A couple months ago I was contacted by a Mr. Christopher Bigelow, President of Zarahemla Books a small-LDS oriented press. He asked me if I were interested in reviewing a couple of his titles for my blog readership (that's . . um . . .you). Before I could respond, I had to be completely honest with myself:
1.) I don't read. That much.
2.) I generally abstain from LDS writings. (Yes, I am a Work and the Glory virgin.)
But after some soul-searching and remembering a few LDS books that inspired my Mormon mojo (Peterson's The Backslider and Ulrich/Thayne's All God's Creatures Got a Place in the Choir) plus a promising Mormon Literature class by the late great Eugene England, I wrote Mr. Bigelow back and told him to send a couple books my way. After all, I could read with an open mind.
The two books I read from Zarahemla Books make today's Of Good Report list:
Long After Dark: Is a collection of short stories and one novella. I am a sucker for short stories, mostly because they are short and also because they are short. In this book, Todd Robert Peterson writes with powerful story telling capabilities, condensing interesting tales into poignant pieces of art. There are stories for almost any genre of Mormon (the Small Town Mormon, the Latin Mormon, the Polygamist-ancestried Mormon) or Not Yet Mormon. For our part, Chup and I read several short stories together for the sake of discussion (we're so literary, Chup and I). One story, entitled Parables From the New World about a Sheriff, his colleague's wife in a hot tub and a wise, appearing-out-of-no-where Indian man a had us debating for days. Could the Read-and-Debate replace the Dinner-and-a-Movie for date night? I don't know, but I do feel that Mormondom now has another great short story writer (like: Thayer) and I look forward to reading more.
On the Road to Heaven: See, here is the problem with this book, after it was over I was sorely depressed of spirit. I honestly fell in love with the main character Kit. Hard. And when I realized that On the Road to Heaven is an auto-biographical novel I realized that I had fallen in love with an actual person. Do you think that is weird?
The last time I wrote a review for this blog (Hallstrom's provoking Bound on Earth) I was left an interesting comment by a reader, Jessica, who said about my post "I had to skip the description, because I am the kind of person that likes to know NOTHING about a book when I start it (other than that it's good)." I have thought a lot about that comment and I must say that I agree with her. I could write a brief synopsis of On the Road to Heaven and then carry on my critique from that point (which I am sure is the technical method of doing a book review), or I could just skip it and tell you to PLEASE BUY AND READ AND SAVOR AND LOVE this book. Like I did.
OF FREAKING GOOD REPORT.
But part of me doesn't want to tell you to buy this book because I'd like to believe that it was a love story written just for me. Me, the sworn grouchy Scrooge of Romance Comedies (I refuse their existence) was able to actually feel emotions while reading this story. Not just about love, but intelligence, thought, conversion, missionary work, sensuality and adventure. I laughed out loud, I was pained, I was awakened. I partly wished that I had been a rousing convert to the gospel, rather than born Mormon and ready to fly. But mostly it even gave me hope that beautiful stories about my faith can be written.
And poetically written. Like this:
I could hardly tolerate the thought of returning to the red-brick prison, with all its inane force-feeding and forced regurgitation of trivial schlop amassed and administered soley for the purpose of making us all the same, then throwing away the kids who didn't fit or learn that way or dig that scene or really care about trig and track and all the rah-rah crap.
The only problem I had with the book is the title (and the cover of the book which is far too uninteresting for the interesting novel it encases). It seems that there has been a mass of "heaven" titles lately, from Groberg's The Other Side of Heaven to the sad movie Far From Heaven (though didn't that movie have great art direction?) Sorry to say, the word "heaven" has lost it's flavor for me, though I would like to get there someday, and please don't think me sinful for saying as such.
But back to my original thought.
Dear Mr. Coke Newell.
I love you.
Thanks Mr. Bigelow for introducing me to these award-winning LDS writers.
Should you be interested in purchasing this book (or Long After Dark), you can get it (really cheaply) here.
On Friday I will be looking for your Of Good Report in my comments section. Are you going to come prepared? Are you going to de-lurk? Are you going to get your mom to join in?
I can't wait.