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)

Let the 2nd Annual #MormonPoetrySlam Voting Begin!

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. Continue reading “Let the 2nd Annual #MormonPoetrySlam Voting Begin!”

Sunday Lit Crit Sermon: Nephi Anderson on the immoral in drama

Nephi-AndersonWhen we hear principles taught from the pulpit, they sometimes seem remote, disconnected from reality. So speakers often add stories, sometimes fictional, to their sermons, so that we can put the principle in context. The stories produced during the Home Literature movement are often in that vein, what are sometimes called “didactic” stories, with a clear moral teaching the principle that the author wants to communicate.

In this series I’ve presented excerpts from many sermons and essays that demonstrate what Mormons have thought and discussed about literature. Today’s text is a little different, because it is an excerpt from a short story. But, it still fits, because in this story Nephi Anderson, dean of the Home Literature movement, preaches about literature—specifically what kinds of drama should be presented.

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Report on the Nephi Anderson 2013 SASS Panel

Muscular Anderson
Anderson studies gaining strength and vigor.

In July 1915—nearly one hundred years ago—Nephi Anderson traveled to San Francisco to attend meetings at the International Congress of Genealogy held in connection with the Pan-American and Pacific International Exposition. While there, he also attended the exposition’s Utah Day celebration and spent three days seeing the sights.  Overall, he writes in his journal, he “had a splendid time.”

He was back in San Francisco five years later, vacationing and conducting some Church business. He stayed at mission headquarters on Hayes Street, where he had Thanksgiving dinner, and attended meetings in Berkeley and Oakland.

The house where Anderson stayed during this second visit (1649 Hayes Street) still stands, although it is now the Emmanuel Church of God in Christ rather than an LDS mission headquarters. I had the opportunity to drive past it last weekend when I was in San Francisco to talk about Anderson at the annual meeting for the Society for the Advancement of Scandinavian Studies. It’s in a busy neighborhood just north of Golden Gate Park, so I couldn’t find a place to park nearby. I was able to snap two pictures of it, though, before San Francisco’s traffic nudged me along.

Nephi Anderson slept here.

In many ways, Anderson’s history with San Francisco is unremarkable. He was never more than a temporary resident of the city—a vacationer, a passer-through—and what he saw and thought of the city is mostly a matter of conjecture. (As a journal and letter writer, Anderson was an ardent minimalist!) Still, when Sarah Reed, Eric Jepson, and I met last Saturday at the SASS meeting to present papers on his life and work, the fact that he had been to the city and left a brief record of his visit seemed to add to the occasion. As Theric pointed out in his presentation, Anderson’s visits to the city remind us that he was not a provincial writer, holed up behind the mountains of Utah and indifferent to the world beyond Mormonism, but a man who traveled throughout the United States and Europe and became well-acquainted with the important issues and ideas of his day. In fact, it was from this perspective—Anderson as a man of his times—that each of us seemed to approach his work.

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Dorian, Sectarians, and Nephi Anderson’s Careful Critique

There’s much to admire about Nephi Anderson and his work, but I have always been troubled by his (mis)treatment of other religious faiths—“sectarians” as he called them—in his novels. On the one hand, I understand that his unflattering representations of Protestants and Catholics in Marcus King, Mormon (1900), The Story of Chester Lawrence (1913), and The Romance of a Missionary (1919) were responses not only to the opposition he encountered during his three missions for the Church, but also to the anti-Mormonism that was rampant in the presses of his day. On the other hand, though, I find myself wishing that he extended more charity to those who disagreed with him theologically. So much of his work, after all, seeks to redeem and ennoble characters who have been either marginalized by cultural maladies—sexism, poverty, class prejudice—or oppressed by sin and guilt. Why couldn’t he do the same for the “sectarians”?

Continue readingDorian, Sectarians, and Nephi Anderson’s Careful Critique”

19th Century Mormon Utopian Literature

aBlakeJacob's Ladder 1799-07Since reading Added Upon and writing about it in my dissertation, I’ve wanted to compile a list of works of nineteenth-century Mormon utopian literature, or works that describe or yearn for an ideal society or which advocate for action that would lead to such. I realize, though, that compiling such a list is almost a fool’s errand since so much of early Mormon literature—and I consider hymns literature—has to do with building Zion and the Millennium, the ultimate utopian dreams.

Even so, a few months ago, I spent an afternoon and came up with this list. It is incomplete, of course, and will likely remain so until I get serious about it. What I’d like to do in the meantime, though, is open it up to you who know nineteenth-century Mormon literature better than I do (my interest in it is about two years old) and ask if I’m missing anything crucial. Specifically, I’m looking for works of fiction or “proto-fiction” (allegories, fables, parables, etc.) that could be reasonably labeled “utopian” or even “millennialist.” I’m interested in poetry too if its utopian expression is out of the ordinary.

My thought, however, is that what I have below is fairly representative of what’s out there. Am I right?

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Nephi Anderson, WWI, and the Curse of Sexual Sin

If you read Nephi Anderson’s fiction for its aesthetic value, as the Mormon critics of the 1960s and 70s did, you’ll likely be disappointed—unless your aesthetic standards allow for “preachiness,” that catch-all term commonly used when describing Mormon fiction’s apparent tendency to use art as a vehicle for gospel teaching.

If you read his fiction as products of turn-of-the-century Mormon and American culture, however, you’ll likely have a more satisfying experience. Anderson, after all, was very much a man of his day—and keenly aware of the world around him. Rather than being an aesthetic failure, his work is a rich repository of responses to the cultural changes happening in Utah and the rest of the nation.

In fact, looking at Anderson’s work from this perspective helps us better understand some of his more problematic works, like his 1918 short story “Forfeits,” a second place winner in one of the monthly fiction contests the Improvement Era sponsored for a time. (If you’re unfamiliar with the story, you can check it out here.)

In the story, a young man, Gale Thompson, returns to his Utah hometown nearly five years after “seek[ing] adventure and perchance fortune in the world” (519). By chance, Gale meets up with Dick Stevens, a friend who once accompanied him in his wanderings, who has since returned home and married Gale’s sister, Laura. During this reunion, it comes out that Dick and Laura’s child—an ambiguously sexed child that both men refer to only as “it”—was born blind because of a sexually transmitted disease Dick had contracted while he and Gale lived in Chicago and “dabble[d] in forbidden things” (521). The news sobers Gale, who fears that he may still carry the disease—even though a quack city doctor once pronounced him cured. His joyful return is over in an instant:

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Is Nephi Anderson “Scriptus”?

Scott Hales digs into the Church History Library archives for more information on Mormon novelist Nephi Anderson and his potential link to a Deseret News columnist named “Scriptus”.

Wm writes: Scott Hales — who most AMV readers will know from The Low-Tech World and Modern Mormon Men — spent some time earlier this year doing archival research on Mormon literature. Here’s a guest post by Scott that comes out of some of that research.

Is Nephi Anderson “Scriptus”?

by Scott Hales

In the Nephi Anderson Collection of the Church History Library is a folder that contains newspaper clippings that Nephi Anderson collected throughout his life. Most of these are of articles, letters to the editor, or poems he published in newspapers in Utah, a few eastern cities, and England. Many of them, like clippings about missionary work or anti-Mormon activity in England, are unremarkable because they represent the kind of thing you would expect Anderson to save. Others, like a few describing violent crimes (“Child Murder Near Southend, Head Broken with a Slater’s Hammer,” “Ex-Convict Found Drowned”), raise fascinating questions about why an author known for his sentimentality, “lovely spirit,” and the “gentleness and kindness in his being” would be drawn to such grisly stories. (I have my own theories about the dark imagination of Nephi Anderson, but I’ll save them for a later post.)

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