How to Talk About “Secks” (and other thoughts regarding Mormon prudery)

I’ve been thinking a lot about sex lately. (So have Tyler and Theric!) Mostly it’s because my sister recently sent me her copy of the new Mormon sex book, by Laura M. Brotherson, and I’m surprised by what it reveals about Mormon culture.

And They Were Not Ashamed is the “new’ Mormon sex book because it was published more recently than the one that was floating around when I got married. The one people were giving out as wedding gifts when my DH and I celebrated our nuptials was by Stephen E. Lamb and Douglas E. Brinely. (Tangential question: Why do strangers give newlyweds books about sex? Really, why? Are you so afraid my parents never brought it up that you feel compelled to help out? I just don’t get that.) We received not one but two copies of the hard, silver-jacketed tome with the open-yet-frozen-in-their-separation lilies and I read it–out of curiosity and because all my unmarried friends wanted to know what was in it. Although it was full of useful information, I was disappointed to find that it was pretty much the opposite of its subject matter: cold, clinical, boring. This was how people who believe sex is a gift from God talk about it? Continue reading “How to Talk About “Secks” (and other thoughts regarding Mormon prudery)”

For the Literary Mormon Daddy

Since I posted recommendations for the literary Mormon mommy, I thought I’d put up a few books that I think will appeal to the men in our lives. Of course, most of the contributors and many of the commenters here are male so I assume most of you will have stuff to add to the list.

1. The Conversion of Jeff Williams by Doug Thayer. I loved this book so much that I *almost* wish I were a man so that I could get it for Father’s Day. I haven’t always been Thayer’s biggest fan and the narrator, Jeff Williams, a laid-back California surfer teen who tends to be self-involved and see everyone else at a distance, was hard for me to read at first. But as his return to Provo and his relationship with his sickly, pre-mission cousin changed his worldview Thayer wielded that point of view like a scalpel. Slowly, bit by bit, Jeff’s voice fumbles and falters and changes until, by the end of the book, he is new. He is still himself (short, choppy sentences; monosyllabic dialogue interspersed between Hamelt-esque inner monologues) but he is changed. Stronger. Wiser. Much more of man than a boy. This bildungsroman is probably the best homage to the young LDS male experience to date.

2. Angel of the Danube by Alan Rex Mitchell. If Jeff Williams is the best homage to young LDS males, then Angel of the Danube is the ultimate in missionary novels. With a distinct narrative voice, Angel presents the missionary experience with humor, gratitude, frustration, and depth. Because the characters in the book want to be faithful and are unable to take themselves too seriously it ends up being a little more light-hearted than Fires of the Mind but no less thought-provoking. This book represents some of the best of Mormon fiction.

3. Benediction by Neal Chandler is another humorous title. I’ve mentioned it before as a good example of humor in Mormon Fiction and I think it’s worth mentioning again. If your dad is the kind of guy who could never bring himself to sell Amway or try to use the commitment pattern on business associates then this is the book for him. (Warning: This book also contains some sex-type material-mostly the funny kind and never raunchy or dirty, but it might make conservative readers blush. I’ll admit that I did!)

Also, don’t forget our AMV t-shirts. They are always a classy option. The people around him might not get the joke but you’re dad will know he’s part of an elite group of bookworms!

You might end up paying a little extra for the shipping but any of these books (or shirts!) is waaaay better than the usual. (Photo credit)tutctie_ziggy99atutctie_poulerik96atutctie_kurt96atutctie_poulerik99a tutctie_michael96a

A Litmus Test for Mormon Literature?

Since I’ve been making a concerted effort to read more LDS/Mormon books and since I’ve started reviewing them and recommending them, I’ve realized something important: I have a litmus test for Mormon literature. I have one overarching criteria that defines all of my Mormon literary experiences–whether it’s a book, the scriptures, or a General Conference talk. Continue reading “A Litmus Test for Mormon Literature?”

Mother’s Day Gifts for the Literary Mormon Mommy

Mother’s Day is only ten days away (I think it’s early this year) and now is the perfect time to order a book for the literary Mormon woman in your life. Some books I wish someone would buy me:

* The Year My Son and I Were Born: A Story of Down Syndrome, Motherhood, and Self-Discovery by Kathryn Lynard Soper. If I had the money I would buy every single one of you a copy. This is a must-own for every mother. In the story of her baby with Down Syndrome and her struggle to love him and herself, Soper has embedded the story of every mother and the divinity that motherhood can cultivate within us. Soper is writing from a beautifully transcendent (although perhaps fleeting) place. And because of that the book is never preachy but still guides and uplifts. It is honest and gritty but never depressing.

*Psalm & Selah by Mark Bennion is now available for pre-order at parablespub.com. You might have to tuck your e-receipt in a nice box of chocolates since the book isn’t coming out until June, but that way it’s like getting two gifts in one!

* People of Paradox: A History of Mormon Culture by Terryl Givens. She’s probably already familiar with this tome, but it is a good one to own because she’ll want to refer to it over and over again for its interesting takes on everything from books to dancing to architecture.

Or consider giving the gift that keeps on giving: a subscription. Segullah, Irreantum, Dialogue , or Sunstone would be a pleasant surprise in the mailbox. Again, you might have to put your receipt in a box of chocolates–ooh! Or an edible fruit arrangement; those are impressive!–but I’ve already covered why that’s an awesome idea.

Another option: awesome LDS/Mormon books that are out of print! This is great because used books are cheap and you can buy her more than one.

*The Earthkeepers by Marilyn Brown.

*Where Nothing is Long Ago (a memoir) by Virginia Sorensen.

*Angle of the Danube by Alan Rex Mitchell

So tell me, what are you gonna buy your woman this year? Add your recommendations in the comments!

Psalm & Selah: new poetry from an old source (an interview with Mark Bennion)

I’ve always loved the story of Abish. I love it because it’s about a woman–a righteous woman, a woman with a name–who makes a big difference through her small acts of righteousness. I also love to tell people it’s my favorite scripture story and watch for traces of panic while they try to figure out who I’m talking about. That’s how I knew Mark Bennion was the kind of poet I could relate to. When I picked up my most recent Irreantum and found Bennion’s poem about Abish (and her father) I was intrigued and, while Bennion’s work is not the only poem written about her (Emily Milner’s poem featured in Segullah is an especially nice one), it brought new relevance to an old story. Bennion has a collection coming out in June from Parables Publishing and he graciously agreed to tell me more about it! Continue reading “Psalm & Selah: new poetry from an old source (an interview with Mark Bennion)”

Giveaway winners and question: How the heck do you edit a poem?

Well, even though not all of you are as excited about National Poetry Month as I am a few of you did comment on the giveaway post and the winner is: Kelly!  I might still send a copy to Theric–out of pity–but I’m not so sure.  Congrats Kelly!

The next item of business is my question: How the heck do you edit a poem?

It’s been said that poetry is the most subjective kind of literature.  There are very few hard and fast rules and good poetry is mostly defined by intuition.  As a reader I agree with this and it makes me feel pretty good because it gives me an break when I am completely lost. But as a (hopefully-someday-this-title-will-truly-apply-to-me) poet it frustrates me.

Here’s a poem I wrote that I think has potential but didn’t fulfill it: Continue reading “Giveaway winners and question: How the heck do you edit a poem?”

National Poetry Month: The Best 46 Cents I Ever Spent and an AMV Giveaway!

You can’t buy a lot with forty-six cents these days.  Not a soda.  Not a pack of gum.  Not even Lifesavers from the vending machine.  But you want to know what I got for forty-six cents (thank you amazon.com!)? The best book I’ve read in a long time, Harvest: Contemporary Mormon Poems.

This is one of those books in Mormon letters that everyone references and talks about and now that I own a copy I can see why.  Harvest has become a companion of sorts for me.  It travels around the house with me and when I have a second–waiting for my kids to finish eating or while I’m brushing my teeth or when I’m supposed to be doing the dishes–I open it up and find the literary equivalent of a gourmet truffle.  Each poem has some familiar elements, with rhyme and meter and subject mattter, but at its center the poem, well, it’ll blow your mind.

Harvest includes work from more than sixty poets including legends like and Leslie Norris, contemporary masters like our own Patricia Karamesines, and Carol Lynn Pearson even makes an appearance. There are also plenty of authors the average reader has probably never heard of (especially if you didn’t attend BYU) but will certainly enjoy reading.  One of my favorite discoveries is Mary Lythgoe Bradford.  I think “Coming Together Apart” has got to be one of the best descriptions of love I’ve come across.  And Elouise Bell’s “This Do In Rememberance of Me.” When I read, “How pallid the bread when pale the  memory/ . . . Every symbol has two halves/ But to us falls the matching./ What match we, then, in sacramental token?” I wished I could take it to Church with me so I’d remember to ask myself that question.

Harvest was originally published twenty years ago and is probably the most important anthology of modern Mormon/LDS poetry to date.  It’s broad enough that it contains something for everyone (and some things individual readers may not care for) and it’s a book you’ll find yourself picking up over and over again because, like a gourmet truffle, one poem is never enough.

So, in honor of National Poetry Month (and since used copies are a steal!) AMV is giving away one copy of Harvest. Just leave a comment about Mormon poetry to enter. Tell us, who’s your favorite?  What poems have touched you and stayed with you? What kind of poetry do you want to see more of?  We really want to know!

Also, keep your eyes (or your Google Readers) open for our other poetry posts this month.  We’ve got some great interviews lined up and some original poems coming your way!

“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”

Beware Brother Brigham (a review of the book by D. Michael Martindale)

Here’s the thing I’ve discovered about Zarahemla Books: always, always read the back cover–especially any comments made by editor Chris Bigelow. His comments are like codes and if you can break the code then you will know what is really waiting for you when you crack the cover. Continue reading “Beware Brother Brigham (a review of the book by D. Michael Martindale)”

The Experiences of Black Mormons: a gap in Mormon letters?

Since February is Black History Month I’ve been thinking: what do we know about the history and experiences of black members of the LDS church?

For me, the answer is not much.  I mean,  I’ve heard my dad tell his story about having to defend the Church and it’s policies in a high school history class and I remember the black character in God’s Army and I’ve read Mary Sturlaugson Eyer’s memoir trilogy, but all those are rather superficial experiences.  My dad isn’t black.  The guy in God’s Army was a relatively minor character. Eyer’s memoirs  add up to just barely three hundred pages all together.

Arianne Cope tangled with questions about black Mormon identity in her story, “Salt Water”, which was published in the most recent Irreantum.  But her story seemed a little too much for me.  It wasn’t enough that the character was supposedly the first black male to be ordained to the priesthood. He had to be fatherless and his grandma had to kill herself. The story is interesting, but, in my opinion, it was a lot to take on.   Maybe more than the form could manage.  Whatever your feelings about the story, it simply doesn’t do much to enrich the narrative legacy of Black Mormons.

A quick Google search turned up some interesting hits:

*The FAIR LDS Bookstore has a whole section dedicated to black mormon studies. Has anyone actually read any of these books? Are they accessible to the average reader in the Mormon market? Are any of them written by black Mormons themselves or is their history being filtered through white Mormon writers?

*Blacklds.org has a lot of good info but isn’t an artistic attempt. The testimony section is interesting but it also makes me wonder what a book by a black member would read like.  Again, it doesn’t do much to enrich the narrative and artistic legacy.

*Then there’s the movie Nobody Knows: The Untold Story of Black Mormons.  It sounds interesting and like a relatively good artistic step, but I haven’t seen it. Have any of you? What did you think? I wonder if I can ILL movies . . .

I know Deseret Book (through their Shadow Mountain imprint) has published a series,  Standing on the Promises by Margaret Blair Young and Darius Gray, but I haven’t read those either.  Have any of you? What do these books do to flesh out the narrative legacy? Are they aimed at a YA audience or adults? Are they artistic attempts like Young’s other books or are they more in the let’s-teach-history-the-fun-way camp (like Gerald Lund’s books)?

Now,  I know I’m  not the best read person when it comes to Mormon Literature, but I would argue that I have read more Mormon/LDS books than the average Latter-day saint.  Most of my book choices are taken from book lists, like the AMV canon (which I would link to if I knew which post it was!),  the AMV book club recommendations, and lists of former AML  award winners along with what I come across in my Deseret Book catalogue. I’ve really made an effort to become well-schooled in Mormon arts and letters.  But none of those resources I’m used to looking to cover the subject of black Mormons–at least not that I have found.  So you tell me. Is this a gap in Mormon letters?  And, if so why?