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Thursday, February 28, 2013

What I'm Reading

by Scott Hales (bio)

There never seems to be a time when Mormon authors aren't publishing something worth reading. Over the past couple of months, for example, I've enjoyed Steven Peck's recent novella A Short Stay in Hell, Sunstone's Stephen Carter's essay collection What of the Night?, and Theric Jepson's debut novel Byuck—all of which I'd not hesitate to recommend. This year I've also tried to tackle a few classic Mormon novels, like Susa Young Gates' John Stevens' Courtship (1909) and Nephi Anderson's Dorian (1921). Sadly, I can't say I'd recommend John Stevens' unless you're interested in its historical-cultural significance, but Dorian is definitely worth your time—despite its many weaknesses. I like to call it the first modern Mormon novel.

Right now I'm on a non-fiction reading binge. I recently received a copy of Terryl and Fiona Givens' The God Who Weeps: How Mormonism Makes Sense of Life (Ensign Peak, 2012) in the mail. In this book, the Givens explore the beauty of Mormonism's understanding of a compassionate God—a God who is, despite popular belief, not particularly interested in punishing the wicked and condemning them to Hell, but rather in doing what He can to bring His children home to become as He is. After having listened to John Dehlin's excellent Mormon Stories interview with Terryl Givens (I haven't had the chance yet to listen to his interview with Fiona), and having had some limited interaction with Givens myself, I am convinced that he is one of the greatest—and most faithful—minds in the Church. The God Who Weeps is simply a fantastic book—and I'm still only halfway through it.

I’m also reading Aleesa Sutton’s self-published Diary of a Single Mormon Female, a memoir about being—you guessed it—a single Mormon female. Now, I admit that I did not begin this book thinking that I would like it. I mean, memoir is not my favorite genre, and I usually only make it about ten pages into a memoir before I have scoffed myself hoarse and tossed the book into the discard pile. So, I worried that my general distaste for the genre would tip the scales against it. But I was wrong: Diary of a Single Mormon Female is a fun book with a lot of insight into the lives of single Mormons. The book is made up of excerpts from Sutton's journals since the time she was a starry-eyed (and boy-crazy) preteen intercut with snarky bits of commentary from her older and wiser self. The combination is hilarious and heartbreaking. An added bonus—for me, at least—is that Sutton and I are the same age, which means her diaries cover a time I look back on with Uncle Rico-like nostalgia.

Of course, not everything I'm reading these days is by a Mormon writer. Last week I finished Henry James' excellent short story, The Beast in the Jungle. This is a story I was assigned to read once at BYU, but never finished. It's long for a short story, and those who have read James know that he can be deep and excessively wordy, but his works are worth the effort it takes to read them. Personally, I can think of no better story about the tragedy of missed opportunities than The Beast in the Jungle.  I enjoyed it so much that I immediately started The Aspern Papers, another of his long short stories. With any luck, I'll be able to work my way up to James' long novels, like The Wings of the Dove or The Ambassadors, by the end of the year.

I've also started Stephen Crane's Maggie: A Girl of the Streets, because everyone needs a little literary naturalism in his or her life, right?

Finally, I should also say that I've been meaning to read Stephenie Meyer's The Host. I know, Meyer is always catching flack for a) not being the best writer and b) writing the Twilight series, but I think most of the criticism leveled against her (including my own) is unfair and mean-spirited, and, besides, I'd like to read the novel before the film version hits the theaters in April. The film was written and directed, after all, by Andrew Niccol, the cinematic sci-fi genius responsible for winners like Gattica and The Truman Show, so it has some strong talent behind it. 

Plus, it's not every day that Mormon-authored works make it to the big screen. Unless you count the Twilight movies, or the up-coming film version of Ender's Game—another hugely popular Mormon novel that I've never actually read.

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