I will be walking down a sidewalk thinking of other things when I remember when Elna Baker said:
I try not to [read what Mormons are saying about me]. . . . Never before in history has there been a time where things increase, where we get more and more aware, where what you create is open to criticism that you have access to. . . . . for the most part I’ve noticed that the reactions are positive, but then as you scroll down and stumble upon reactions that are really strongly negative and . . . you can’t stop it.
And now I want you to compare this to what Mettie Ivie Anderson recently said:
. . . I have rough drafts of several other books in the series, and have planned in my head an arc for Linda’s development as a character up to a certain point. I wanted to get that set in place before the first book came out because I don’t want media attention, and in particular the comments of other Mormons around me, to influence the story I have in mind for her.
I find the similarities and differences here quite striking. Your thoughts?
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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
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?
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.
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
Sunday’s New York Post gossip column, Page Six, contained an item I can identify with, because several of my relatives don’t seem to like New York, where I live. Elna Baker’s mother worried when her daughter headed to NYU for college instead of BYU, warning her to beware of smoking, drinking, drugs, homosexuality and exotic dancing in sin-filled New York City. Elna says, “I left thinking, ‘Great, my mom thinks I’m moving to the big city to become a lesbian stripper.’ ”