Tag Archives: memoir

Book Review: Global Mom

9.24.13 | | 5 comments

Melissa Dalton-Bradford and I are like two circles on a Venn diagram that don’t quite touch. She was a missionary companion of one of my best friends. She commuted into New York City to perform in a Broadway musical at the same time that my family and I lived on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. And the Dalton-Bradfords now live minutes away from my husband’s family in Switzerland. It seems like we should have met by now, but we haven’t.

I didn’t know any of the above when I volunteered to review her newly published memoir, Global Mom. All I knew was that she and her husband had raised their children all over the world, something I had hoped my husband and I would do when he graduated from law school. Alas, that was not our trajectory, so reading Global Mom was for me an exercise in vicarious living.

Dalton-Bradford retells her expat adventures with vivid detail and funny, self-deprecating anecdotes. She and her husband work hard to embrace the language and culture wherever they find themselves. Their children have an easier time of it, learning Norwegian at the local barnepark in Norway; French at school in Versailles and Paris; German in Munich; and Mandarin in Singapore. At the end of the book, the family finds itself living in Geneva; who knows where future job transfers might take them next?

Since she is writing to a general audience, Dalton-Bradford discusses the church only in passing. Wherever she lives, she mentions finding comfort and support in her ward, and she and her family serve in a variety of capacities. Later in the book, for reasons that will become apparent, she is more overt in mentioning prayer and the way her faith sustains her.

The Norway and France chapters take up two-thirds of the book and are light, warm, and exuberant in tone. But then, just as the family is about to move to Germany, tragedy strikes. The Bradford’s oldest son, Parker, heads to Idaho as a college freshman; days later, he dies in a water accident. The family’s struggle to come to terms with devastating loss colors its life in the years that follow; the reader sees Munich and Singapore only through the hazy lens of grief. In describing her ordeal, Dalton-Bradford writes with courage, painful honesty, and hope.

I have a small wish list of things I think could have improved the mostly excellent memoir. The very first chapters are a bit overwritten, their self-conscious prose distracting from the stories they are telling. Throughout the book, I felt somewhat removed from Dalton-Bradford’s husband and children, seeing them only from her perspective. She often employs dialogue, but it is almost always used to illustrate a difficulty with language or culture, and doesn’t otherwise offer the immediacy that I enjoy in a memoir. Finally, I wish I could give a stern lecture to the book’s publisher, Familius. Significant typos can be found throughout, and a line editor worth his or her salt should have caught them all.

But these complaints are minor. I find myself recommending Global Mom to just about anyone: other parents; anyone living “in the mission field”; people who dream of living abroad; and those who love to travel, if only via the pages of a book.

Guest Post: Anne Stewart’s Reflections on _The Book of Mormon Girl_

1.21.13 | | 2 comments

Book of Mormon Girl ImageNote: Both my wife Anne Stewart and I read Joanna Brooks’ The Book of Mormon Girl over the holidays and were deeply affected by it. I asked her to write a guest post on her response to it here, and I will write my own thoughts on the book at a later date. –Mahonri Stewart

Here’s Anne:

A number of years ago, while I was working at a book store in Springville, Utah, called the Red Leaf, I read Anita Diamant’s The Red Tent.  I can’t remember the moment I picked it up or why I decided to read it (other than the obvious: women and the Old Testament).  In the fictionalized world Diamant creates, Dinah (daughter of Israel) is surrounded, not by twelve brothers, but by women.  While I was ever aware that these were fabricated tales, I was struck by the way she fully structured the story around the Biblical women. While I’d read many fictionalized accounts from the point of view of Biblical women, this was the first that felt so singularly focused on the woman’s journey.  Here were women, strong women.  These were not women whose rituals and practices were a shadow to the men in their lives; these were women with rich, powerful stories who led lives of their own.  The Red Tent filled in the absence that is present in so many religious narratives: the women’s story.

Like other religious narratives, the Mormon story is starved for female narrative.  In the Book of Mormon there are six named women, the Doctrine and Covenants only two, and even our female deity remains mostly veiled to us.  In The Book of Mormon Girl: A Memoir of an American Faith, Joanna Brook’s narrative connects to generations of Mormon women and makes a place for women who are less orthodox. more

Q&A with Dan Harrington, author of Who’s at the Door?

2.17.11 | | 8 comments

Dan Harrington met the LDS missionaries, didn’t convert, but wrote a book about the experience — Who’s at the Door? A Memoir of Me and the Missionaries ( Amazon ) — which has been published by Cedar Fort. He was gracious enough to do an e-mail interview with me. You can also find out more about him and his book at his author website.

Can you tell us a little bit about your background prior to meeting the LDS missionaries?

When I met the missionaries, I was going through a tough time in life.

I had graduated college in 2002 with the intent of becoming a published writer, but by 2006 that dream was on life-support. I was shackled to a desk job that I hated but needed to survive.

To pump life back into my dream of getting published, I sent columns to various local media in the hopes of getting a freelance gig. At the start of 2007, a local paper bought my first column, and I was elated. I also realized that I had to keep the articles coming—no writer wants to be published just once.

I started wracking my brain for article ideas, and that’s when the missionaries came to my door. Almost immediately I realized I could write a story about them.

And how did that meeting lead to the book?

Initially, our meeting resulted in a newspaper article. The missionaries and the local ward were thrilled. By that time, I had grown fond of the elders and enjoyed our conversations about faith. They were so sincere, and I wanted to help them with meals, rides, or simply a warm place to get out of the harsh New England winter. more

Elna Baker: A Serious Interview

11.11.09 | | 7 comments

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So your whole book is based on the structure of kissing, how did you decide to do that?

It’s funny because the sort of themes or structures that are pointed out to me usually they’re a surprise, like oh I did do that! So I think that I noticed that there were so many stories about kissing and so I just started calling them Take One, Take Two, Take Three and then there were the stories that ended up being about kissing too so we just called them Take Eight, Take Nine and then I found an in an old journal this map of Manhattan that mapped out the different places and I thought it was so funny that I made a copy of it and redrew it for the book. Its something I did when I was 22 but it sort of reflects the 15-year-old behavior and so then I didn’t fill it out when I got older but in the book I just extended the map and filled in all the other people I kissed.

So that raises a couple interesting questions. Before you took the book to the editor—as opposed to how it looks after the editing process—do you think the book is structurally the same now? Did little things like that make a big difference or was it just clarifying what was already there? more

Damage Control (and 15 other responses to Elna Baker)

10.14.09 | | 38 comments

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Since reading the first chapter of Elna Baker’s The New York Regional Mormon Singles Halloween Dance, the book has taken me on a ride. Sometimes I was filled with joy and sometimes with horror. Sometimes I felt she was very much my kind of Mormon and sometimes I wanted to slap her. In other words, it’s a good memoir.

1. Damage Control

About halfway through the book, a newly confident Elna (more on that momentarily) decides she will win the most desirable young Mormon man in New York. Her primary competition is an Amber who “is like a Heather only she’s attacking your spiritual worthiness and your dress size at the same time” (128):

And do you know what the craziest part about all this is? Amber’s popular. I’m dumbfounded by it. Not because I’m jealous or want to be popular myself, but because she’s insane. She raised her hand in church one Sunday and said that Katrina happened in New Orleans because sometimes God needs to “cleanse the world of sin.” It’s people like her that make damage control in the non-Mormon world a never-ending task. (129)

I’m with Elna here: It makes it harder for me to feel like a reasonable and respectable person when I’m put in the same category with Ambers. Seriously So Blessed owes its massive success to the existence of Ambers, and that faux Amber’s over-the-top self-righteous snidery rings plenty true — the site has both the insider lovemail and outsider hatemail to prove it.

So yay. Elna is a defender of the faith. Or is she, he said as he turned to the camera, one eyebrow raised.

Do we defend the faith alongside Elna? Or do we defend it against her?

= more

“Crap, I’m apologizing for my Mormonism again. Sorry.”

9.28.09 | | 34 comments

elnabaker.

This is not my review of Elna Baker’s new book. This is an accident. I read her first chapter then nine minutes later gave birth to a healthy essay. This sort of thing can happen, even with virginal New York Mormons like Elna. I promise I will do whatever it takes — count to 100 by sevens, whatever — to keep from conceiving an essay per chapter. If all goes well, you will not hear from us again until her book’s estimated due date, October 15.

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The first “chapter” (it’s not called a chapter, yet that’s what I’m calling it) of The New York Regional Mormon Singles Halloween Dance is stage-setting, it’s an introduction — she hasn’t brought out the funny yet (though it’s funny), she hasn’t brought out the memoir yet (though it’s memoiric) — she’s setting the stage, she’s introducing us to her life’s dramatic conventions. She’s world-building.

Yet in these first 22 pages of her new memoir, Elna Baker carves out a rhetorical space for herself by discussing how she has carved space for herself in the real world. She is “A Mormon in New York.” more

Missing the Meat: a review of A Future for Tomorrow by Haley Hatch Freeman

9.16.09 | | 20 comments

Several things happened during Haley Hatch Freeman’s time in the spirit world: she was given the choice to return to earth life, she was shown one of her future children, she was reunited with her dead sister and dead grandmother, she was commanded to learn sign language, and she was commanded to write a book about her experiences as an anorexic teenager. Her memoir, A Future for Tomorrow, is the result of that commandment and is a unique and honest account of Freeman’s experiences with a harrowing mental illness.

Freeman’s story seems like the story of so many other teenage girls. With adolescence budding on her body and boys buzzing around her mind, Freeman–a young LDS teen from Scipio, Utah–finds an avenue of control that will ease her anxiety about all the changes she’s going through and that also brings her a more secure place in the social pecking order: dieting. What begins as some innocent missed meals and some innocent weight loss (she complains her new braces are too tight and she can’t eat) morphs into a much more dangerous illness when Freeman internalizes a few compliments too deeply and begins dieting and exercising to the extreme. Over the course of a year Freeman loses more than half her body weight, is taken out of school, suffers a psychotic break with reality, almost dies, is finally hospitalized and begins the long road to recovery. more

After the House Fell Silent

8.10.09 | | 13 comments

Of Speaking the Truth, Scapegoats, and Absorbing the Rhetoric of Blame
(A Review Essay of Shattered Silence: The Untold Story of a Serial Killer’s Daughter)

Author(s): Melissa G. Moore with M. Bridget Cook
Publisher: Self-published through Cedar Fort, Inc. (Springville, UT)
Release date: 8 September 2009

I. Speaking the Truth

I must begin this review essay, which I had great difficulty writing (for reasons that I hope become clear in my rhetorical wanderings), with a series of caveats, beginning here: I make no claims to represent the literary conscience of America or, for that matter, of Mormo-America—neither do I feel the need to make such claims, simply because I don’t believe I represent the mainstream American/Mormo-American literary consciousness or even, perhaps, that there is such a mainstream way of reading and thinking about the world. As a poet first, I’m attracted to language that, among other things, is lyrical, visceral, and deeply honest to human experience; that draws me toward deeper connection with my inner self/ves, with others, and with God. In short, I like words and combinations of words that cut to the quick, that don’t simply affirm my version of reality (though sometimes that’s nice, too), but that disrupt it, that persuade me to reevaluate what I know—or think I know—about myself and the moral universe I inhabit. more