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Wednesday, November 30, 2011

It's Almost the End of the World as We Know It. Start Reading.

by Scott Hales (bio)

2012 is just around the corner, and if conspiracy theorists and Roland Emmerich have their way, this upcoming New Year's Eve will be our last.

This saddens me a little since New Year’s Eve parties at my parents’ house have always been the highlight of my holiday season. I mean, I’ve never read The Hunger Games, but something tells me that New Year's parties in general just won't be the same against the smoldering backdrop of a newly eradicated, post-apocalyptic world. Especially since I can’t imagine Ryan Seacrest finding a tanning bed so soon after civilization crumples.

With the world ending in a little over a year, the uncreative among us are already planning to spend the next year wearing their lives out doing clichéd Tim McGraw-inspired things: sky-diving, Rocky Mountain climbing, etc. Others will be following Glenn Beck’s advice and hoarding gold and investing in food storage insurance and subterranean Cold War-esque bunkers.

To each his own.

My plans for 2012 are less dramatic. This year has been a great one for Mormon literature, and so much has been published recently that I’ve fallen behind in my reading. So, while others are preparing for the Abomination of Desolations, or partying like its really 1999, I’m going to hit the books and get caught up.

Already I’ve got a head start. Just last month I finished Jana Riess’s memoir Flunking Sainthood, which has been enthusiastically praised and re-praised by Mormon and non-Mormon readers alike. In the book, Riess writes humorously about a year she spent living obscure religious practices—and failing gloriously at each of them. It’s not an overtly Mormon book—Riess, a well-known Mormon author, targets a much broader audience—but its honest message about the paybacks of spiritual failure makes it the kind of book Mormons should read. Especially if they’re getting ready for next year's December Doomsday.

Anyway: click below for a list of other books I’m either reading now or intending to read soon. With any luck I’ll have them all read well before the bombs or meteors or alien death rays start falling.

Parley P. Pratt: The Apostle Paul of Mormonism by Terryl L. Givens and Matthew J. Grow (Oxford University Press)
Parley P. Pratt’s autobiography is a classic in Mormon literature, but most people agree that it’s kind of a snoozer after about the first fifty pages. Of course, this wasn’t Brother Parley’s fault: before he had the chance to finish it, he was gunned down in Arkansas by his plural wife’s angry ex-husband. So it's a good thing Givens and Grow put some much-needed spark into the colorful story of this original Modern Mormon Man, whose efforts as a missionary brought my own family (and many more) into the Gospel.

If King Noah and his goons tied me to a burning stake and demanded that I name the most important work of Mormon literature published in 2011, I would soil my drawers. Then I would say, as calmly as a man aflame can, "Fire in the Pasture." No other work published this year—or any year, for that matter—has gathered more quality Mormon writers into one volume. I don’t want to hyperbolize here, but this ambitious poetry anthology, which features the work of 82 Mormon poets, is practically a literary canon in and of itself. You can’t ignore Fire in the Pasture and still say you read Mormon literature.

Monsters & Mormons edited by Wm Morris and Theric Jepson (Peculiar Pages)
If Fire in the Pasture is 2011’s most important work of Mormon literature, then Monsters & Mormons is the most absurdly original. Imagine for a second that Mormonism became the stuff of 1950s B-Movie drive-ins—zombies, dragons, demons, aliens, ghosts—and you’ve got Monsters & Mormons. But even your imagination can’t do this short story anthology justice. I mean, it’s weirder than you can imagine. It' the kind of book that is so creative in its approach to Mormonism—and so bizarre and effective in its execution—that it leaves you wondering if you haven't suddenly fallen into some strange alternate universe where Beretta-toting, zombie-killing missionaries are the norm.

Over the past couple of years, Zarahemla Books has published some of the best Mormon novels ever written. The Death of a Disco Dancer is their most recent novel, and the reviews indicate that it’s going to carry on Zarahemla’s tradition of excellence. A Motley Vision recently ran an insightful interview with the author, David Clark, whose short fiction has appeared in Irreantum and Sunstone. Even so, I'm completely unfamiliar with his work, so I’m looking forward to getting and reading my copy of Disco Dancer. And besides, who can pass up a book about a senile grandma with a John Travolta crush?

Everything about this dark comedy sounds intriguing to me: mystery, murder, alien abduction, Gadianton Robbers, a two-headed cowboy. Good grief! How could you not want to read it? And here's another interesting factoid: The author, Steven L. Peck, is something of a Mormon Renaissance Man. Not only is he a prolific creative writer--his shorter work can be found in both Fire in the Pasture and Monsters and Mormons--but he's also an evolutionary ecologist at BYU and the science editor for Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon of Mormon Thought. If you're interested, his thoughts on Mormonism and evolution were recently featured in a two-part "FAIR Conversations" episode.
I don’t know much about this book, but I’ve liked everything I’ve ever read by Douglas H. Thayer, Mormon literature's most seasoned living veteran. He recently retired from BYU’s English Department after more than fifty years of teaching. Rumor has it that he plans to keep on writing and publishing till he dies. My hope is that he’s one of the Three Nephites in disguise.

I understand that some of you don't feel like you have time to read Mormon novels and literature anthologies. And, really, who does with the end of the world so near? For you I have a solution. In mid-February, while you're online planning your Last Great Adventure or ordering food storage, stop by and check out the Mormon Lit Blitz, a week-long online Mormon literature event that promises to start 2012 off with a bang far more aesthetically rewarding (and far less destructive) than the one that will end it. I plan to write more about the Blitz later--I'm one of its coordinators--but I'll tease with this: each creative work featured in the Blitz will be a breezy 1000 words or less and written specifically to appeal to the committed Latter-day Saint. It's going to be cool and it won't take up too much of your time. (By the way, if you're a creative writer, check out our Call for Submissions. It's a contest ... and the grand prize is a Kindle preloaded with great Mormon lit! You can also "like" the Blitz on Facebook and follow it on Twitter.)

Of course, it's always possible that the conspiracy theorists are wrong and the world will keep on going well after all of us have grown old and passed on. But since we can't really know for sure--think about it: have the Mayans ever been wrong before?--I recommend that we all follow our old Scoutmaster's advice and be prepared. 

Start your book stockpile now.

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