Why this book? (a question about Coke Newell’s On the Road to Heaven)

I try to avoid reading with an agenda. I try to let my mind be open to the words and their flow, let them wash over me and sweep me away to new perspectives, ideas, and feelings. Some books feel like a babbling brook–lots of chatter but no real pull. Others feel like a hurricane– the prose buffets me with overwhelming force that leaves mental and emotional devastation in its wake. (By the way, my prayers are with those in the South right now. God bless you all.) No matter what the force or style though, I try to be open when it comes to reading. I try to jump in with both feet. But with Coke Newell’s On the Road to Heaven I was unable to do that. A question kept my mind bobbing around: why this book?

There was a lot of buzz about On the Road to Heaven when it first came out. And then again when it won both the AML award and Whitney award for novel of the year. Maybe that’s why I couldn’t shake my questions: What was it about Newell’s autobiographical novel that so many people liked? How did he please both the literary/academic crowd (as the AML is perceived to be) and the mainstream fiction crowd (as the Whitney’s are perceived to be)? Or in other words, why this book?

My question made me fairly skeptical as I thumbed through the first few pages. So did his strange choice of genre (What is an “autobiographical novel” anyway? Aren’t a lot of novels autobiographical? How was this supposed to be any different? [This wikipedia entry helped with those questions.]). And, I don’t know if I should admit this out loud but, I’m not a Kerouac fan. I’ve never actually finished one of his books. They just seem so contrived. And if this book was an homage to those books then I was not sure how I was going to get through it. Continue reading “Why this book? (a question about Coke Newell’s On the Road to Heaven)”

This is What I Did: by Ann Dee Ellis (a review and interview)

“Imagine if you had witnessed something horrific. Imagine if it had happened to your friend. And imagine if you hadn’t done anything to help.”

The world of LDS literature is rife with can only be termed “issue novels”. Whether they are out to take on drug abuse, polygamy, suicide, racism, or even date rape, issue novels pick a socially difficult topic and discuss it. The aim of these novels seems to be to bring awareness to an issue and to help those dealing with it do so in a faithful manner. Some of these novels turn out distastefully didactic. Others, however, open our minds to new points of view and provide much needed catharsis. This is What I Did: by LDS novelist, Ann Dee Ellis, is one of the good ones. Continue reading “This is What I Did: by Ann Dee Ellis (a review and interview)”

Guest post: Laura Craner on the Church Cultural Arts Committee Luncheon

Editor’s Note: The following guest post is from Laura H. Craner, AMV commenter and blogger at LDS Readers.

Notes from a Church Cultural Arts Committee Luncheon

February 2007

I was late. I hate being late and I was late. As I walked into the spacious hall on the top floor of the Church Office building I could see all the other Deseret Award Recognition honorees finishing their desserts. I overcompensated by smiling too broadly and talking too much to anyone who walked by–which was probably why I missed the keynote speaker’s name.

As he began his talk he looked around the room gazing at each writer as if he was trying to memorize their faces. “I’ve got a feelin‘,” he said. “If my talk today had a title it would be “˜I’ve Got a Feelin’ because that’s really what the arts are about. I know that usually when artists get together they like to talk about the tools of their trade, but the arts are powerful because of the feelings they inspire in us. Today we are going to talk about how we use our artistic tools to create a feeling, a specific feeling: a feeling of the Spirit of Lord.”

The speaker, who I gathered was the head of the Church Cultural Arts committee, went on to detail the writing of the Nauvoo Pageant. He told stories of how they had been inspired to work with certain writers. These writers, he said, were not all professionals or even necessarily thought of themselves as writers. However, that turned out for the best. In his experience people who had all the right credentials tended to lean more on their own understanding. When a person is not equal to a task, even an artistic one, they learn to rely on the Lord. Continue reading “Guest post: Laura Craner on the Church Cultural Arts Committee Luncheon”