Today, an interview with New York Times film critic A.O. Scott appeared in Slate. The following is an excerpt from that interview (I’ve reversed the original bolding—bold is now Scott and plain is interviewer Isaac Chotiner):
Since you became a critic, are there any movies or any reviews you look back on and say, “Wow, I blew it”? more →
Title: The Agitated Heart
Author: Scott Bronson
Publisher: ArcPoint Media, Orem, UT
Year Published: 2015
Number of Pages: 201 (but only about 40,000 words)
Price: $12.99 from Amazon.com
Also available as an ebook
Reviewed by Jonathan Langford. (Electronic review copy received from the publisher.)
This is a story that I’ve been waiting a very long time to read. Fifteen years at least, since I first started hearing about it under its original title “The Whipping Boy.” It’s good, people told me. The best unpublished story in Mormon literature. It’s a mystery why no publisher has ever picked it up.
Thanks to Scott Parkin’s ArcPoint Media and to Scott Bronson’s own persistence, that long wait is now over. And I have to say: the story pretty much lives up to its hype — with some quibbles that I’ll get to later.
(And now I have to stop and say that there will indeed be spoilers. Because I can’t possibly review this story the way I want to do without referencing the ending. Not that the ending is a particular surprise; it’s foreshadowed for essentially the entire story, and if hearing about the ending puts you off, you probably aren’t someone who should read this book. Just saying.)
Two interesting (and short) Mormon comics out in the last little while (or midsized while, if you consider their original appearances online). Scott’s book just dropped. Noah’s arrived last July. Noah’s is about a Mormon kid whose connection to that aspect of his identity has largely lost its definition. Scott’s is the ultimate in insider humor.
MY HOT DATE by Noah Van Sciver
I was pretty much the perfect Mormon teen, I suppose. I didn’t swear, I showed up on time to Church, I went to seminary. Because I was a teenager, I imagined that was because I did these things myself. Of course, that’s nonsense. What if I had been thrust into young Noah’s circumstances? more →
My last post was about LDS literary fiction. I discussed the fact that it’s difficult to place, and difficult to find an audience for; partly because literary fiction tends to have a much more limited audience in general than commercial fiction and partly because those who would consume LDS literary fiction (other than those of us already knee deep in the world of LDS arts) don’t seem to have easy access to it, or knowledge of it.
Today I want to turn this topic on its head, review a commercial LDS novel, and talk about why LDS commercial fiction is an important element of our culture. more →
The way I see it, In the world of LDS arts, we are a small family, and we have to take on multiple roles. Artist, critic, reviewer, publicity-generator, awareness-raiser… sometimes it can feel a little self-indulgent, or even dangerous, taking on these multiple roles.
Those who review books (influencing sales and ratings) often are those who choose which books are finalists in the Whitneys or AMV awards, for instance. And we all know each other. We’re all friends. It can be tricky. For instance, I have not yet had the courage to review Love Letters of the Angel of Death, even though I loved the book and feel it is an important work on the frontier of LDS literary fiction, simply because it was a finalist with my own novel in contest for an LDS arts award.
But, you see, we all need to do it. Review, create art, be friends, advocate for each other, etc. This often means putting on hats very carefully.
So here’s me, very self-consciously putting on my critiquer’s hat. I’m not speaking from a place of wisdom and skill as a novelist. Patricia Karamsesines is a consummate writer, far more developed than I am. My own novels are fluff in comparison. It’s true–they’re fluff. Though I do aspire to sell the sort of writing Patricia has had published, I’m a bit more mercenary, willing to collect an audience through the means of writing more commercial kinds of fiction for a while. So my skills and development as a writer have been directed toward things like plotting, keeping a pulse on the market and trying to come up with a story that might sell while still (sometimes clumsily) spoon-feeding unusual ideas and philosophy and things important to me. My focus has been not so much what I have wanted to focus on: , making an important theme a central message and refining flow and word choice, and continually making my writing more spare and beautiful… all the things that just make you have to stop and breathe for a moment when you read a poem (or novel) of Karamesines’. more →
Not so many pages into my reading of Mette Ivie Harrison’s new sequel to The Bishop’s Wife, His Right Hand, I decided I was going to write two reviews of this novel: His Right Hand — The Positive Review and His Right Hand — The Negative Review. I wasn’t sure which I would publish first vs which I would let sit on top, but it seemed like a good method to praise what I like and discuss directly what I don’t.
But I can’t write those reviews. By the time I reached the end of the novel, I’d realized that the good and the bad of the Linda Wallheim mysteries are too interwoven to cleanly separate. My concern, however, is that by interweaving them I will be giving the negative more weight. We’ll see how it goes. Ready? more →
In my last installment, I mentioned my skepticism about a Mormon literary esthetic. I’ll start this round by explaining in more detail my reasons for that skepticism.
Differing values are relatively easy to come by. Differing stylistic preferences likewise. What group doesn’t vary within itself — often widely — in the personal styles of its members? Within my own immediate family, there are those who are melodramatic and those who are reserved; those who crave excitement and those who prefer contemplation; those with a taste for the subtle and those who like the blatant. (But no one who likes rap.)
A distinctive group esthetic is a rather taller order to fill. A distinctive esthetic, it seems to me, extends beyond differing preferences to become almost a different symbolic language, where words and phrases and characters and stories mean something different to those inside the group than they can ever possibly mean to those outside the group. Outsiders, by and large, don’t “get it.”
I feel pretty confident in asserting, without further evidence, that I find myself in a relatively small number of people who wake up on a Saturday morning thinking about questions of Mormon literary criticism. Possibly almost as small a number as those who might read the fruits of such questioning. (But only possibly.) Still, it is the nature of the essayist to find oneself compelled to write. And so…
Throughout most of Mormonism’s literary history (such as it is), there has I think been little evidence of Mormons taking pleasure in or valuing a different kind of literary experience than what is valued in larger (mostly American) culture. Home literature, missionary fiction, lost generation fiction, faithful Mormon realism — all find close corollaries and even direct models in the larger writing universe.