Separate but Equal?

When I discover a new book-related service or resource, I always explore them with a great deal of hope — hope that this discovery will provide an answer the difficult problems I see in both the LDS market and in the woldwide market for books. Along the way I’ve discovered everything from Print-on-Demand printers like Lightning Source and BookSurge, social networking sites like Shelfari, Library Thing and (I suppose) Book Crossing, and a host of different online book retailers in addition to the majors like Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble.

But despite the overall improvement that these resources have brought and are bringing to the market for books, these new services have all dashed my hopes for LDS books and Mormon literature. By and large they have done little to help me find Mormon books, and I sometimes wonder if they haven’t actually made it more difficult.

Continue reading “Separate but Equal?”

Are we discarding our Mormon heritage? (with Jeff Needle)

Last week I read my Easter gift from my parents: Outwitting History: The Amazing Adventures of a Man Who Rescued a Million Yiddish Books by Aaron Lansky. It’s a remarkable, wonderful story (and the story is pretty much what’s in the subtitle of the book), but even more than that it’s a fascinating exploration of how culture is created, fought over, transmitted and discarded. The book is filled with fascinating, touching and moving moments.

And of course, after reading it, I began to wonder if on a much smaller scale, the same problem was happening with Mormon literature. And I do mean a much smaller scale. First of all, Mormon books were mostly published in English (with the exception of the Deseret Alphabet and a few foreign language titles) so that barrier to transmission and block to preservation doesn’t exist. And the number of Mormon-related works that were published never reached the amazing amounts of Yiddish books and periodicals that were produced, which means it’s easier to get a handle on a fairly complete collection. And there are academic collections that are fairly good at BYU and elsewhere. So on the whole, I’m not super worried that our Mormon heritage is being tossed out in dumpsters.

And let it be said: most of the Jews that died in the Holocaust were Yiddish speaking. And Yiddish speakers and, especially, writers also faced great persecution at the hands of Stalin. Most of Mormonism’s literary production happened after its persecutions.

And yet, I owe my interest in Mormon literature to three shelves of books at the Berkeley LDS Institute that were donated. I don’t know if all of the titles came from the same family or person. But I’m pretty sure that most of them were donations and not acquisitions. I also owe the title of this blog to Roy Markow (or his descendants, possibly) who donated a copy of Orson F. Whitney’s “Love and the Light: An Idyl of the Westland” to the Berkeley Institute. “A Motley Vision” is taken from that poem (which by the way, I still have. I figure it this way — nobody had checked it out before I did. There were actually two copies. And someday I will return it). The people who made these donations could very well have just tossed the books or given them to Deseret Industries or put them in their basements or attic to molder and suffer water damage. Continue reading “Are we discarding our Mormon heritage? (with Jeff Needle)”

The illusory allure of clean culture

The online magazine Slate recently posted Hanna Rosin’s review of Daniel Radosh’s new book Rapture Ready! Adventures in the Parallel Universe of Christian Pop Culture. Her (and Radosh’s) descriptions of Christian attempts to create safe knock-offs of popular forms of culture and entertainment will sound strikingly familiar to anyone with the slightest bit of knowledge of the Mormon market.

For example, Rosin writes:

A Christian can now buy books, movies, music–and anything else lowbrow to middlebrow–tailor-made for his or her sensibilities. Worried that American popular culture leads people–and especially teenagers–astray, the Christian version is designed to satisfy all the same needs in a cleaner form.

The review is a must-read for Mormons. And it sounds like the book is too. I have already ordered it from my local library (I’m not alone in my interest in it though — I probably won’t get my hands on a copy until June). I’m going to get to some of the more choice bits of the review in a moment, but first a reminder: Although it’s tempting to write off the Mormon cultural project as a weak imitation of the Christian one (and in some areas it is just that), there are important differences. I’m not going to go into a lengthy treatment of them — but AMV has been exploring them throughout its’ whole history. Not so much in contrast to the Christian market (although we have done that from time-to-time), but more in the more positive vein of pointing out examples and exploring possibilities of a unique, yet not disconnected form of Mormon culture that both celebrates and critiques our own history and practice and beliefs as well as those of the broader American (and other) culture(s). Continue reading “The illusory allure of clean culture”

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.

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Eugene Woodbury on his novel The Path of Dreams

Eugene Woodbuy has revised his unique self-described home literature meets modern romance novel The Path of Dreams and is offering it on his Web site in three formats: a free online version, a free PDF download, and a trade paperback that you can buy from Lulu.

Here is how he describes the novel:

The Path of Dreams is a romantic fantasy arising out of the traditional Japanese practice of the arranged marriage. The matchmakers in this case are an Osaka samurai academic and a Scottish Mormon polygamist. The union these two 19th century raconteurs plot for their great-great grandchildren is one their descendants never could have anticipated, for this o-miai exists only on “the path of dreams.”

Although they have never met before, a seemingly chance encounter leaves Elaine Chieko Packard and Connor McKenzie haunted by passionate dreams they cannot control. They determine to resolve the growing tension between the moral strictures of their religion and their own overpowering emotions by eloping, a decision that triggers an entirely unexpected series of events.

In the days and months that follow, they find themselves reliving — in dreams and reality — many of the same conflicts their parents and grandparents once did. They come to realize that their lives cannot move forward until they have attended to the unsettled obligations of the past. As the prophet Malachi commanded, they must “turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers.”

I was curious about the revisions and the modes of distribution he was offering, and Eugene was kind enough to answer my questions: Continue reading “Eugene Woodbury on his novel The Path of Dreams”