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)”

A Review of Reviewing

Betty Friedan, American feminist and writer.
Betty Friedan. Image via

In my MBA program at NYU, I got to take two unusual and enlightening classes that changed my outlook substantially. The first was on the issues faced by women and minorities in the business world, taught by famed author and activist Betty Friedan.

The second was a class studying management through reading literature, which taught me an important principle about judging success: you have to know the goals to judge success. Among other things, we read Shakespeare’s Julius Ceasar, looking in it for clues about each character’s intentions and judging from the text how successful they were. [Brutus doesn’t fare too well, from this perspective. While he manages to get rid of Ceasar, the result doesn’t give him the Rome he is after. Instead Ceasar becomes a martyr and Brutus becomes a pariah. The new Roman government fights Brutus’ forces and kills him.]

Continue reading “A Review of Reviewing”

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)”