You’re looking for a book

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Two Sundays ago, a member of my ward engaged me on the old question of the Great Mormon Novel. We were interrupted before we could finish our conversation so I wrote him an email. (You’ll note references to that conversation in the first couple books mentioned.) But hey—why not send it to you all as well?

The main difference between the email and this post is that I’ve added Amazon links since I’ve already promised to lend my copies to someone else.

Looking for those links, Amazon suggested some other books I might have liked to add to this list. Yup, Amazon. You’re right. I missed a few.  You should all feel free to fill in the gaps down below.

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Hello, J*****. Here are some books I can lend you.

My criteria were: Written by a Mormon. About Mormons. Very good. That was it.

First, Magdalene by Moriah Jovan. This is the sex book that takes its shape from the Atonement story. It’s part of a series of novels about a Mormon family that date back to the 1700s up to the present day. You don’t have to read one to understand another, but they do share nice resonances when read together. This is my favorite. And, if memory serves, it’s the only novel here with the bishopric meetings and disciplinary counsels you were asking for. (when I’ve written more about a book, I’ll link to that writing in case you decide you care to read more, like so: more)

The Giant Joshua by Maurine Whipple. This is the 1942 novel we talked about that had Mormon up in arms. The novel has the sort of nuance we talked about, but it was about polygamy at a time we really really did not want to talk about polygamy. Any talk about polygamy was too much talk about polygamy and needed to be shut down. Any book that can be this hated deserves a second look. (more)

Dorian by Nephi Anderson. This one’s even older than Whipple’s. Anderson was working hard to make Mormon art good art, but then he died. It’s almost that simple. Anyway, Dorian is his final novel and although I no longer consider it his best, it’s good. The first time I read it I had an experience similar to the first time I read Jane Austen. Bonus: I can give you a copy of this one, since I have like thirty copies (not an exaggeration.). In short, it’s about a Mormon kid from a small town who’s intellectually ambitious. The only educated man in town is theologically minded and has a plan to combine science and religion into one great whole. Meanwhile, there are two girls and a boy’s got to choose. (more)

The Backslider by Levi Peterson. This is the first novel I thought of when I was trying to come up with Great Mormon Novels that Jordan Might Like. In part, because Peterson is clearly following in the path of people from the Faulkner/Hemingway era and I seem to remember you being a fan of that era of American lit. This is the story of a cowboy with good moral intentions and plenty of moral failures. His groin does a bit too much of the decision-making here, but even more controversial is the theophany at the end of the novel. Which for my money is one of the most beautiful passages in Mormon lit. (more)

Love Letters of the Angels of Death by Jennifer Quist. I love this book so much. One of the best books of any stripe I’ve read the last five years. I do think the final pages are a misstep, but they’re the only part of the novel Lynsey liked, so take that as you will. (I handed it to her saying she had to read it that this was a novel about us and—it didn’t take.) Anyway, if you read the title carefully, you’ll catch on to the novels central conceit way quicker than I did. This is the only novel listed here that’s about Mormons but in a way that only Mormons will be able to tell it’s about Mormons. But it’s unquestionably a portrait of a Mormon marriage and one that I find heartachingly beautiful. (moremoremore)

The Death of a Disco Dancer by David Clark. This poor book has the worst cover of the bunch, but it’s a terrific read. Its protagonist is a deacon in Arizona coming of age just as his senile grandmother moves in with the family to die. It’s funny and it’s potent. (more)

City of Brick and Shadow by Tim Wirkus. This is the only missionary story I’m including. mostly because I’ve kind of avoided it as a genre and kind of because the few others I’ve read aren’t that great. But I haven’t read the ones that are supposed to be best so … who knows. Anyway, this one is a missionary / mystery / noir / gangster / magical realism novel. Plus it takes some digs at multi-level marketing, but you’ll be spending most of your time in Brazilian slums, so bring soap. (more)

Bound on Earth by Angela Hallstrom. This I put last because it might not be a novel. It’s a short-story collection about a single family and they tie in well enough for me to consider it a novel, but I leave that as an exercise for the reader. Incidentally, the author also put together the most important / most broad recent collection of Mormon short fiction. (moremore)

Mothers, Daughters, Sisters, Wives by Karen Rosenbaum. This is another collection that might be a novel but it’s a little further away from noveldom than the last one. But of course you should read it because you know Karen and because she is an amazing writer. I can give you a copy of this one too because I bought a copy and then she gave me one. I haven’t finished it yet, so it’s not officially on this list, but hey. Karen.

Byuck by Theric Jepson. I can give you a copy of this too. I have loads. (more, but not by me)

An open letter to the Whitney Awards Committee

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I’m a big fan of the Whitney Awards. I think they’ve filled a need with great success and have been managed professionally and sensibly. I’m always certain to nominate books I read that qualify and are deserving, and every year intend to actually act on my Academy membership and vote a category, but never quite succeed.

I do have two suggestions that I believe would further improve the Whitneys which I would like to humbly present publicly, in order to invite an open discussion of my suggestions’ merits.

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Suggestion the first: Expand the borders of date eligibility Continue reading “An open letter to the Whitney Awards Committee”

On being unsure what to say

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Note for those wondering when my next Bright Angels & Familiars post will be: not until the Mormon Lit Blitz has ended. Let’s all head over now and get caught up!

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For Christmas, I gave my mother a copy of Bound on Earth and my father a copy of On the Road to Heaven (the links are to my personal reviews of those books as written when I first read them). I had intended to write inside them why I was giving them these books (I matched them carefully, book to parent), but I never got around to it, so they were simply wrapped and handed over at my brother’s house and we never even spoke about them.

Then, at the bottom of a Valentine’s Day package of keychain dogs that say I ruff you woof woof! when you squeeze them, was the still pristine copy of On the Road to Heaven with a Post-it in my mother’s handwriting telling me this book was not for them and I could have it back thanks all the same. Continue reading “On being unsure what to say”

The Death of a Disco Dancer (there’s a double meaning in that)

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Zarahemla Books is, in my opinion, the most valuable brand in Mormon letters today. I can’t think of another publisher (of any type) whose books I’m as likely to pick up just because of who them. And while I may never finish Hooligan (even though I have recently repented of my Douglas Thayer skepticism), Zarahemla keeps proving my faith in them well placed.

They’re the Pixar of MoLit!

David Clark’s The Death of a Disco Dancer is a brilliant book. I was lucky that I started reading it the same day my classes had to take a mandated test, freeing me from teaching responsibilities. Before I was a quarter of the way through, I had disturbed my students with merry snorts—and had had to hide my teary eyes—as I tore through the pages in utter glee, trying to read as much as I could before I had to collect their work. In the end, I finished the book in two calendar days. Which is just not something I do anymore. (Of the novels I read last year, the only ones that can compete in terms of my reading speed are Dan Wells’s and Robison Wells’s*—it’s been a good year for Mormon fun, it would seem.) But Disco Dancer was unlike those propulsive books in that, well, for one thing, it’s not a thriller. It’s just a regular old story about a family.

Continue reading “The Death of a Disco Dancer (there’s a double meaning in that)”