Category Archives: Literature

Millstone City of Brick and Shadow

1.20.15 | | 2 comments

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The remarkable thing comparing my reviews of Millstone City (by S.P. Bailey, 2012) and City of Brick and Shadow (by Tim Wirkus, 2014) is how differently directed my attention was and yet how many similarities the reviews (and their books) still share.

citiesinbrazilLet’s start with the obvious. Both novels have “city” in the title. Both novels take place in Brazil’s slums. Both novels feature horrific criminal activity. Both novels incorporate missionaries breaking rules, though managing to keep their deviance remarkably nontransgressive. Both sets of missionaries maintain an interest in fulfilling their call to preach even in the least agreeable of situations. Both adventures begin thanks to a link to the criminal world via a local convert. Both novels address the reality of evil and fail to provide a purely pat ending.

Thematically however, the novels are quite different. more

On Reading within the Context of Gospel Values:
An Open Letter to Young Mormons (Part 2)

1.15.15 | | 7 comments

ICYMI: In part one of this letter, I address BYU-Idaho’s mission as a Church-sponsored university and place learning and reading within a gospel context; in the second half I walk through a reading of an essay titled “Medical Student” using the principles I outline in my opening discussion. (To encourage engagement with “Medical Student,” here’s a link to a PDF copy. The link will die at the end of this week. If you find this post after 1.17.2015 and would like to read the essay, email me at tyler [at] motleyvision [dot] org.)


I’ve shared this statement especially because it addresses the concern some students have that despite the fact that active Latter-day Saints try not to profane the Lord’s name or to otherwise use foul language, they felt they had compromised their moral standing by reading essays that contain profanity. I hope Pres. Young’s words clarify the idea that the inclusion of such stories in BYU-Idaho’s curriculum isn’t intended to condone the behavior in those stories or to force students into compromising their standards for the sake of a grade. To paraphrase him: “Shall BYU-Idaho practice evil? No; neither has BYU-Idaho told you to practice it, but to learn by the light of truth every principle there is in existence in the world.” more

On Reading within the Context of Gospel Values:
An Open Letter to Young Mormons (Part 1)

1.13.15 | | 7 comments

I’ve taught first-year writing at BYU-Idaho since 2010. The curriculum for the course I teach includes a student essay titled “Medical Student” by Margaret Parker. The essay is a well-written, day-in-the-life narrative profiling one aspect of the intense life lived by a med student named JD; this intensity is conveyed through the narrative’s fast-pacing and through some mild profanity. Because this life experience is likely completely foreign to BYU-Idaho’s student base, “Medical Student” appears on the reading list as part of a course unit called “Thinking about the Other.” The unit claims the following objectives:

This unit invites you to reflect on the question—who are they?—insofar as it can be answered by examining the beliefs, values, and experiences of other individuals whose perceptions of “reality” differ from your own. The assumption underlying this unit is that before you can engage in constructive communication about academic, social, and political issues, you must be able to understand and accurately report the experiences and positions of others.

At the end of this unit, you should be able to conduct effective primary research, such as observing and interviewing, to understand and accurately communicate the experiences and positions of someone whose perceptions differ from your own.

Within this context, “Medical Student” is meant to stretch students’ thinking about the people with whom we share this world, especially those who don’t share Latter-day Saint values. Some students (not a lot) struggle to get past the essay’s profanity and have approached me with their concerns. Which is fair enough: if they don’t want to read the essay, that’s their prerogative. One semester, though, a student had major concerns about it, which prompted her/him to worry about the school’s spiritual standing. The response escalated beyond anything I had previously experienced (I won’t go into details) and it prompted me to pray and think deeply about such concerns and how I might best address them with future students to encourage them to look at their education within the context of gospel values. The following letter grew out of that experience. I’m sharing it here because it explores a way of looking through the lens of Mormonism when we read texts that come from outside the Mormon literary tradition. more

City of Brick and Shadow by Tim Wirkus

1.12.15 | | 3 comments

sorry for the amazon link but this is the largest image available online and I feel obliged to link to its origin.

I’m a bit worn down by my Bishop’s Wife marathon so I won’t be giving this novel that level of attention though, frankly, I liked this one more. Both in terms of technique and story, this novel is what I’m usually looking for when I pick up a mystery. Don’t get me wrong—I did like The Bishop’s Wife—I liked how it was a cozy with sex and violence, I liked the characters and the setting, I liked the twists and the rolls, I liked the handful of plot-points left open.

But my all-time favorite mystery stories commit the crime against convention that City of Brick and Shadow commits. I’m going to present several observations now which move, approximately, from least spoilery to most spoilery. Feel free to slide down to the comments if you start getting uncomfortable, or to the next section if you get bored with my bloviating on any one point.

Otherwise, welcome to an unnamed Latin American country more commonly known as Brazil!

On point-of-view and naming

As Andrew said, “it is amazing how much the author just throws the reader into the world of the missionaries, without much explaining.” But it’s not just things like mentioning companionship study or curfews. Take the simple matter of naming. more

The Bishop’s Wife Reader’s Guide

1.9.15 | | 2 comments

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Along with the comp ARC Soho sent me was included a slim, half-signature readers guide. Some of this info was promotional, some may be included in the published version. I don’t know. Anyway, it was interesting, but I won’t be talking about everything that was included—I’ve already talked some about marketing angles and you can get sample text and about-the-author stuff anywhere (though its interview with Mette is worth your time).

The only thing I want to discuss is READING GROUP GUIDE QUESTIONS because they, more than anything else, seem to reveal the nonLDS perspective on the LDS aspects of The Bishop’s Wife. For instance the first question seems a bit mystified by the concept (and appeal) of eternal marriage which we tend to think of as one of our top selling points.

Other questions I would simply love to hear the answers to as book groups across the country give this novel a shot. For instance:

“What do you think about the social and religious standards Linda holds herself to? Or the standards her community holds? Do any of them seem absurdly high to you? Do any of them seem to be not high enough?”

Or:

“Do [gender roles] seem more diverse, or less, or about the same as in mainstream American culture?”

Or:

“Is it possible to balance a protective nature with a welcoming, generous one?”

Or:

In terms of Linda’s “25 years being a full-time mom” and her sense that going “‘back to school or [finding] a job . . . would be saying that being a mother wasn’t enough’,” “Do we give the job of motherhood the dignity it deserves?”

I know how factions of Mormons might answer these questions, or how “average” Americans would answer some of them, but how would those same Americans answer these questions filtered through their time with LInda Wallheim? That’s what I really want to know.

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more posts on The Bishop’s Wife

Has Mette Won the Race?

1.2.15 | | 5 comments

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I think this accurately captures what we all want:

A novel about active Mormons written by an active Mormon is placed before a national audience where it makes a notably broad impact on discourse.

That first half has precedent: Heaven Knows Why!, SaintsThe Actor and the Housewife, a number of other big-house and indie titles—the second half, I can’t really think of anything that qualifies. But my memory is short and I’ve missed obvious exceptions to sweeping judgments before, so please note my errors below. (At any rate, certainly no such novel has sold in Da Vinci Code numbers.)

But even were there a dozen such novels, we would still feel like the race is yet being run. The latest person to near the finish line is Mette Ivie Anderson with her novel The Bishop’s Wife.

In the posts I’ve posted am posting will post on this novel, I harbor an undercurrent of hope that she will win. Even though I have my complaints and uncertainties regarding minor aspects of the book, I think this is a terrific novel in terms of representing What Am Mormon. Besides, unlike much of the competition, Harrison’s novel is backed up by a serious marketing campaign.

If The Bishop’s Wife is a hit, what sort of conversations might you have with the folks at the rec center? more

Let the 2nd Annual #MormonPoetrySlam Voting Begin!

12.29.14 | | no comments

Now that the busyness of Christmas has passed and the final performance in the 2nd Annual #MormonPoetrySlam has posted (see the event archive here), it’s time to determine the winner of the Audience Choice Award. For your consideration and reviewing pleasure, here are the eighteen entries, listed in order of appearance (you may need to hit “Read next page” at the bottom of the Storify to review all of eighteen).

To get straight to voting, click here. more

The Bishop’s Wife: the actual review

11.21.14 | | one comment

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Before we get started, we have a bit of business this morning.

The back of my review copy reads “DO NOT QUOTE FROM THIS GALLEY” (allcaps in original) which I will be disregarding. How do you expect me to do a decent review if I can’t quote? That said, I will correct obvious errors (which I will mark [molaq]) and mark seeming errors I don’t know how to correct with [sic] (but without its usual snide connotation). I will note the location of these quotations with chapter numbers since my page numbers are unlikely to match anything you pick up.

These rules will apply to all posts in this series going forward.

Now, on with the show. more