An Insider's Look at Mormon Culture

Pivotal Books

The best thing about bad weather is the time it offers for curling up with a good book.  An English teacher I know rereads Macbeth every November. Perfect timing! November is so like Macbeth—you know things are going to keep getting worse! I came across a list of favorite novels yesterday and started thinking of my own favorites. My son-in-law often asks what my favorite books are and I never know how to answer. How to choose just one or two or even five? Usually, the best I can come up with is my favorite for this year. But what about all-time favorites? The books I’d choose to take to a desert island. Probably I should take the books I revisit frequently. In recent years I’ve opened Sophie’s World by Norwegian author Jostein Gaardner most often. Although the protagonist is a 15-year-old girl, this novel-within-a-novel is much more than a teen read. As the plot unfolds, a mysterious professor teaches Sophie the complete philosophy of Western Civilization. These summaries are the parts I return to when I need a succinct refresher on the thoughts of philosophers and scholars from Socrates to Freud.

And I should include books that have stirred my curiosity of the wide world. My 8th grade English teacher introduced me to Richard Halliburton. His Royal Road to Romance convinced me to explore the world beyond my birthplace. I couldn’t find Halliburton’s travelogues for my own children, but some have been reprinted and are on my list for my grandchildren.

Memoir is the genre that most allows me to participate in lives more exotic than my own. Some favorites are: Woman Warrior by Maxine Hong Kingston, a Chinese-American girl growing up in California with immigrant parents. Warriors Don’t Cry by Melba Patillo Beals, one of the “Little Rock Seven” who integrated an all-white Arkansas high school in 1957—the year I was a junior at all-white Pleasant Grove High with no idea what was happening to African-American teens in the South. The Road to Mecca by Muhammed Asad, a European Jew who traveled to Arabia as a journalist and converted to Islam in 1926. Asad later became Pakistan’s UN ambassador. And Dust Tracks on the Road, Zora Neale Hurston’s account of growing up in an all-black Florida community in the early 20th century.

Good fiction, like memoir, allows us to experience vicarious lives. Foreign authors teach us how much we have in common with people of different countries, religions and races. Nervous Condition by Tsitsi Dangarembga tells the story of a strained relationship between an African mother and daughter. In “The Bats” from Arranged Marriage by Indian author, Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, a child narrates the story of life with a mother who keeps returning to an abusive marriage.

I read few LDS authors because I prefer visiting less familiar cultures. Two novels which provide surprising insights into their LDS characters are Maureen Whipple’s The Giant Joshua and Levi Peterson’s Aspen Marooney. Clory, the young plural wife in Joshua, struggles with grinding poverty, sharing a husband, loss of children, and abandonment without the divine intervention and blessings bestowed in traditional pioneer stories. Aspen and her old high school flame ignite sparks at their 40th high school reunion. Though both are active LDS, Church values play little or no part in their decisions.

The wind whips and the temperature drops. What do I care? November was made for good books and a cozy recliner.

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Comments on: "Pivotal Books" (2)

  1. I haven’t read Obama’s Dreams book yet and think that would make a good winter read. I’s about 16 degrees here on the Rez; that’s something I can’t get used to, no matter the read.

  2. […] it’s the only one I read this year—is Mormon Women: Portraits & Conversations which I’ve written about previously. So, my annotated list of memorable Mormon books will come from previous years. Beginning with […]

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