Since we’re all in the middle of our Christmas gift buying (if you’re already done I don’t want to hear it), I thought I’d post today about some of the best books by Mormon authors I’ve read this year and then ask you to do the same. We all need suggestions for good gifts, don’t we? Here some of my favorite titles from 2010:
Jack Harrell’s A Sense of Order and Other Stories (Signature, 2010). One of the best short story collections I’ve read in a while (and that’s saying something, since I spent a good part of 2009 reading short story collections), Jack’s book is smart, moving, and altogether new. Jack tells Mormon stories in a way unlike any LDS writer I know. His work is unapologetically faithful–spiritual, even, taking for granted the fact that God’s children will regularly experience the otherworldy and the divine–but his work is also boldly, fearlessly willing to take a reader’s expectation for what a “spiritual” Mormon story should be and turn that expectation on its head. A Sense of Order and Other Stories is an incredibly important addition to the canon of Mormon literature, and anybody interested in this genre must read it.
Brady Udall’s The Lonely Polygamist (Norton, 2010). The Lonely Polygamist is a great novel. Is it “The Great Mormon Novel”? Personally, I don’t think we should be looking to anoint any one book with that title, but if somebody really really wants to, this novel would be a top contender. I had a few very small quibbles with the book: the main character, Golden’s, ineffectuality got a little wearisome at times, and I’m not entirely satisfied with the ending. But the tremendous scope of the book, the lovely prose, the masterful handling of multiple points-of-view, the emotional openness–this is a book that will have you laughing and crying–makes this novel worthy of a five star rating. There’s a generous helping of language and sex, so not all Mormon readers will be comfortable with the novel. That said, anyone interested in serious study of Mormon literature must read this title. As well as anyone, Mormon or not, interested in reading an excellent example of contemporary fiction.
Dispensation: Latter-Day Fiction (Zarahemla, 2010). Obviously, it’s not appropriate for me to review this book since I edited it. But I do want to mention it here because I’m so very proud of the writing found in this anthology’s pages. Read reviews here and here and an interview about the anthology on AMV here.
Stephen Carter’s What of the Night (Zarahemla, 2010). Stephen is one of my favorite Mormon essayists, and not only are his essays in this collection beautifully written and impeccably structured, but they’re honest, moving, and full of charity. To me, calling a work of literature charitable is the highest of all compliments. This collection is a slim volume, but it packs an emotional punch.
Patrick Madden’s Quotidiana (University of Nebraska Press, 2010). I posted a much more extensive review of Madden’s essay collection here. But an excerpt: Quotidiana is a smart, engaging, engrossing, startlingly unique work of creative nonfiction. The fact that Madden is LDS probably shouldn’t make me more enthusiastic about it than I already am, but I can’t help it. It does. Because the more I learn about the work being done by Mormon artists like Madden, the more excited I get about the future of a literature by, for, or about Mormons—be it written for the LDS market or, as is true in Madden’s case, a national audience. But don’t simply buy Madden’s book because it’s written by a member of our church (although I’m all for supporting Mormon writers whenever I can). Buy Quotidiana because it’s unlike anything you’ve ever read before. You’ll be glad you did.
Ally Condie’s Matched (Dutton Juvenile, 2010). Ally Condie’s dystopian YA novel is one of the most buzzed about YA books this year, having been the subject of a bidding war between several publishing houses. Recently, Disney snapped up the novel’s movie rights. Ally is a friend of mine, and I’ve been so happy to see her success (and to see yet another Mormon YA author get so much press and potentially reach so many readers.) I don’t want to compare Condie to Meyer, however. This novel is not Twilight, although it does contain a love triangle. Matched is, however, a poetically written page-turner with both heart and depth. The world Condie creates is simultaneously strange and familiar, and I felt fully enveloped in it as the story unfolded. Add to that the beautiful prose, the symbolism, and the powerful themes, and you have a novel could keep any book club or high school English class happily occupied. At the end of the day, though, the book is simply a really great read. I thoroughly enjoyed it and wish Ally all the success in the world.
I also really enjoyed a few non-Mormon titles this year (namely, Jonathan Franzen’s “Great American Novel” contender, Freedom, Emma Donoghue’s Room, expertly told in the point of view of a 5 year old boy, and Justin Cronin’s post-apocalyptic page turner The Passage). I had my quibbles with all three of these books, but I’m running out of time, and I’m sure you are too. I’d be happy to discuss any of these titles further in the comments.
What have been your favorite books this year, Mormon or not?