Every now and then I have literary thoughts, which I feel I should credit myself for here even if they’re published elsewhere. So yesterday I posted an essay titled “The Appeal of Science Fiction for (Some) Mormons” over at A Motley Vision blog. If the topic interests you, I invite you to read and respond either there or here.
Archive for the ‘Mormon Literature’ Category
(cross-posted at A Motley Vision website)
Title: Wandering Realities: The Mormonish Short Fiction of Steven L. Peck
Author: Steven L. Peck
Publisher: Zarahemla Books
Genre: Short Story Collection
Year Published: 2015
Number of Pages: 219
Binding: Trade Paperback
Also available as an ebook
Reviewed by Jonathan Langford.
Steve Peck is an alien. A kind of geeky-looking one (wholly appropriate for a professor of evolutionary biology), friendly, congenial, but an alien nonetheless. That’s the only explanation I can come up with for how, in this set of 16 stories, he so consistently manages to provide such startlingly different, yet at the same time deeply insightful, perspectives on the culture and religion he has adopted for his own.
Which is about the only thing these stories — which range from short to long, humor to pathos, realism to postmodernly zany, contemporary to historical to science fiction — have in common. Eight of them have been previously published, in venues ranging from Irreantum to Covenant to the Everyday Mormon Writer contest. Yet the effect is not incoherent. Rather, it provides a sense of the range of Peck’s work, which includes something that will, I guarantee, appeal to pretty much everyone with the slightest interest in reading fiction about the Mormon experience: highbrow or lowbrow, literary or popular, funny or serious, light or thought-provoking. It’s pretty much all here. And while not every story is equally polished, each provides something interesting and (here’s that word again) different.
Cross-posted at A Motley Vision website.
Wikipedia is a big time waster. (Not, I suspect, news to anyone here.) One thing leads to another, each article hyperlinking to another half-dozen, until before you know it, you’ve squandered another precious hour (to borrow a phrase from Tom and Ray Magliozzi) tracking down details of Urdu phonology, or something similarly abstruse. (Actually, I have no idea whether Wikipedia includes anything on Urdo phonology… wait… there is is.)
So, yeah, pretty much everyone who spends time surfing the Web knows how addictive Wikipedia can be, or YouTube. But I think I’ve now stumbled onto the mother lode, the heroin-mainlining of Internet addictions, at least for us devotees of the various literary/narrative media. I speak, of course, of TV Tropes, described on Wikipedia as
a wiki that collects and expands on various conventions and devices (tropes) found within creative works. Since its establishment in 2004, the site has gone from covering only television and film tropes to also covering those in a number of other media such as literature, comics, video games, and even things such as advertisements and toys.
Givens, Terryl and Fiona. The God Who Weeps: How Mormonism Makes Sense of Life. Salt Lake City: Ensign Peak (an imprint of Deseret Book), 2012. 160 pages. $19.99 in hardback, $11.49 Kindle. Reviewed by Jonathan Langford. Cross-posted at A Motley Vision website.
There’s been a lot of fuss about this little book, co-written by Terryl Givens, a professor of English at the University of Richmond, who is one of Mormonism’s most prominent current scholars and apologists, and his wife Fiona, whom I believe he has referred to as an unacknowledged collaborator on his earlier work, which has included such items as the seminal study The Viper on the Hearth: Mormons, Myths, and the Construction of Heresy, published by Oxford University Press in 1997 (now available in an updated 2013 version); By the Hand of Mormon: The American Scripture that Launched a New World Religion, also published by Oxford University Press in 2003; and People of Paradox: A History of Mormon Culture, again from Oxford University Press in 2007.
I haven’t read those other books (though some are high on my list to read at some point), so I can’t compare the style of this book to Terryl’s earlier books. My assumption would be that this book is written in a less academic style, intended to appeal to a broader audience composed both of believing Mormons and non-Mormons with a potential interest in knowing what the basis is of Mormonism’s appeal to some of its thoughtful adherents.
Certainly the book succeeds in that. This is a book I think can be read and appreciated by Mormons and non-Mormons alike. In short: the book lives up to its hype. Paraphrasing the Pythons (but with less ambiguous intent), I can wholeheartedly recommend this book for those who quite like this sort of thing — which I think will include the bulk of literate believing Mormons, and many non-Mormons with a thoughtful and tolerant frame of mind. It’s already on my Christmas gift list for several family members. In fact, I just recently bought a copy for my mother, because I didn’t want to wait until Christmas to talk about it with her.
I’m a Mormon. And I like fiction, and literature in general. And I like talking with people who share my interests. It should hardly be surprising, then, that I like talking about Mormon literature — and Mormon perspectives on literature — with people who share my interests.
Back about 15 years ago, if my memory serves me, I got involved with the AML-List, an email discussion group sponsored by the Association for Mormon Letters. It’s probably not a coincidence that this was about the time I gave up on my PhD program in English: I’d seen the writing on the wall with respect to my becoming a literature professor, but still felt the need to engage in talking about storytelling from perspectives that felt important to me. Not to mention the fact that it was a darn good conversation back then, featuring a lot of bright and interesting people.
Since then, I’ve been involved in Mormon lit in a variety of ways. I put in a couple years’ stint as the moderator for AML-List. I’ve published some reviews. I’ve even written a Mormon-themed novel, based on an idea that was sparked by my involvement with AML-List. And now I’m at it again, volunteering to act as coordinator of the AML blog (which has now largely taken the place of AML-List). For this post, I want to talk about things I’ve read recently that help illustrate why it is that I think Mormon lit is such an interesting sandbox to play in.
Cross-posted at A Motley Vision website.
I was over at Amazon.com the other day, trying to figure out someplace to post about my book in the Mormon community. I mean, I was able to find a couple of places to post in the Gay etc. community. Surely there ought to be a place to post in the Mormon community
Below is the text I had prepared for a panel at last summer’s Sunstone symposium on (you guessed it) Mormonism’s impact on me as a writer (slightly edited). Headings toward the bottom in bold below are taken in part from the panel description in the program. I no longer remember how much resemblance what I said bore to what’s written below, but I rather liked what I came up with to say, so…
It’s always interesting seeing what non-Mormon readers of No Going Back have to say about the book. For one thing, it includes an awful lot of Mormon detail. Since I never imagined that it might have a large non-Mormon audience, I didn’t go to any trouble to explain that detail. No real accommodations for any readers who don’t happen to be Mormon.
At a more basic level, I’ve wondered if non-Mormons would even be able to identify with the characters and their motivations. Sure, there’s a lot of universality to the basic conflicts in the book. Every teenager struggles with issues of identity and peer pressure. Every married couple struggles with issues of communication and priorities. But that doesn’t necessarily make the particulars of one person’s conflict easy to identify with on the part of readers whose lives are very different.
Cross-posted from the AML blog.
There’s a certain sense of validation, in our commercial culture, that comes with being paid for one’s work. This is at least as true in literature as elsewhere. Anyone (or so the thinking goes) can write a novel. The real test is whether you can get someone (not yourself) to pay money to publish it.
Several years ago, prompted by a non-Mormon friend, I read Angels in America, a set of two plays set in New York City in the mid-1980s, written and performed in the early 1990s, that won multiple awards (including a Pulitzer). The play is largely about homosexuality, AIDS, and political conservatism. Several of the characters are Mormons, though Tony Kushner (the playwright) is not.
My reaction (which I initially posted on AML-List, and which was later published in more polished and expanded form in Irreantum, the journal of the Association for Mormon Letters) was that despite the Mormon characters and some Mormon iconic symbology, I didn’t really feel that the play was about Mormons or Mormonism in any meaningful way. At the time I wrote my reaction (2003), that was a perspective I didn’t see reflected or even much addressed in discussions of the work — bafflingly so, considering that 3 out of 9 main characters are supposedly Mormon.
So I wrote my response, which I’ve decided to repost below, in the hopes that perhaps this will prompt a little more discussion or at least awareness on this issue.