January of 2008 found my writing in limbo. I was waiting to hear from an editor about a manuscript. Without my book to focus on my brain didn’t know how to occupy itself anymore. I found myself aimlessly surfing the internet for loooong periods of time. I was cranky and dissatisfied. What was I going to do (you know, besides the piles of laundry and dishes and taking care of my kids)?
Like any good product of the YWs Personal Progress program *wink*, I set a goal. To be specific, I set a goal to read one book a week for the entire year. It seemed like a lot to me at the time. (I got schooled by Th. who has read twice as many and I’ve heard authors/writers like Tristi Pinkston read hundreds of books a year.) I was pretty jazzed about my goal but I quickly realized that my previous reading habits (which included lots of historical nonfiction, regular nonfiction, and “literary” novels) would kill it. Those books are too hard/engrossing for me to read in a single week. I tend to let books tell me how to read them and most of those kinds of books want to be read slowly. Continue reading “My 2008 Literature Wish List”
Zarahemla Books is one of the most interesting publishing ventures LDS literature has seen in a long time. According to its website, Zarahemla Books seeks to “publish provocative, unconventional, yet ultimately faith-affirming stories that yield new insights into Mormon culture and humanity.” That’s a lofty–and complicated–goal that has produced some pretty complicated books.
I’ve only read three of the seven titles released by Zarahemla books–I just started a fourth title–and I have been impressed by the variety of styles, voices, and genres. Each book is unique and has a lot of heart. I suspect this is due largely to Chris Bigelow and his passion for literary creativity. I plan on reading the rest of the titles offered by Zarahemla, but my most recent read, Bigelow’s own Kindred Spirits, was pretty troubling.
Kindred Spirits is ostensibly a love story between Eliza, a Utah Mormon “expatriate” living in Boston, and Eric, a nonmember with more marital baggage than any polygamist could imagine. However, for me, this book felt much more like a train wreck than a love story. Continue reading “Kindred Spirits by Chris Bigelow– a review”
Here’s how it all went down:
I had just graduated with a bachelor’s in English from USU and was pregnant with my first baby. I wasn’t going to be “one of those women” who just lets her education go for home and hearth (whatever that means! Thank you liberal/feminist education!) so I joined the ward book club and suggested a truly literary work, Virginia Sorenson’s A Little Lower than the Angels. I had come across it on an online course reading list from BYU. It was a little risky since I hadn’t read it, but, hey, you can trust those BYU professors, right?
Continue reading “Virginia Sorenson: the Book Club edition?”
Since the Spring of 2004 Segullah, a literary journal for LDS women, has been inspiring creativity and candid conversations in LDS circles. Kathryn Lynard Soper, the founder and heart and soul of Segullah, has successfully guided the journal through its beginning years and made it a major influence in the world of Mormon letters. She has found a number of talented writers to contribute–two of whom, Darlene Young and Angela Hallstrom, agreed to tell us more about Segullah’s new book, The Mother in Me, and about Segullah in general.
Darlene, tell me about the new book from Segullah. What was the inspiration for The Mother in Me? How does this book differ from other anthologies aimed at mothers?
DY: Young motherhood is hard–physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually draining like no other work can be. Priesthood leaders see our struggle and, with all good intention, try to help us by telling us stories about their own angel mothers and wives. “See?” they seem to be saying, “What you do does not go unnoticed! We honor you for it.” But, sometimes, the real effect that their stories have on us is to make us even more unhappy, because there is nothing like motherhood for revealing one’s weaknesses to oneself. Continue reading “The Mother and Writing: an interview with Angela Hallstrom and Darlene Young”
This is the third post in a five or six part series that explores the ethics of Latter-day Saint literature and criticism. In part two, “In Exchange for the Soul”, I extend the paradoxes of existence more deeply into the realm of literature, exploring how our literary experience with them can become an “intelligent affirmation” of and engagement with the moral universe. I also continue my deconstruction of Johnston’s review and assert that he perpetuates a subtly dangerous stance by punctuating his reading of the state of Mormon letters with pecuniary examples drawn from the scriptures.
III. The (In)Convenience of Mormon Letters
The dangers of taking or enabling this commodified position are evident in the spiritually and ethically crucial dialog that occurred between Christ and Satan just after Christ walked from the wilderness, having fasted forty days and forty nights in an effort to commune more closely with his Father. In these inaugural moments of his mortal ministry, Satan tempted him to conveniently satisfy his gaping hunger by making bread of stones and, when that enticement failed, to prove his messiahship to a growing crowd of temple worshippers by leaping from the building’s pinnacle into the protection of the angels bound to do his bidding. Once these persuasions fell short, however, Satan became desperate: following Christ to the peak of “an exceedingly high mountain” from which was seen in vision the glory of “all the kingdoms of the world,” the tempter said, “All these things will I give unto thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me.”1 Jeffrey R. Holland (then president of BYU) says of this moment that
Satan [made] up for lack of subtlety here with the grandeur of his offer. Never mind that these kingdoms [were] not ultimately his to give. He simply ask[ed] of the great Jehovah, God of heaven and earth, “What is your price? Cheap bread you resist. Tawdry messianic drama you resist, but no man can resist this world’s wealth. Name your price.” Satan [thus] [“¦] proceed[ed] under his first article of faithlessness–the unequivocal belief that you can buy anything in this world for money.2
The true irony of this proposition could not have been lost on Lucifer, son of the morning, one of God’s brightest sons who fell eternally from grace because his vision and intellect were clouded by pride. Was this mere posturing, then, an adversarial drama enacted by Satan to illustrate and overturn the demands of redemption; to show Christ that this process of saving souls wasn’t going to be child’s play, that it would eventually require the last full drop of someone’s infinite and eternal blood in exchange for the unremitting and embittered deference of evil; and to offer Christ the convenient course to his Messianic throne as rightful King of the Jews?
Perhaps. Continue reading “The Tragic Tell of Mormon Morality, Part III”
This is the second post in a five or six part series that explores the ethics of Latter-day Saint literature and criticism. In part one, I introduce the dissonance between Mormon theology and Mormon culture, pointing specifically to how the artifacts of that culture–particularly our letters–often fail to engage the eternally rich and redemptive ethical dilemmas raised and embraced by LDS theology. As a case in point and as a springboard into discussing the greater questions arising from this dissonance, I deconstruct Jerry Johnston’s Mormon Times review of Eric Samuelsen’s play Inversion and suggest that the binary Johnston propagates favoring literary tidiness over ambiguity tragically reduces the Mormon quest to know God through the workings and weaknesses of human language1 into barely more than an immature attempt to avoid the discomforts of existence in a paradox-filled universe.
II. In Exchange for the Soul
One of the most tragic of these paradoxes, as Eugene England points out, is “the struggle to maintain individual integrity, to be true to ourselves”2 in the face of the demanding responsibilities and expectations laid on us through our chosen affiliation with and participation in Christ’s Church. Denying this paradox its place in our discipleship and our arts and letters, even if ignorant of our refusal, we ultimately subvert the work of God as he moves to convert us into his own exalted lifestyle, to mold us into his own glorified image. Continue reading “The Tragic Tell of Mormon Morality, Part II”
The Tragic Tell of Mormon Morality: Exposing the Achilles’ Heel of Jerry Johnston’s Commodified Theology, or An Ethics of Latter-day Saint Reading–Part I
(The title’s a mouthful, I know.)
This is the first post in a five or six part series (to run on Thursdays) that explores the ethics of Latter-day Saint literature and criticism. Working within a framework of the redemptive paradoxes inherent in Mormon theology and the moral universe it embraces, the series attempts to probe the place of this ambiguity in the central, recurring conflicts in Mormon letters (particularly in light of the debate between those who think Mormon literature should primarily serve orthodox, didactic purposes and those who think it should provide a more challenging aesthetic), to present an economic reading of why much popular Mormon literature remains in the former camp, and to show how one contemporary Mormon writer has attempted to transcend this paradox–and thus to serve a more deifying need–in their own writing.
I. (Mis)Reading the Mormon Tragic Quest
In his recent review of Eric Samuelsen’s new play Inversion, Jerry Johnston introduces what is and should be a demanding discussion on the ethics of Mormon literature, then bows out before giving the dialog due course or even before acknowledging that he only tells part of the story. Continue reading “The Tragic Tell of Mormon Morality: Part I”
In November 2005, I discovered, in a review of the Wikipedia article on Mormon Fiction, that the authors of the article thought Mormon Fiction essentially didn’t exist before 1979. Since I knew this wasn’t true, I corrected the article, and many others have added their own corrections and improvements. (I drew my information principally from Eugene England‘s Mormon Literature: Progress and Prospects, lest someone thinks I’m some kind of expert on the field.)
But last week I finished reading William’s graduate school paper (available in his July 31st post, Slowly Flowering: My grad school paper on Mormon literature), and I realized that I’m uncomfortable with the way that England has presented this history. I’m not sure it tells the whole story. And I’m not even completely sure that most literary histories tell the whole story.
Continue reading “On the History of LDS Literature”
Last week on the NPR radio program On The Media, in a segment titled “Vanishing Reviews,” I heard a great story from Steve Wasserman, a past editor of the Los Angeles Times Book Review. It seems that Wasserman had been told by Mexican writer Carlos Fuentes that his ignorance of an early Mexican writer and Saint, Sor Juana de la Cruz, would be, in the Spanish-speaking world, “as if you said the word Shakespeare and got a blank stare.”
So, when Penguin Classics came out with an English translation of the works of Sor Juana de la Cruz, Wasserman decided to feature the author on the front page of the Book Review. But his American-educated superiors at the Times objected saying “Sor Juana who?” Wasserman then carried the mockup of the issue into the executive lunchroom and sat it on the table while he ordered lunch. There, a Mexican-born waiter noticed it, and exclaimed: “Sor Juana!” Wasserman asked, “You know who this is?” “Yes,” the waiter replied, “every school child in Mexico knows Sor Juana de la Cruz.”
Wasserman won the day and the issue was published and gained a flood of reader response. It seems one third of the Times’ audience speaks Spanish as their native language. The responses acclaimed the Times for finally recognizing their culture.
Now, I have a couple of questions about this:
- First, could you substitute a Mormon writer who is as important to Mormons culturally as Sor Juana de la Cruz is to Mexicans? Is there a writer that fits this bill? Or is it just that you don’t know enough about Mormon literature to know if there is one? *(see my note on this at the end of this post)
- Second, If there were such a writer featured in a major book-related publication, would most Mormons even know who the writer is?
Continue reading “What Should Mormons Know About Mormon Culture?”
While home teaching the other day, I got into a discussion of how single LDS Church members passed on apartments from member to member, so that some apartments have been held by Church members for a decade or more. As an example of this, I was able to cite the case of Keene Curtis and Jon Beck Shank, both LDS Church members (at least nominally), who shared an apartment here in New York City in the 1960s. I then explained that Curtis went on to become a very successful actor, playing most famously the part of John Allen Hill, the upstairs restaurant owner in the sitcom “Cheers” and the part of “Daddy Warbucks” in the musical “Annie” on stage (not in the film version).
“Daddy Warbucks” was Mormon?!! was the incredulous reaction I got.
Continue reading “An Artist is Not Without Honor, Except in His Own Culture”