Must-Reads of 2010

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?

 

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11 Responses to Must-Reads of 2010

  1. Darlene says:

    I agree with you about all of these except for the two I haven’t read yet (Condie and Franzen). Lonely Polygamist blew me away, as did Jack’s book. Jack’s book is a perfect example of good Mormon fiction, I think. (As was Bound on Earth, I must add.)

    Tell me more about Freedom.

  2. Marny says:

    My favorite book by an LDS author this year is [i]Paranormalcy[/i] by Kiersten White. It’s a YA paranormal and just loads of fun. It’s amazing to me how many LDS authors are now publishing in the national YA market.

  3. Jonathan says:

    Angela,

    Thanks for this post (and for opening up the discussion of best books read in 2010). My personal favorite was The Tree House by Doug Thayer (published in 2009 but which I didn’t read until this year). A really excellent novel. (See my review here: http://www.motleyvision.org/2010/review-of-the-tree-house-by-doug-thayer/).

    Thanks as well for the link to your 2007 essay on writing with charity (http://segullah.org/the-best-books-exploring-lds-literature/writing-with-charity/), which I hadn’t read before and which is one of the best essays of Mormon literary criticism that I’ve read in a while. You say very well some things that I’ve felt quite strongly — and help to clarify for me just what it was that I had been thinking.

  4. Angela H. says:

    Jonathan, thank you. Those kind words about my essay mean a lot coming from you.

    Marny, thanks for the recommendation. I’ve never heard of that particular title (Paranormalcy), which is why discussions like these are so great.

    And Darlene, Freedom. Here’s my review of Freedom (albeit copied from my Goodreads page :-) :

    I have a love/hate relationship with this book, but in the end I loved it more than I hated it, hence the four stars. I loved it for its straightforward, crystal clear prose; its keen psychological insights (especially in the beginning and the end); its willingness to tackle a multitude of complicated issues as well as tell a story; the fairness with which it treats each of its characters, even those characters it’s clear that Franzen-the-writer wouldn’t like much in real life.

    But what did I hate? Well, maybe hate is a strong word. But I definitely disliked the middle portion of the book when it devolved into sermonizing: although Franzen delivers some terrific monologues, I don’t like how he uses his characters as such blatant stand-ins for the rants he’d certainly like to give himself, but can’t, or won’t. And some of his monologues aren’t terrific at all but, in fact, rather boring and pedantic. About 3/4 of the way through the novel I wanted to chuck both Walter and Franzen, mid-preach, out the window. (Imagine if a Mormon author dared proselytize so blatantly and then tried to market it to a mainstream audience? I shudder to think.) I also got a little tired of all the sex. Frankly, it just bored me after a while, especially when some of the same hang-ups and issues kept replaying over and over again through different characters.

    But! But. I loved the beginning. Loved Patty’s voice and her complicated psyche (although I found the portion supposedly written by Patty–and athlete who’s smart but no intellectual–to strain credulity a bit. Um, your average college basketball player just can’t write like Franzen. As a matter of fact, pretty much NOBODY can write like Franzen but Franzen. But I got over it). I loved how the theme of freedom and its price threaded its way through the novel in so many different strands, and I loved how, in the end, all these threads came together in a way that was both emotionally and intellectually satisfying. So, even with all my qualms, it’s a book that I believe people who care about books ought to read. I’m glad I did.

  5. Th. says:

    .

    So I also loved TLP and am anxious to read the rest of Harrell’s and Carter’s books. I’m intrigued by Matched (and Room and Passage incidentally). Your Dispensation is a must-own. Other than that, I’ve actually read very little Mormon fiction this year (?!), but my other favorite book of 2010 was The Collected Works of T.S. Spivet http://thmazing.blogspot.com/2010/02/bes-uret-o-click-here-and-read-about.html#TSS which I loved and even with one brief moment of intense violence and one foul-mouthed minor character I need to buy for my kids to find on the shelf.

  6. Andrew H. says:

    Much thanks. Note that two of the books mentioned are eligible for a Whitney award: The Lonely Polygamist and Matched.
    A book needs to be nominated 5 times before it will be considered.
    So if anyone feels so inclined, please go to whitneyawards.com and nominate the books which impressed you.

  7. Marny says:

    Paranormalcy is also eligible for the Whitneys; it came out August 31 of this year.

  8. I have loved TLP and Harrell’s collection, and of course I love _Dispensation_. Eager to read the rest. Thanks for this list, Angela!

  9. Rose Green says:

    I read mostly MG/YA, and there have been some good ones this year! My entire family is wild about Brandon Sanderson’s MG series that starts with ALCATRAZ VERSUS THE EVIL LIBRARIANS (Scholastic). It’s funny, adventurous, pokes great fun at literature and fantasy novels in particular, and even though it’s light, it’s very well constructed and has a lot of heart. I want to buy these books for everyone I know!

    Also loved Sarah DeFord Williams’s PALACE BEAUTIFUL (Putnam), a contemporary MG about a girl who moves into an old house in Salt Lake and finds a diary left behind by someone who lived through the flu epidemic in 1918. For the middle grade girl who likes contemporary or historical books.

    Mette Harrison had another book in her YA animal magic series come out, THE PRINCESS AND THE SNOWBIRD (Harper Collins). Perfect for girls who love high fantasy.

    And Lindsey Leavitt came out with PRINCESS FOR HIRE (Disney Hyperion) that is light and funny and great for MG girls who want some light fairytale entertainment.

    I know I’m forgetting some!

  10. Angela H. says:

    Thanks for sharing those titles, Rose!

  11. Pingback: 2010 Mormon Literature Year in Review: National Market | A Motley Vision

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