mormon it was and how uncompromisingly national market it was. Okay. It wasn’t exactly Gossip Girl, but the fact that the book works in both worlds made me so happy.

Breaking Rank by Kristen D. Randle. This one had closet Mormons but the teenage protagonist’s decision making process was so true to teenage Mormons. I loved it.

Harvest: Contemporary Mormon Poems I had no idea how awesome Mormon poetry was until I bought this. It was truly the best forty-six cents I ever spent!

The Year My Son and I Were Born: A Story of Down Syndrome, Motherhood, and Self-Discovery by Kathryn Lynard Soper. If you know a Mormon mommy who loves memoirs and haven’t bought this book yet for her, then now is the time. Seriously beautiful book.

Refuge: An Unnatural History of Family and Place by Terry Tempest Williams. I read this one for an ecobiography writing seminar and I was glad. TTW is a controversial and watershed figure not only in Mormon environmental writing but also in Mormon feminist writing and Mormonism as a culture and not just a religion. This book, part memoir and part ecology lesson, is a great place to start with her.

Long After Dark by Todd Robert Petersen. This book really pushed my litmus test, making me extremely uncomfortable in the process, but I felt like it was done artfully and purposefully and that made me glad. Read my interview with Todd Robert Petersen for more.

The Conversion of Jeff Williams by Douglas Thayer. This book about a California teen’s summer in the heartland of Mormonism is the novel that will shut the mouth of all the your Mormon fiction naysaying friends. Beautifully written, intensely thoughtful, this is one that demands repeat readings.

Sun and Moon, Ice and Snow by Jessica Day George. For you readers who love teen fiction (it’s okay to admit it; I do too!) or just enjoy having a thought provoking book to read with your kids, this creative amalgam of Norse mythology and the Cupid/Psyche myth will delight. George is popular for her Dragon Slippers series and if you liked those you will LOVE this one.

The Candy Shop War by Brandon Mull. I love tween literature that encourages questioning and viewpoint broadening without being all Lord of the Flies or One Fat Summer about it. By creating an old lady of dubious motivations who makes candies that give kids super powers Mull does a great job of entertaining and pushing kids to think about consequences without preaching or settling for easy answers. I’m still waiting for a ten year old to read this book so I can chat with them about it. Really well done.

Books that were worth the inter-library loan:

Benediction: a Book of Stories by Neal Chandler. (Not everyone loves this book. A lot of people find it offensive. But I thought it was such a great parody of some of the wilder small town personalities I grew up with. Read my original post here.)

The Only Alien on the Planet by Kristen D. Randle. (Basically a novelization of the old “Cipher in the Snow” story. Interesting!)

Secrets by Blaine M. Yorgason (Quintessential Deseret Book “issue” novel. Tackles an important subject but tends to gloss over the difficulties.)

People of Paradox: A History of Mormon Culture by Terryl L. Givens (Probably the most important book for Mormon culture scholars and you should read it. But you might not tackle it more than once.)

A FUTURE FOR TOMORROW – Surviving Anorexia – My Spiritual Journey by Haley Hatch Freeman (Read my original review here. I also believe that this book should not be read without also reading Michael Greenberg’s Hurry Down Sunshine–just to give some context the psychotic break of it all.)

Books that are worth reading if someone hands it to you:

Circle Dance by Sharlee Mullins Glenn

Hold On, the Light Will Come: And Other Lessons My Songs Have Taught Me by Michael McLean

Abinadi by Heather B. Moore (For more of my thoughts on this book read here.)

River Secrets (The Books of Bayern)River Secrets (The Books of Bayern, #3) by Shannon Hale

Longshot: The Adventures of a Deaf Fundamentalist Mormon Kid and His Journey to the NBA by Lance Allred (My original review.)

Austenland: A Novel by Shannon Hale

Dragon Flight (Dragon Adventures) by Jessica Day George

All this has got me wondering, what Mormon books did you read this year and what did you think? Any you enjoyed enough to shell out money for? I need recommendations for next year!

Where Twilight Studies Meets Mormon Studies: Setting the Record Straight

Some time ago, I started following John Granger‘s Twilight studies blog, “Forks High School Professor” as a corollary to my own academic interest in Meyer’s books. Granger made a name for himself as Dean of Harry Potter Studies when he took J.K. Rowling’s books as subjects worthy of academic study. And now he’s trying his hand at Twilight, an effort I heartily applaud as I think of my own haphazard attempts to do the same thing.

And yet, sometimes he just rubs my believing-Mormon-skin the wrong way with his cursory engagement with Mormonism, something that’s simply secondary to and arising from his academic interest in literature, faith, and culture. Since he’s a newcomer to the still-blossoming field of Mormon studies* and an outsider to the LDS faith, I can’t fault him for this engagement and for getting some things wrong every now and then. Heck, cultural Mormons are a peculiar lot with an equally peculiar history. Putting things together about the religion can be difficult even for those with a lifetime commitment to it. Continue reading “Where Twilight Studies Meets Mormon Studies: Setting the Record Straight”

“Toward a Mormon Gothic” and Other News from RUD

News from the Reading Until Dawn front:

A couple of weeks ago, I read a paper at the Rocky Mountain Modern Language Association (RMMLA) Convention at Snowbird, Utah (a rundown of my experience at the AML session will come in a later post that I’ve got halfway worked up; yes, I’ve been lazy—so sue me) and over the weekend I did some revising to incorporate some of the feedback I received and posted it on Reading Until Dawn. “Toward a Mormon Gothic: Stephenie Meyer’s Vampires and a Theology of the Uncanny” takes its place in the blossoming field of Twilight studies beside RUD’s inaugural essay, Theric Jepson’s “Saturday’s Werewolf: Vestiges of the Premortal Romance in Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight Novels.” Link over and have a read. That’s what all the cool kids are doing (or so they tell me).

While you’re there, you might also notice that I’ve made some subtle changes to the site design (I’ve tweaked the header) and that I’ve updated the articles. The inconsistent layout was bugging me, so I took down the HTMLs until I can get them to look how I want them to look, reworked my document template slightly, and incorporated the new MLA citation standards into the notes. Hopefully this gives the collection a more consistent and professional feel.

Also: though I’ve published “Toward a Mormon Gothic” on RUD, I’m still open to feedback. So if, while you’re reading, you notice a typo or some such faux pas or notice that I’ve missed something you deem vitally important to the conversation, either email me or comment here. That or work up your own essay and submit it for publication. I promise I won’t complain.

The Friend’s book reviews

I had no idea that The LDS Church’s magazine for kids The Friend published book reviews until I happened to glance over at my daughter a couple of Sunday’s ago as she was reading the reviews in the May 2009 issue. My interest was piqued so I went over to the LDS.org to see what I could discover.

A search of The Friend on LDS.org for “book reviews” shows that this feature began in May 2006 and that a Book Reviews column has been published in every November and May issue since then. Two prior results also appear — one in 1982 and one in 1985. [Of course, it may be that that search isn’t turning up everything.]

Some of the titles reviewed in the May 2009 issue are: Encyclopedia Brown, Boy Detective, by Donald J. Sobol; Amelia Bedelia, by Peggy Parish; Small Pig, by Arnold Lobel; and Bertie Was a Watchdog, by Rick Walton (a bit of homerism, here, as Rick is LDS), illustrated by Arthur Robins. Continue reading “The Friend’s book reviews”

Reading Until Dawn’s Lone (Were)wolf

I don’t want to take anything away from National Poetry Month with another Twilight bender, but Theric’s worked so hard on his essay, “Saturday’s Werewolf: Vestiges of the Premortal Romance in Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight Novels,” that I thought I should jump in and give him his dues. Here’s the abstract:

“Saturday’s Werewolf explores Twilight in terms of the supernatural literature of the Latter-day Saints, specifically as the series links to the premortal romance narrative mode, as exemplified in Nephi Anderson’s Added Upon (1898) and Douglas Stewart’s popular musical Saturday’s Warrior (1989).”

It’s an entertaining and insightful read that I’ve just posted at Reading Until Dawn (both PDF and HTML versions available there). Come take a look after you finish commenting on Laura’s Harvest post.

And don’t be scared: RUD’s lone (were)wolf doesn’t bite. But it just might inspire you to submit.

“An Artist is Like a Big Fat Blender”: an interview with Kristen D. Randle

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When I read Kristen D. Randle’s Slumming–which I found on the AMV Book Club list– I was completely surprised. The main characters were not vapid gossip girls looking to lose their virginity or angst ridden, beer drinking, wannabe boys (also looking to lose their virginity), like the characters in so many popular bestsellers aimed at young adults. No, these characters were different. They were Mormons. Continue reading ““An Artist is Like a Big Fat Blender”: an interview with Kristen D. Randle”

Twilight on My Mind

Maybe you’re sick of Twilight by now; maybe you’re not.

Or maybe you’re just indifferent.

Whatever the case, I don’t think Stephenie Meyer’s going away any time soon; and with the highly anticipated release of Summit Entertainment’s Film–coming tomorrow to a theater near you!–it’s increasingly difficult to escape the hype. Continue reading “Twilight on My Mind”

Stephenie Meyer’s Mormonism and the “erotics of abstinence”

For more on Stephenie Meyer and her work, visit Reading Until Dawn.

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The Time Magazine profile of Stephenie Meyer attempts to explain her work — the three Twilight books and an upcoming novel called The Host — by exploring Meyer’s Mormonism, claiming, in fact that although “the characters in Meyer’s books aren’t Mormons, but her beliefs are key to understanding her singular talent.”

It makes for a fascinating, almost convincing piece of analysis. The problem is that it tends to boil Mormonism down to a set of filters, the thou-shalt-nots, that narrow what can happen in her work.

For example in reference to Meyer’s vampire books, Lev Grossman writes:

What makes Meyer’s books so distinctive is that they’re about the erotics of abstinence. Their tension comes from prolonged, superhuman acts of self-restraint. There’s a scene midway through Twilight in which, for the first time, Edward leans in close and sniffs the aroma of Bella’s exposed neck. “Just because I’m resisting the wine doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate the bouquet,” he says. “You have a very floral smell, like lavender … or freesia.” He barely touches her, but there’s more sex in that one paragraph than in all the snogging in Harry Potter.

Continue reading “Stephenie Meyer’s Mormonism and the “erotics of abstinence””

Squeaky Clean

What makes literature erotic?

On a recent road trip with my younger sister, I needed a little help staying awake. She volunteered to read to me from the last few pages of a novel I had brought along. This was my first experience with D.H. Lawrence, which is just as well because I think at a younger age I would never have made it through his deliciously drawn-out descriptive prose. My new favorite Mormon curmudgeon, Arthur Henry King, had recommended Lawrence’s The Plumed Serpent to me in one of his speeches from Arm the Children. He assured me that it wasn’t as obscene as Lawrence’s contemporaries complained. My sister, however, was promptly scandalized. Not even three sentences into the book, she paused.

“Uh oh. This is about to get dirty.”

Continue reading “Squeaky Clean”

Some Like It Hot: A Review of Shannon Hale’s Enna Burning

Over the years, I’ve read less and less.  Partly this is because circumstances allow me little “extra time” to pick up a book and settle in; partly it’s because my attitudes about language and storytelling have changed.  I have enough real life on my hands to keep me immersed in adventure, probably for the rest of my life.  And too much writing falls into the category of “entertainment” where anything goes, where evil resides “out there” in some purely vile and psychicly distant villian, easy to loathe and easier to kill without the twinge of a second thought, just so everything can get back to how it was. Continue reading “Some Like It Hot: A Review of Shannon Hale’s Enna Burning”