I was unable to post last week because of a technology SNAFU that kept me from logging on. Thanks to Jonathan, I am now able to post what I wanted to post last week: a short response to two recent episodes of the Mormon Stories Book Club.
I assume most of you are familiar with the Mormon Stories podcast hosted by John Dehlin. I’ve been an irregular listener since January, but I’ve always been impressed by Dehlin’s passionate interviewing style and thoughtful questions. Until the start of the Mormon Stories Book Club podcast in August 2012, his 2007 interview with Levi Peterson was (I think) the closest he came to discussing Mormon literature in depth. However, his interviews with Richard Bushman, Terryl Givens, and others certainly have much to offer those of us who are interested in learning more about the uncorrelated nooks and crannies of the religion to which we belong.
The Mormon Stories Book Club releases an interview with an author every month or so. Dehlin occasionally participates in these interviews, but they are generally hosted by Dehlin’s colleague, Heather Olson Beal. Past interviewees have been Joanna Brooks (Book of Mormon Girl), John G. Turner (Brigham Young: Pioneer Prophet), and Terryl and Fiona Givens (The God Who Weeps). Unfortunately, at least from my point-of-view, the Book Club has pursued interviews mainly with authors of memoirs–and memoir isn’t my favorite genre. However, three Mormon fiction writers have been featured: Steven Peck (A Short Stay in Hell), Jack Harrell (A Sense of Order), Ryan McIlvain (Elders).
For this post, my focus will be on these last two interviews since they are the more recent. I found both of them insightful, particularly the interview with Ryan McIlvain. When I first read Elders, I was not impressed by the book, and my opinion about it improved only slightly after I wrote about it in my dissertation. However, after listening to McIlvain talk about the book and his thoughts and perspectives on Mormonism, I gained more of an appreciation for what the book is trying to do. Do I think it is a success? No. Do I think it’s the Great Mormon Novel? No. Would I recommend it to anyone who wanted to become more familiar with Mormon literature? No, probably not.
Still, I think it raises important ethical issues about missionary work, attitudes among American church member, and the struggles of the international church that need to become a bigger part of our dialogues and improvement efforts. Also, surprisingly, I was impressed by McIlvain himself. He seems to have a much more nuanced perspective on Mormonism than you would expect after reading Elders. The sensitivity towards the faith that I found lacking in the book was present in the interview. In some ways, the interview gave me a sense of what Elders could have been.
The interview with Jack Harrell was also good, and it made me want to revisit A Sense of Order–particularly the story “Calling and Election.” Unfortunately, I struggled a bit with this interview because the hosts, despite their earnestness and enthusiasm for the book, seemed uncomfortable talking about fiction. (You also get a sense of this in the interview with Steve Peck and McIlvain.) In my opinion, I would like to see the Mormon Stories Book Club retain its host, but bring in guest co-hosts who have more experience with Mormon literature–people who can bring a knowledge of Mormonism’s literary heritage to the table. I think doing so would only benefit the Mormon Stories Book Club.
Still, I hate to complain. Mormon literature doesn’t get enough attention as it is–so it seems wrong to knit-pick about sincere efforts to make people more aware of it. I applaud the efforts of the Mormon Stories Book Club and I look forward to listening to future podcasts.
I also have a long list of Mormon authors I’d like to hear interviewed.