Every January since 2000 I have written a Mormon Literature Year in Review column. I posted the early columns on the AML-List discussion group , but the archives are no longer available, so I am finding a home for them here. Every other Friday this month (when I am not doing the Week in Review column) I will publish one of these early Year in Review columns. I hope you will find the reminders (or new information) about what was significant a decade ago interesting.
2000 Mormon Literature Year in Review
January 2001. What is a cultural genre without a year-in-review? And what is a year-in-review without a largely ignorant reviewer? That’s me! So here is my own personal year in review of Mormon Literature, based on what I’ve read and the reviews and notices that I have seen.
I’ll start with the novels. There were three truly great Mormon novels this year, and several very good ones that were both challenging and faithful, probably as many as I’ve ever seen in a year. Here are my favorites so far:
Louise Plummer’s A Dance for Three (Delacorete). Plummer is clearly in the very top ranks of skilled Mormon writers. Some may have hesitated to read her work, because all her novels have had adolescent teenage protagonists, and are marketed as girl’s juvenile literature. Well, I’m here to tell you to cut it out. I have read all of her published novels, and very rarely have I ever seen someone so skillfully mix together the readability and flow needed in juvenile literature with literary excellence. And A Dance For Three is the best novel of hers I have read. It tells the story of Hannah, a Salt Lake City teenager who gets pregnant, and is abused and abandoned by the baby’s father. Her father died a few years earlier, and her mother had descended into a debilitating depression, leaving Hannah to run the house. Hannah cracks under the pressure, and is put in a psychiatric hospital. Hannah and her mother are able to regain some stability through professional psychiatric help and help from a neighbor, friends, and the local bishop. She then decides to give the baby up through adoption.
One reason I have a strong attachment to this book is because my wife and I adopted our son, and hope to adopt more. Therefore the story of a pregnant teenager who (at the end) must decide whether to give her baby up for adoption means a lot to me. Such a story poorly done would make me mad, but in my guts Plummer’s story feels right. She lets her character live, not as an object lesson, but as a full fleshy individual, whose pain I feel as my own. The final scene, in which Hannah mourns for and celebrates her baby, will stick in my head forever. I only met Lachlan’s birth mother very briefly, and only know a little about her. So Hannah’s actions help me, I think, understand her better, and love her that much more. It isn’t often a novel can have that kind of impact.
Margaret Blair Young and Darius Gray’s One More River to Cross (Deseret). This is a momentous book, probably the most important book about Mormonism published in the last few years. With a few exceptions, the writing style is typical MBY excellence. The fact that the authors tried to scrupulously maintain historical accuracy, and because the two main characters never meet in the first volume, results in a somewhat choppier flow than one might prefer for a novel. But that is fine, because this is more than a novel, this is a retelling of a vitally important, forgotten part of our history and collective unconscious. In some ways, I had more of a feeling of reading a really fascinating history book than a novel, and there is nothing wrong with that to my way of thinking. It won the 2000 AML Award for Novel.
John Bennion’s Falling Toward Heaven (Signature). In terms of literary chops, Bennion is in a different world from most Mormon authors. This, his first novel, is mostly an interior story, the thoughts, not the plot, move it along, which will put off many readers. It tells the story of a missionary who falls into an affair with a non-member woman. They run off together, and eventually marry. Although the former missionary has “fallen”, the power of his pioneer and farm family background, and his fear of a vengeful God, continue to influence all his actions. He is forced to renegotiate his relationships with God, his family, and the Church, in some fascinating ways. The novel is particularly interesting in the way it places traditional Mormon gender roles on their heads.
Alan Mitchell’s Angel of the Danube (Cedar Fort). What a fun, fun book. It is a great depiction of missionary life’s ups and downs in 1970s Vienna Austria. The writing is great, the funny parts funny, the characters interesting, and the use of German folklore gives the story an unexpected dimension. The protagonist’s introspection is engrossing and credible, without taking away from the crisply moving plot. I’m afraid that some casual readers will be put off by all the tomfoolery (but not irreverence) that the missionaries get involved in, but I’m going to give my copy to my very straight-laced bishop friend who served in Austria in the early 80s anyway, I think he’ll enjoy it. It won the 2000 Marilyn Brown Unpublished Novel award, before it was published.
Eric Samuelsen’s Singled Out (Cornerstone). Samuelsen fills his first novel with fascinating characters and great dialogue, as befits a novelization of a play. We get to know characters at the margins of Mormon society, like a divorcee, a new member who retains many of her party-girl mannerisms, and a scared single mother on the run. It is fun to discover the strength that often lies behind the quirkiness and faults of the characters.
Dean Hughes’s As Long As I Have You (Deseret). This is the fifth and final installment of the Children of the Promise series, which I have loved from start to finish. In this volume, the surviving members of the Thomas and Stoltz families finally are reunited in Salt Lake City after World War II. But it isn’t all a celebration, as the individual family members have to deal with the horror and guilt associated with fighting in the war, unease over war-profiting, racism, and a lot more. This series is in many ways as “important” as One More River to Cross. Both are revisionist historical fiction, reminding us of chapters of our part not often remarked upon. And like Standing on the Promises, racism and intolerance, including among the mainstream Mormon culture, are key elements of the book. Hughes should be applauded for not ending the series on a self-congratulatory, chauvinistic note. In fact I think the series is the most significant anti-war work that Mormonism has ever produced. The characters sometimes seem a little more 1990s than 1940s, and there is so much going on that the very difficult issues, like Alex’s gradual recovery from his war traumas, could use some deeper exploration. And if you want symbolism or postmodern irony, this straightforward series isn’t for you. But within his genre Hughes is a fantastic writer, with a great sense of his historical period at the family and personal level, tackling some difficult themes with credibility and skill.
Curtis Taylor’s The Dinner Club (Forward). This is close behind the first six. It appears to be basically self-published, and could use better editing. Still, it is an engrossing description of a man suddenly beset with a truck-load of troubles, centering on his wife’s abandonment of the family, and the spiritual transformation which result.
Orson Scott Card’s Sarah (Deseret). Average Card, not great, but not bad. He is always a good read.
Also, there are several works I haven’t read yet that I have heard very good reviews of and hope to get to soon. At the top of my list are Marilyn Brown’s The Wine-Dark Sea of Grass (Cedar Fort), Benson Parkinson’s Into the Field (Aspen), and Linda Adams’ Prodigal Journey (Cornerstone).
That’s a big heapin’ helping of quality Mormon literature, all of which challenge our assumptions and prejudices, while remaining essentially Mormon.
How have the Mormon market publishers done?
Deseret: This is the first full year of the mega-Deseret, after the merger with Bookcraft. So, we have a traditionally conservative publisher, sponsored by our very (in terms of public relations matters) conservative Church, which comes close to dominating the market, at least in sales. Well, surprisingly, Deseret made some bold choices, and put out a good deal of quality material. Clearly it has made a commitment to publishing Mormon-themed fiction, and someone over there is making some good decisions.
What stands out the most, of course, is Young and Gray’s One More River to Cross, the first of the Standing on the Promises series about Black members of the Church. It took a lot of guts to publish this series, which deals head-on with the prejudices held in the membership about Blacks and the myths surrounding the Priesthood ban. While Joseph Smith is portrayed very positively, other revered members are depicted as being tinted with a variety of shades of ignorance, condescension, and bigotry. And it cannot help but get tougher in the next volume, which will cover the period in which Brigham Young clearly states the Priesthood ban. I hope Deseret Books knows what is coming, and won’t lose their nerve with the series. As I said, it is among the most important things they are doing now.
Also, they managed to get nationally-known Orson Scott Card to write a second work of historical fiction based on the Old Testament for the smaller LDS market, with two more scheduled for the future. Dean Hughes provided the fifth and final installment of the fantastic Children of the Promise series, and Robert Farrell Smith published the third installment of his funny Trust series. With Kathryn Kidd apparently finding the “Guide to . . .:” business more profitable, Smith is our reigning humorous fiction practitioner. Also they published Tom Plummer’s third collection of essays, Second Wind: Variations on a Theme of Growing Older. And in juvenile fiction they published the annual Weyland book and C. B. Andersen’s The Book of Mormon Sleuth, which is apparently pretty good. Meanwhile Gerald Lund, their main fiction moneymaker, came out with two books, one about the handcart companies which was pretty poorly written, and the first of a new historical fiction trilogy about Christ and His Apostles.
Outside the literature world, they have come out with a wonderful edition of the Book of Mormon for the family, with the basic text supplemented by illustrations, definitions of difficult words and concepts, and other useful stuff. It is a beautiful book, which I hope to buy one of these days.
Which brings me to my last point, the covers. Apparently they’ve hired some skilled people in the design department, because the covers and other design aspects are way ahead of what was coming out of Deseret and Bookcraft a few years ago. The beautiful cover for One More River to Cross is a good example.
Covenant: Covenant is the biggest independent Mormon publisher, and they sure did put out a lot of fiction titles this year. They appear to have found a formula of providing uplifting and reliable work by a stable of productive authors. In fact two of their most popular authors, Rachael Nunes and Anita Stansfield, each published three novels in one year! Covenant also took a page out of Deseret Book’s book by beginning a multi-volume historical fiction series, this one based on the Book of Mormon, by David Wooley. I read the first chapter, and the writing is only fair to poor, but apparently it is selling very well. I haven’t read any of the other Covenant titles, as their brand of fiction is not particularly my cup of tea.
Signature: Our main “alternative” press was relatively inactive in the literature front this year. Usually they put out a couple of literary works a year, but this year they only produced John Bennion’s novel Falling Toward Heaven, a very challenging and interesting work. Perhaps I should also count William James Adams’s Sanpete Tales: Humorous Folktales from Central Utah. Anyway, things should pick up from Signature next year, with three titles scheduled for publication: a collection of essays by Eloise Bell, a collection of short stories by Lewis Horne, and a novel by Margaret Young.
Cornerstone: Richard Hopkins’ new publishing house is off to a pretty good start, with Eric Samuelsen’s great novel Singled Out, and the first of Linda Adams’s new last days series, which has gotten fairly good reviews on the AML-list. Michael Ritchey’s speculative novels, Disoriented, however, received poor reviews on the list. Cornerstone also has begun a new Latter Day Girl Collection series of juvenile novels, beginning with works by nationally polished authors Carol Lynch Williams and Laurel Brady. Both had previously published under the similarly titled Latter Day Daughters series from Deseret, so maybe Cornerstone is trying take over this niche. Now that Cornerstone has absorbed Horizon, and I have high hopes that we can see some more good things from them.
Cedar Fort: Cedar Fort has done little to distinguish itself in the past, but they published two excellent novels this year. Apparently their sudden improvement in taste is due to Marilyn Brown’s new partnership in the organization, as the first novel is Brown’s piece about the Mountain Meadows Massacre, which Richard Cracroft gave a glowing review, and Alan Mitchell’s great first novel Angel of the Danube, which won an honorable mention in Marilyn’s unpublished novel contest last year. Another interesting looking novel is Winds of Change, by Dory Peters, a semi-autobiographical story of growing up Navajo and LDS.
Granite: Granite has published a couple of novels a year for the last few years, and one was turned into a made-for-TV movie recently. I have never read any of their books, or seen any reviews, so I can’t comment on them.
Number of literary works produced by Mormon publishers in 2000.
Covenant: 15, Deseret: 12, Cedar Fort: 12, Cornerstone: 5, Granite: 3, Signature: 1, Aspen: 1, Horizon: 1
Historical fiction. With the big success of Lund’s Work and the Glory series, multi-volume, hardback-only historical fiction novels practically dominate the shelves of Mormon fiction. Deseret still rules the roost, with Hughes wrapping up his Children of the Promise series, and Lund and Young/Gray starting up new ones. Covenant also is jumping in with the Wooley’s Book of Mormon series, and Marilyn Brown continues to mine the genre for interesting things.
Last days. Again, following the success of the Left Behind series, it only makes sense that we will see more Mormon novels set in the last days. Actually there was only one new one in 2000, Linda Adams’s Prodigal Journey, the first in a series. But there are two other recent series with new volumes scheduled soon, Pam Blackwell (Ephraim’s Seed) and Kenneth Tarr (The Last Days, CFI).
Missionary novels. It was serendipitous that three novels about the missionary experience (and its aftermath) came out the same year as the popular movie God’s Army. Parkinson’s Into the Field is the sequel to The MTC: Set Apart, and follows the missionaries we met in the first novel to France. Mitchell’s Angel of the Danube is set mostly in Vienna, with the last part covering the protagonist’s first months home from the mission. Bennion’s Falling Toward Heaven starts off with the protagonist serving in Houston, and then moves into his post-mission life. Young and Gray’s One More River to Cross also has a few chapters about Elijah Abel’s mission during the Kirtland period.
In the national presses, besides Louise Plummer, Mormon authors (all females) produced six young adult novels. They are Lois Thompson Bartholomew, Vicki Blum, Laurel Stowe Brady, Laura Torres, and Carol Lynch Williams. Also Richard Paul Evans and James Michael Pratt continued to rake it in with their popular weepies.
One more thing, there was no major work of fiction about Mormons by an “outsider” or even an “insider/outsider” (or Jack Mormon, whatever you call them, someone with a Mormon background that has publicly become estranged from the Church to one degree or another, someone like Kirn, Van Wagoner, or Freeman). There was one of those “insidious Mormon mystery novels” that Michael Austin studies, Brigham’s Day, by John Gates (Walker and Co.).
It was a pretty thin year for short stories. In fact, if it wasn’t for the recent rise of Irreantum as an outlet for short fiction, there would hardly be any at all. This was largely because of the halt in publication in the first part of the year of our two most reliable publishers of Mormon short fiction, Sunstone and Dialogue. Dialogue made a comeback, under its new editors the Chandlers, and published three issues in fairly rapid succession in the second half of the year (all of which are officially dated 1999). The first didn’t have any fiction, but the second (32:3) was a special AML-sponsored issue, containing four pieces of fiction. The fact that Neal Chandler himself is a published short story author (and professor of literature at Cleveland State University) certainly bodes well for more good stories in the future. Sunstone finally came out with an issue in the Fall, with one short story. Hopefully these two journals will be back to normal next year. Also Mormon fiction could be found in Inscape, the BYU literary journal, and The New Era.
There were two collections of short stories published that I know of, both by non-Mormon, literary presses. Darrel Spencer taught at BYU for quite a while where he helped train a number of AML-listers out there, I think. Now he is at Ohio University. His collection, Caution: Men in Trees won the Flannery O’Conner award and the AML Award for Short Fiction. This collection of stories is less experimental and more accessible than his two earlier ones, but it still is going to appeal to a very small audience, I think. As I read them, I could see that this was a skilled author, but I kept thinking of excuses of other things to do than finish the collection. It was just kind of dull, I felt. I felt the same way about the 1996 Paul Rawlins collection No Lie Like Love. It isn’t that I don’t like “literary” authors, I loved Brady Udall’s 1998 collection Letting Loose the Hounds and Mary Clyde’s 1999 collection Survival Rates. Spencer’s stories just seemed to lack enough juice to encourage me to read more.
Anyway, the other collection of stories is Brian Evenson’s Contagion and Other Stories. I haven’t seen it, and haven’t heard word one about it yet except for a newspaper review quoted in Irreantum.
My favorite stories I have read so far are Christopher Bigelow’s “Daughters of Hysteria.” (Irreantum, 2:2), Paul Rawlins’ “Faith of the Fathers” and Todd Robert Petersen’s “Long After Dark.” (both in Irreantum, 2:3). I also liked the Reed McColm’s “There is Always Someplace Else” (Dialogue, Fall 1999), even though the ending (brave little sick boy convinces his mother to get baptized through the force of his pluck) seems a little manipulative, I still fell for it all the way, and the overall writing was great. I also enjoyed Douglas Thayer’s fable “Brother Melrose” (Dialogue, Fall 1999), it seemed like quite a switch from his usual stories.
Our speculative fiction regulars continue to plug away, especially the ever-busy M. Shayne Bell. “At Bud Light Old Faithful” (Interzone Feb.), “Homeless, With Aliens” (Science Fiction Age 8, March) and “Balance Due.” (Asimov’s, Dec.). Actually, there were no SF novels by any of our mainstays in 2000. But really that was an anomaly, Card had novels about Bean and Ender published late in 1999 and early in 2001, and Farland was about the same with Runelords novels in 1999 and 2001.
Unlike the novels and short stories, of which I have read a good number, I saw only one Mormon play the entire year, since I don’t live in Utah. Also, what with Sunstone dormant most of the year, there were very few plays appearing in print. The only exceptions were Eric Samuelsen’s Bar and Kell, a one-act from his Three Women trilogy, which appeared in the Spring Irreantum, and undergraduate Nicole Christensen’s play which appeared in Inscape (the BYU undergrad literary journal). So this review is based almost solely on what has been reported on AML-list, and Eric Snider’s reviews in the Provo Herald.
Eric Samuelsen and Tim Slover continue to be the leaders in the field. Slover didn’t have any new plays this year, but he will have a new play, Hancock County, about the trial of the assassins of Joseph and Hyrum, produced sometime soon at BYU. Several of Slover’s earlier plays were restaged, however. God’s Fisherman (co-written with James Arrington) was done somewhere earlier in the year, March Tale, about Shakespeare, was produced by ARTE at the Castle Theatre in Provo (directed by Scott Bronson and featuring Thom Duncan—that was the one play I saw), and Joyful Noise (about Handel) played Off-Broadway in February with the Lamb’s Theater, as well as a production by the Pioneer Theatre Company in Salt Lake in December. Slover obviously has a good thing going with plays based on historical figures.
Eric Samuelsen had two plays produced at BYU this year. First, in January, a small production called Three Women, which was made up of three one acts, Bar and Kell, Community Standard, and Judgment. Soon thereafter came a main stage production, A Love Affair With Electrons, about the life of Philo Farnsworth, with scenes done in parody of today’s TV shows. It sounded pretty fun. Eric also turned the 1999 play, The Way We’re Wired, into the novel Singled Out.
Margaret Blair Young, with the Genesis Group, turned a portion of her Standing on the Promises series into a play, I Am Jane, about the pioneer black sister Jane Manning James, and featuring lots of 19th century spirituals. It was performed at the Genesis Group’s meetinghouse, then the Browns’ Villa Theatre, and a few other places after that.
BYU also produced a main stage production of undergraduate Nicole Prado’s Sy’s Girl. Eric Snider gave it a fair to poor review, but Eric Samuelsen came strongly to Prado’s defense. I’ve heard good reviews from a couple of people who saw it. Other productions at BYU included Char Nelson, Denise Cutliff, and Kirsten Haskell’s The Blacker the Berry, an adaptation of Wallace Therman’s Harlem Renaissance novel. It was a joint production of the College of Humanities, Theater department, and the Utah Humanities Council. The play was also performed a couple of times in Salt Lake City, including at a Baptist church. Also undergraduate Nicole Christensen’s Spaces between Us: The Dialogues of Il and Elle, which was produced through the BYU Mask Club (student-run productions), appeared in Inscape. And, as has become tradition, the year ended with James Arrington’s Farley Family Christmas.
Arrington is the head of the Theater department at UVSC now, so maybe we’ll see more Mormon plays produced there. This year Karla Huntsman and the Deseret Dance Theatre performed her Woman in the Wind: The Drusilla Hendricks Story there. Huntsman is a BYU theater adjunct faculty, and a descendent of Hendricks. Hendricks’ husband was shot and paralyzed at the Battle of Crooked River. The performance included dramatic vignettes, music, and choreographed movement. Also UVSC hosted the First Annual 10 Minute Play Festival, which included Scott Bronson’s one-act On the Romance of a Dying Child.
Speaking of Bronson, the Provo Theatre Company held a reading of his Stones: Two Plays About Sacrifice. The two one-acts were Alters, about Issac and Abraham, which appeared in Sunstone a couple of years ago, and Tombs, a new play of a conversation between Jesus and Mary as she prepares His tomb. Another reading of note was Paul Cracroft’s Sam’s Place, about Sam Weller.
Utah Valley is the center of the Mormon theater world, with BYU at the epicenter. But perhaps the theater most active in producing recent Mormon plays was the Little London Dinner Theater in Pleasant Grove, which opened in 1999. Marvin Payne has served as the artistic director since it opened, and he put together a program of plays by himself and other Mormon authors, beginning in 1999 with a musical adaptation of Charlie’s Monument by Payne, Susan Evans McCloud, and Newell Daley. Plays by Mormon authors produced there in 2000 included former BYU student Josh Brady’s comedy Great Gardens! (which first appeared at BYU in 1998), James Arrington’s The Mylaynniul Farley Dinner Party in January (which basically was his Christmas play, with a few changes), Steven Kapp Perry’s Polly: A One-Woman Musical (which first appeared in 1992), Perry and Payne’s new marriage comedy Wedlocked (which first appeared at BYU in 1999, and also appeared at SCERA in 2000), and Payne’s A Little London Christmas, which featured lots of beautiful Christmas songs with a brief dramatic framework. The shows tended to be well-reviewed, and the dinner is supposed to be excellent. Unfortunately Payne’s term as artistic director has ended, and the next scheduled work there was yet another production of Joseph and His Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.
Other new plays appearing in Utah Valley theaters included Bill Brown’s 50s play Riot at Flo’s Café at the Villa, and youngster Erica Glenn’s Dancing Shoes, an adaptation of a novel, at the Valley Center Playhouse.
Outside of Happy Valley, in Salt Lake the only Mormon plays of note that I know of were Slover’s Joyful Noise at the Pioneer Theater Company, and Julie Jensen’s Two-Headed, produced by the Salt Lake Acting Company. The play was set in 19th century rural Utah, and dealt with the themes of polygamy and the Mountain Meadows massacre. It also appeared off-Broadway in May. There was also the Christmas musical pageant at the new Assembly Hall.
Marianne Hales Harding’s one-act Hold Me appeared in a New York drama festival, and a new play, Next Rest Stop 78 Miles, was read at the Utah Shakespeare Festival. Harding was the playwright-in-residence at the festival this year.
Finally, Neil LaBute’s Bash : Latterday Plays, which appeared Off-Broadway and in London in 1999, was shown on the Showtime cable network in August.
Perhaps for the first time there is a Utah theater critic who consistently reviews plays both in Salt Lake and Utah counties (as well as Tuhancan and Cedar City), including the “Mormon” plays. That is Eric Snider of the Provo Herald. And a really great thing about Eric is that he keeps all of his reviews in an archive on his web site, so one can go back and check past reviews. It made writing this column much easier, thanks Eric. He reviewed thirteen of the productions I mentioned above, or a little more than half of them. Of the plays he reviewed, two Little London Dinner Theater productions received A- grades, Brady’s Great Gardens! and Perry’s Polly. Close behind (B+), in Eric’s estimation, came Samuelsen’s A Love Affair with Electrons (BYU), Arrington’s Farley Family Xmas (BYU), and Slover’s March Tale (Castle Theatre). Next (B) came Jensen’s Two Headed (SLAC) and Perry and Payne’s Wedlocked (SCERA).
Major films by Mormons in 2000 with Mormon themes: Richard Dutcher’s God’s Army (AML Award for Film) and Keith Merrill’s The Testaments: Of One Fold and One Shepherd.
Films by Mormons without Mormon themes: Neil LaBute’s Nurse Betty, screenwriter David Howard’s Galaxy Quest, and Don Bluth’s Titan A. E.
Also Todd F Cope’s 1998 novel The Shift (Granite) was turned into a made-for-television movie called The Last Dance, which appeared on CBS in October, and starred Maureen O’Hara and Eric Stoltz.
Doctrinal books perhaps should fall into this category, but there are a lot of them, and I haven’t tried to keep track, so sorry. There were two collections of published essays that I know of, Tom Plummer’s Second Wind : Variations on a Theme of Growing Older (Shadow Mountain) and Terry Tempast Williams’ Leap (Pantheon). This is the third year in a row Plummer has published a collection of essays, and his 1998 collection won the AML essay prize, so he must be doing something right. I haven’t read any of them. I did receive Williams’ Leap for Christmas, and it is very sumptuous. Williams uses the 15th Century Flemish painter Hieronymus Bosch’s triptych “The Garden of Delights” as a jumping-off point to a number of subjects, including faith, family, and the environment. I liked Refuge, Williams’ most well-known work. Well, not liked, I was moved by, or impressed by it, but it was painful to read. The things she has published since then, especially Desert Quartet, haven’t done much for me. I am easily put off by new agey writing, and her written voice was too much like that for my taste. That is still there in Leap, but it is either more muted or she has more interesting things to say with it this time, because I fell very easily into her languorous rhythms. Of course a large number of personal essays have appeared in Dialogue, Sunstone, Irreantum, and The Ensign over the course of the year.
Meridian Magazine (www.meridianmagazine.com)is run by Maureen and Scott Proctor, former editors of This People. Every week there are several new articles posted, and usually there is one worth reading. It has improved significantly in the last few months, but there is still lots of schmaltz and boring material. Mystery writer Anne Perry’s monthly snoozer of a column is a good example of that. Meridian does include quite a few short articles on the arts. Richard Cracroft has done several columns on his lists of “essential books” for one’s library, along with commentary. These have included a list of essential books on Joseph Smith, a list of other essential Mormon biographies, and lists of the great British and American novels. Richard J. Matthews of the BYU religion department also has a column in which he has been reviewing new LDS inspirational and doctrinal books. Kieth Merrill has written about film, including Mormon films. Most intriguing of all, Marvin Payne has a column called “Backstage Glances”. It sounds like it might be about the theater, but so far they have been mostly about the problem of figuring what to write a column about. Payne indulges in the Harlow Clark extended-and-imbedded-parenthetical-comments school of writing, and is pretty funny. I also like Truman Madsen’s recent columns on religious topics.
Be aware that Meridian also contains a lot of conservative social commentary. It has a constantly updated news bar, with stories and opinions taken largely from what appear to be fundamentalist and conservative news outlets. Anti-UN commentary is especially frequent, not only from the national news stories, but also stories about or by Richard Wilkins, our own home-grown anti-UN activist who has gotten a lot of institutional support from BYU. I have mixed feelings about Wilkins’ positions, but I thought his recent Meridian column was totally whacked out. If the International Criminal Court treaty goes through, the Pope might be in danger of arrest for his support of the institution of marriage. Puh-leeze.
Dallas Robbins’ Harvest Magazine had the potential to be a more serious, interesting magazine, but unfortunately it never got off the ground, and by the end of the year Dallas announced he was putting it on indefinite hiatus. A handful of interesting articles appeared there, including an essay by Valerie Holladay on Mormon literature, a fantastically interesting interview of BYU professor Woodworth, and a long defense of humanism by another BYU professor.
BeliefNet is a web magazine with articles about all different kinds of religions, with lots of different commentators. Each religion, including Mormonism, has its own sub-page. BeliefNet started strong early in the year, landing Orson Scott Card as a columnist, and including interesting content by Eugene England and others. In the second half of the year, however, things have pretty much died away. Card contributes a column about every other month, as does historian Jan Shipps, and Linda Hoffman Kimball writes a light essay about every month, and that is about it.