How to Write a Bad Book Review

There was one other Mormon girl in my grade at my high school. We were actually really close friends, but the way we publicly approached our membership in the Church was very different. My friend was the type who asked others not to swear in front of her, gave copies of the Book of Mormon to some of our teachers, and complained when we had to read The Grapes of Wrath in our junior-year English class. I think she objected to the general coarseness of the novel, and particularly to the final scene that involves a woman breastfeeding a man. I, on the other hand, kept silent and mostly thought that I didn’t like The Grapes of Wrath as much as I liked East of Eden. Both of us were widely-read, fairly intelligent young women and were both active members of the Church, but our standards for literature differed significantly. Continue reading

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YA Corner: Hearts of the Children…

He dreamed of walking…bare feet becoming pale with the dust of powder-soft dirt. In passing the tall milk barn, its shadow covered him and cooled him. He did not pause but kept moving forward on a path as familiar as his own reflection. Ahead there was a lengthy fence with a gate. He opened the rustic structure by holding and contracting the weathered wood with one hand and simultaneously lifting the loop of wire on the top post. Beyond the now freely swinging gate lay acres of the same dark green plant, two and a half feet tall, covered in smallish rounded leaves and smaller deep purple blossoms — alfalfa.

Urgent steps led him through the field. There was work to be done, but where were his shoes? He rubbed his forehead with a puzzled gesture. He noticed he also had no hat to give protection from the fierce sun. “I am completely unprepared; what is wrong with me?” he thought. He made to turn back for shoes and hat, but instead continued on with an unstoppable forward momentum. As he walked he veered in a direction that eventually took him away from the alfalfa and to the top of a ravine. A faint path wound its way down into dark and hazy brush below. Wild plants and sage barged into the path, brushing roughly against his legs and prickling his feet.

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In Tents #39 Literal and Figurative Interpretation, or The Place is Called Gilgal Unto This Day

Here’s a paradox. I read scripture literally, and yet as I read letter by letter laterally through the word I keep seeing invitations to see the stories pointing toward something else. The writer of Exodus sees Moses as a new Noah being saved by a water-borne ark, while Peter sees the ark as a figure for the saving ordinance of baptism. Indeed, he even uses the word figure:

19 By which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison;
20 Which sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water.
21 The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God,) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ
I Peter 3:19-21

The Book of Mormon uses a good deal of Exodus imagery in I Nephi—with Nephi as Moses, and I sometimes wonder if Laman and Lemuel didn’t taunt Nephi by saying, “Who made you a prince and a judge over us? Do you intend to slay us like you slew Laban?” (See Exodus 3:14)

Joseph Smith defends his vision by invoking Paul’s defense of his vision before Agrippa, and the Book of Mormon repeatedly asks questions like, “is there not a type in this thing?” (Alma 37:45)

I read the scriptures figuratively, trying to understand the deeper meanings in parables and scriptural events. “So, do we know anyone else besides Joseph Smith who was thrown into a pit? Yes, Jeremiah, and Joseph, and Daniel. Jonah, yes, and John the Baptist and the Savior. Pay attention in your reading to recurring patterns and experiences. Notice how often prophets share the same experiences.”

And if I start paying attention to recurring motifs and phrases, I notice how the figures moving across the page insist on the historic nature of events, naming places

Wherefore the name of the place is called Gilgal unto this day.
(Joshua 5:10)

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in verse #39 : the lost leader

I raised the issue in my last post of the political and economic forces driving Romantic poetry, citing Roger Sales, who argues that in the Romantic authors we find apologists for the destruction of English rural life.[i]  Jonathan Langford, in a comment on that post, wrote that “while I’m willing to concede political implications of poetry (often unintended, and sometimes counter what was intended), I take a lot of convincing to see the political and/or economic as driving Romantic poetry.”[ii]  I’m not certain Sales is right — I’m still reading the book — but it seems to me that his main point goes more to the “unintended” element Langford notes, when he describes the pastoral as “deceptive and prescriptive. It offers a political interpretation of both past and present.…. provid[ing] sheep’s clothing for aristocratic wolves, or indeed for anybody who was on the side of the victors in the civil war which was fought for control of rural society.”[iii]  If you read Wordsworth’s “Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood” closely (and you can in that last post) you can’t help but see the link between the poet’s nostalgia for the past and the pastoral view of the world.  The poem is saturated in nostalgia.

As for the political and economic implications, I will respond here as I did to Jonathan’s comment:  note the injured tone of the poem below, and guess who wrote it, and about whom, and on what occasion:

The Lost Leader

Just for a handful of silver he left us,
Just for a riband to stick in his coat—
Found the one gift of which fortune bereft us,
Lost all the others she lets us devote;
They, with the gold to give, doled him out silver,
So much was theirs who so little allowed:
How all our copper had gone for his service!
Rags—were they purple, his heart had been proud!
We that had loved him so, followed him, honoured him,
Lived in his mild and magnificent eye,
Learned his great language, caught his clear accents,
Made him our pattern to live and to die!
Continue reading

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“Discourse on Leaves”


With the apparent demise of Irreantum and my own current thinkings lately on the demise of the Relief Society Magazine, may I present the last smidge of editorial content that latter organ ever published.

Relief Society Magazine---last poem ever published, last bit of editorial content

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Guest Post: An Illustrated Definition of Mormon Literature

I’ve been busy these past few days, so I decided to pass my monthly post on to someone with a little more time. You might recognize her as Enid Gardner, the star MIA Maniac of the webcomic The Garden of EnidAside from being an expert in all things weirdly Mormon, she’s also (to my surprise) a Mormon lit enthusiast. 

Below are Enid’s thoughts on the definition of Mormon literature–something we’ve all argued back and forth over the years. In some ways there’s nothing new here, and I’m not necessarily sure I agree with everything she says, but I like how she tries to narrow the field by focusing on overt content and community membership (broadly defined) and investment.  Like her, I’m uncomfortable with labeling something “Mormon” that isn’t overtly so.

But, I don’t want to get ahead of her and steal her fire. Here she is:

 (Click Images to Enlarge)
Enid AML_1







Enid AML_2

Enid AML_3









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This Month in Mormon Literature, March 2014

Brandon Sanderson’s fantasy Words of Radiance opened at #1 on the NYT Hardcover list, and has gotten very strong reviews. National YA authors Bree Despain, Shannon Hale, Brandon Mull, Jennifer Nielsen, Bethany Wiggins, Dan Wells, and Carol Lynch Williams all had new novels published. A ton of Mormon-authored plays are just opening or will soon open on Utah stages, including new plays by Melissa Leilani Larson, Mahonri Stewart, Jordan Kamalu and George Nelson, and Eric Samuelsen. Segullah announces its literary contest winners. Brad Torgersen makes the cover of Analog. The Whitney Award voting will be soon, and there are a ton of book reviews as readers are busily going through the list. Please send any news or corrections to mormonlit AT gmail DOT com. Continue reading

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Words of Radiance by Brandon Sanderson

Words of Radiance by Brandon Sanderson debuted at #1 on the New York Times Best Seller list for hardcover fiction and #2 on the overall USA Today list.  It’s the second book in his Stormlight Archives series, which began with The Way of Kings. I re-read/listened to the first book shortly before the new one came out, so that it would be fresh in my mind.  It also allows me to compare the two books, and in my opinion, while The Way of Kings was very good, Words of Radiance is even better.

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The Sacred and the Profane

We are often counseled not to make light of sacred things. For many that means staying clear of any expression of the difficult or intimate, to keep it ourselves so as to protect our individual understanding from public misunderstanding. To hide or shield the personally transcendent from less charitable eyes.

And yet as both storytellers and readers there is a real power in looking closely at what we believe (or perceive) and deconstructing the sensual or emotive experience so we can consider with less immediate passion. Brutalizing the moment so we can lay bare its parts and their connections, so as to better comprehend them both individually and collectively. It enables us to formulate not only what we believe, but why we believe it. A more qualified faith. Continue reading

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The Business Side of Writing: When Looking for the Right Agent, Be Rational

This month I said I’d talk about vetting agents, but you know? I’d like to approach this from a slightly different perspective. There are a gazillion guides out there about where to find agents looking for new authors, how to write a query letter, and so on. Let’s step back from that a moment and talk about where you, as a writer, should be before you start searching for an agent. Let me relate a story that got me thinking about this. On a bulletin board that I peruse sometimes, I read a post by someone who wanted to submit to an agent, and had met said agent at a conference. The agent had requested a 30 page writing sample, but then this writer had looked at the agent’s website and seen that they usually want a 25 page sample. He asked the community what he should do, and the responses were frankly surprising. People got all in a tizzy saying that maybe he should call to confirm the sample size and maybe he should go by the website guidelines if he were to submit at all.

None of these people were ready to get an agent, which isn’t to say they can’t get agents. I’m saying they aren’t ready for a healthy agent/client relationship. If an agent asks you for one thing, and then dings you for not giving him/her something different “because that’s what’s on the website,” then they are not someone you want to work with. Period. You need to be at a stage of your career that, emotionally, you understand that before you enter into a contract that allows another person to enter major business negotiations on your behalf. Fred Saberhagan once told me, “An agency relationship is like a marriage. You need to find the right person.” As any of us who’ve ever dated know, finding the right person requires looking inward and becoming the kind of person who can bring something to a partnership and enter into a productive relationship. Continue reading

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