In my effort to read one a book a week this year I've been using the Inter-Library Loan desk a lot. I cannot say enough good things about the ILL program. If you people don't know how to use or aren't using it, you are missing out! It has been especially handy lately as I've been on a Mormon book binge. Here's the roundup of my latest reads:
Book #17--The Backslider by Levi Peterson. This is single-handedly the most male (or should I say phallic?) book I have ever read. It was all about brawls, hunting, drinking, the male sex drive, and, oh yeah, the Church. It covered every touchy Church subject from polygamy to inter-faith marriage to birth control to 'jack' mormons (does anyone know the polite term for that?; I hate using 'jack', but the concept is different than a "less-active" or "inactive" member. . .). I believe it was published in the 80's and maybe part of the author's goal was to break down some barriers and talk about things LDS church members don't usually discuss, which I appreciated. (For reviews read here.) I'm not sure, though if I would recommend this book. I know a lot of my LDS friends would be offended/shocked by it. And, because the main character spends most of the book misunderstanding our theology and relationship with God, I would hesitate to recommend it to any non-LDS readers. That said, I think I liked it. There were so many golden moments in the prose; I just had to stop and read them over and over. The characters were strange (especially Alice--who is a man who castrates himself on a hunting trip), but real. The vision at the end of the book about the Cowboy Jesus was tantalizing (the fact that the vision occurred in a urinal, I'm not so sure about. . .) I don't know. Maybe Peterson is sort of the Dostoevski of LDS lit. The book is dark and full of guilt and sadness, but the redemption is nice and, perhaps, justifies the journey.
If any of you readers have some insight about this book, please comment on it! I wish I read this in school so I could talk about it with people.
Book #18--The Pictograph Murders by Patricia Karamesines (who would be my mentor if only I lived close enough to really pester her. As is, I just have to wait breathlessly for her to post on AMV or Times and Seasons or BCC). I LOVED this book. I wasn't sure about it at first because the main character did not seem very likable. I don't know what it was about Alex that bothered me, but I just didn't get her vibe. Of course, as I read more I think that was intentional. Alex's character unfolds and reveals itself not only to the reader but also to Alex. This, in the end, made her a relatable character. The novel is a murder mystery, but really it's more. The reader has no doubt about the "whodunnit" question. It's the why's and the what if's of the book that really get you. My favorite aspect of the novel, the thing that won me over, was how Karamesines interwove Native American coyote myths with the story. It gave the book a Madeleine L'Engle feel (who would also be my mentor, if she wasn't dead. As is, I just have to reread her books and published memoirs all the time). This is a book I would recommend. In fact, I'm doing so now: Read it, people! Read it!
Book #19--Hooligan by Douglas Thayer. Um, this was another male book (although not so phallic). I really didn't get it. I read Thayer's Under the Cottonwoods and other stories a few years back and appreciated it. But his memoirs, not so much. Maybe it's because I'm the mommy of little baby boy, but I found a lot of the stories horrifying. I can't believe Thayer and his friends would trick other boys into climbing into underground tunnels and then try to collapse the tunnel on top of them. I can't believe they killed SO MANY birds, rabbits, and other small animals all the time. I can't believe those boys gathered piles and piles of cardboard to build cities out of and then set them on fire for fun. However, the most horrifying story to me was that if they were mad at someone they would tie the boy to the tree, light a fire at his feet, and then pee on it so the tied-up one would have to smell the horrible fumes and get splattered by hot urine. ICK! Where were their mothers?!? (At home ironing and washing dishes and scrubbing floors and working to make ends meet during the Depression . . . all right, fine, I won't blame it on their mothers.) All I can say is, if these are a boy's natural inclinations I can see why the Boy Scout Program is a must.
Book #20--Angel of the Danube by Alan Rex Mitchell. This might actually be my favorite Mormon book to date. Barry Monroe, the protagonist, had such a distinct narrative voice and the way he interacted with LDS theology was so on track with how I experience it that I felt like I had (sort of, since Barry is a guy and a missionary) found myself. Funny thing about it: it turns into a romance novel at the end. Normally I hate romance, but it caught me so off guard I found myself rooting for the characters and really hoping they'd end up together. If a book can make me do that, it must be doing something right! I'd recommend you all go out and buy it right now except that it's out of print! So, hey, go ILL it!
Book #21--Salvador by Margaret Blair Young. I wasn't such a fan of this one, but then I read this review and came to appreciate it a little more. I guess I'm just not sure of the why behind this book. The book revolves around a young woman, named Julie, who is waiting for her divorce to be finalized and ends up traveling to El Salvador with her parents. In that idyllic setting Julie discovers which parts of her faith are misplaced and which parts are not. Maybe my problem with it is that it never got to the heart of our religion (and by extension, our culture), which is our relationship with our Savior. Plenty of the characters claimed revelation and witnesses from the Holy Ghost, but it seemed like they were all doing it as spiritual manipulation for their own gain. And Julie never had a spiritual "aha moment." She had an intellectual and emotional one, but she never reconciles herself to God. Which I'm actually okay with. I know that life and our spirituality aren't an after-school special with clear endings. Spirituality is a messy journey. I just needed the author to comment on the mess of it all. To paraphrase Simon from American Idol (forgive me, but he used an apt metaphor) this book was like ordering a hamburger and only getting the bun and condiments.
So, if you are still reading this incredibly long post, please comment and let me know what LDS books you like and what you think of any of the ones I've mentioned!