Monday, August 22, 2011

Teaching Dispensation: An Update

A few weeks ago, I received the okay to teach a ten week 200-level lit class called "American Religious Landscapes." I'll be teaching it during the Spring 2012 quarter. Since the end of the world isn't scheduled until December of 2012, the class should go off as planned.

Obviously, I'm most looking forward to the week I'll be teaching Mormon short stories. I still intend to make Dispensation: Latter-day Fiction one of the required texts, although I might bring in .pdfs of stories published and archived by Dialogue as well.  Of the thirty-some stories in the anthology, I plan on using nine.  I haven't selected which ones to use yet. If you have any suggestions, let me know.

I definitely plan on using Levi Peterson's "Brothers," Douglas Thayers "Wolves," and Angela Hallstrom's "Thanksgiving." I also think it would be important to bring in Orson Scott Card and Brady Udall since both of them publish nationally, but I want to go through the book again with the class in mind.  I think I need to find stories that reflect the way Mormonism plays out across landscapes and in communities, but not in a way that is only recognizable to people very aware of the religion and its culture. In other words, I want highly accessible stories that show Mormonism's basic imprint on the land and its people.

Aside from Dispensation, I also plan on using C. Michael Curtis's fiction anthology God: Stories, which has many stories depicting Protestantism and Judaism. I also intend to give the class some ideas to talk about with Timothy Beal's non-fiction Religion in America: A Very Short Introduction (which, sadly, has very little to say about Mormonism)

Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter, Flannery O'Connor's A Good Man is Hard to Find, Toni Morrison's Paradise, Leslie Marmon Silko's Ceremony, and maybe one other novel or short story collection might also become required reading for the class, but I haven't made any sort of final selection.  Right now I'm also in the market for a good fiction written by an American Muslim that depicts Islam in America.  So far I haven't come up with much. If you have any recommendations, let me know.

If you'd like to know how the class develops, I'll post occasional updates. It should be an interesting experience.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Flooding the Bloggernacle with Mormon Literature...?

Recently on A Motley Vision, Wm Morris suggested that Mormon literature advocates are potentially looking beyond the mark when they strive after “literary respectability.”  For him—and I hope I’m representing his point accurately—such a pursuit is misguided because any respectability Mormon literature could gain from, say, a national audience or a literary establishment would have to come at a price, namely a willingness to be co-opted by the establishment “for its own purposes,” whatever they may be. 

As I see it, this observation implies a few things.  First, it suggests that Mormon literature, to be wholeheartedly embraced by the literary powers-that-be, has to be willing to be used politically, much like other minority literatures are sometimes used politically by the establishment, to convey a certain openness or multiculturalism that may or may not actually exist in the establishment itself.  In other words, it implies that practitioners of Mormon literature must be willing to let the literary establishment pat its own back on their account.

The observation likewise suggests that Mormon literature must be willing to become what is accepted as respectable by the establishment, which also means that it must be willing to change whatever there is about it that is not acceptable. To gain respectability, that is, Mormon literature has to be be willing to justify itself to the literary world by becoming a kind of Mormon version of what already exists in the establishment—a Mormon Shakespeare or Milton or Roth or Morrison.[i]

With respectability, therefore, Mormon literature risks achieving a kind of Pyrrhic victory: on the one hand, it gains recognition and admiration; on the other, it becomes another literature colonized by the new canon—a compromised literature forced to masquerade as authentic.[ii]

Overall, I tend to agree with Morris on his assessment of the current price of respectability: to make Mormon literature respectable and accessible to the establishment (I don’t see how you could have one without the other) Mormon literature would have to make some changes.  Especially if you want it right away.

Look at the examples of The 19th Wife and The Lonely Polygamist.  Also take a look at Big Love, The Book of Mormon, and Angels in America.  Each of these works is about Mormonism, in one way or another, and has managed to achieve critical acclaim and respectability on a national scale—certainly more so than any novel ever published by a Mormon press, including Deseret Books. 

The message seems clear: if you want your Mormon stories to be taken seriously by the establishment, then they have to either depict non-traditional sexualities (at least in the mainstream Mormon community) or cast Mormonism, with its magical Kolobian underwear, as a big joke.[iii]


Don't get me wrong: I’m not saying that polygamy and homosexuality aren’t important issues in contemporary Mormonism. Nor am I saying that they are inappropriate for Mormon literature. [v]  What I am saying, though, is that they’re not the only issues occupying the Mormon mind. 

The fact is, no one is breaking down doors to read Douglas Thayer or Todd Robert Petersen or any other Mormon writer who chooses to write anything that comes close to suggesting that Mormons are something other than a herd of sexually-repressed/repressive/oversexed weirdos.[vi] 

Why is that?

Part of me hopes that it is a matter of accessibility.  National critics and audiences, including the literary establishment, are open to Mormon stories about polygamy and homosexuality because they are about national issues—issues about which they have strong opinions.  Works like The Lonely Polygamist and Angels in America, therefore, find a wider audience because they address issues that appeal to a wider audience, often in ways that affirm what many readers already feel on the issue. 

The same cannot be said, however, about a book like Summer Fire or The Backslider. Who but a Mormon could identify with Owen Williams or Frank Windham?  Who but a Mormon could get Jack Harrell’s “Calling and Election”?[vii]

Not many.

Possibly, one way to remedy the barrier between national audiences and more authentic Mormon literatures (i.e. gain literary respectability) would be through education.  Teach a national audience, or the literary establishment, about the issues that are important, say, to contemporary Mormon novelists, and the audience will be more likely to be interested in and understand the novelist’s work.  If minority literatures show us anything, they show us that we can connect with lives and cultures different from our own as long as they make us care enough to connect.

Of course, making an audience care is tricky.  In a guest post on Dawning of a Brighter Day, I once suggested that one way to make certain audiences—specifically, academic audiences—care about Mormon literature would be to develop a body of academic writing about Mormon texts.  My idea was that if you produce and publish a sizable body of Mormon literary criticism in reputable venues, then academic recognition and respectability would follow.  I still believe this is true, although I readily admit that it will take years and years to bring about.

I wonder if the same principle applies to other audiences as well.  If enough of a buzz is made nationally over Mormon literature, would it be sufficient to make people care enough to read a Mormon text on its own terms?  Probably, but you still need to find venues willing to cooperate with the buzz efforts.  It would be great, for instance, if Oprah selected Bound on Earth or Long After Dark for her popular (and respected) book club, but I don’t see that happening any time soon.[viii]  In fact, for the moment, I think a spot on the Oprah Book Club is setting ambitions too high.  It’s definitely looking beyond the mark. 

As I see it, for Mormon literature to gain wider literary respectability without being colonized by the establishment,[ix] it’s going to need to take it’s time and win its audience over.  In fact, before it can take American audiences by storm, it will first need to find a solid Mormon audience.  Then, after it has established itself within the Mormon community, and demonstrated its ability to make a dollar, it will have enough uncompromising advocates to carry it safely to the next level, even the Kolobian realms of Oprah.[x]

Of course, getting Mormons to read Mormon literature is a difficult endeavor, and everyone seems to have an opinion on why it hasn’t happened yet.  Personally, I don’t think it’s a matter of offensive content or finding Mormons who actually read.[xi]  Rather, I think it’s again a matter of education: Mormon readers don’t know what’s out there that’s worth reading.  

I wonder, then, if the next step toward respectability is to work toward popularizing Mormon literature among the Mormon masses. No, I don’t mean allowing Mormon literature to be colonized by popular Mormon tastes,[xii] but rather taking the message of Mormon literature to  Bloggernacle sites other than, say, A Motley Vision or Dawning of a Brighter Day, where readers have already gotten the message.

This strategy, of course, has been proposed before.  Last year, Jonathan Langford posted on A Motely Vision about his attempt to start a conversation about Mormon Literature on an Amazon.com messagae board.  I think he’s got the right idea, although I wonder if Amazon is the right place for it.

Currently, the Bloggernacle has many popular, well-travelled blogs that address Mormonism culturally rather than doctrinally or institutionally.  I wonder if flooding these sites with energetic guest posts about Mormon literature might be the way the get the word out among the Mormons.[xiii]

In his essay “The Burden of Skepticism,” scientist Carl Sagan chides his fellow scientists for their apparent unwillingness to popularize science for the masses, leaving the door open for pseudo-science to take its place. He reasons that if scientists were able to explain science to “the average person” through “accessible and exciting” means, then the masses would become more interested in real science, and imaginative substitutes, like astrology, would begin to lose its audience.

Could this be true also with Mormon literature? If Mormon literature advocates blasted the Bloggernacle with “accessible and exciting” posts about Mormon literature, would Mormon readers begin to seek out Bound on Earth before The Help?  Would that be enough to get Mormon literature on the road to respectability without compromise?

Or do we need to wait for a Mormon Oprah to do the job for us?


[i] I think Morris makes an important, potentially revolutionary point here.  Thanks to Orson F. Whitney, who said that Mormons will someday have Shakespeares and Miltons of their own, Mormon writers have looked to the day when a Mormon Milton or Shakespeare would arrive on the scene, messiah-like, and grant respectability to Mormon literature.  In his post, however, Morris seems to be suggesting that we're placing too much hope in this “prophesy”—and possibly even allowing it to lead us and Mormon literature astray.  I hope he’s right in this respect, since a gentile Milton is bad enough.

[ii] I recognize, by the way, that terms like “Mormon literature” and “literary establishment” are problematic because they are vague and unspecific.  What makes a work of literature authentically Mormon? Who makes up the literary establishment?  These are questions for other posts. For the sake of this post, though, think of the literary establishment as those who put together or are included in, say, the Norton or Longman literature anthologies that are used by universities across the country.  

[iii] If anything irritates me more, it’s the phrase “magical underwear,” which seems to be a media darling.

[iv] And your example can’t include a story about a grisly, religiously-motivated murder, either.  Sorry Krakauer fans.  

[v] In fact, I’d be willing to say that a Mormon literature that is not willing to address these issues is not much of a Mormon literature at all.

[vi] Of course, the more I read of nineteenth century depictions of Mormon, the more I realize that this has always been the stereotype.  The Book of Mormon musical brings nothing new to the table aside from a few catchy songs. 

[vii] I’m a Mormon, and I’m not sure I entirely get it.

[viii] While Oprah has endorsed a book about Mormons before, it is not a book many Mormons will likely appreciate.

[ix] A case of having cake and eating it too.

[x] Personally, I hope we set our sights higher than Oprah—although, I admit, Oprah would be big.   

[xi] There is an erroneous belief, perpetuated by frustrated Mormon readers, that Mormons don’t read.

[xii] That didn’t work out too well for Mormon cinema.

[xiii] I tried to do this recently, with moderate success, on the blog Modern Mormon Men with a guest post entitled “The Five Mormon Books Every Modern Mormon Man Should Read.”

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Douglas Thayer and the Adolescent Adam: A Review of "Summer Fire"

Douglas Thayer’s fiction clings doggedly to the Mormon boyhood.  His protagonists, usually young men from Provo, exist in a limbo state between innocence and knowledge.  Indeed, like adolescent Adams, they often bite into forbidden fruits—usually violent in nature—and find themselves stranded in lone and dreary worlds.  In this respect, they share blood—in more ways than one—with the protagonists in the fiction of Ernest Hemingway and Cormac McCarthy, two writers whose works famously explore the ways violence shapes masculinity.  But where the protagonists of Hemingway and McCarthy succumb to the violence of a fallen world, Thayer’s hold on to the possibility of joy and redemption, even when neither possibility is readily discernible. 

This optimism, in some ways, sets Thayer apart from much of contemporary American fiction, which is either overly clever or overly morose in its bleak depiction of modern life.  As a writer, Thayer resists such pessimism without discarding the hard realities of life.  His stories, therefore, are sad and often heartbreaking, but never tragic.  Nor are they about simple dualistic worlds where good and evil are easily distinguishable.  Usually, only a few crucial life decisions separate Thayer’s protagonists from his antagonists.   

As a reader, I’ve encountered Thayer’s fiction in a haphazard way.  His second novel, The Conversion of Jeff Williams (Signature Books, 2003), which I read shortly after its publication, was the first novel I experienced that treated contemporary Mormonism in a realistic way.  Earlier this year, I read (and reviewed) his third and most recent novel, The Tree House (Zarahemla Books, 2009), which is likely his best and most ambitious work.  Between reading these two novels, I also read several of his short stories and his memoir, Hooligan: A Mormon Boyhood (Zarahemla Books, 2009).  Finally, this past week, I finished his first novel, Summer Fire (Signature Books, 1983).

Summer Fire is about Owen Williams, a sixteen-year-old Mormon boy who lives with his mother and grandmother, has “always kept the commandments,” and soon expects to be “the only boy in his ward with both his Eagle Scout badge and Duty to God  Award” (5-6).  The novel begins as Owen and his cousin Randy board a bus that takes them to a Nevada hay ranch where they have been hired to work for the summer.  For both Owen and Randy, this is the first time they have been away from their home in Provo for an extended period.  It is Randy’s father’s hope that the summer job “will help make men out of both of them” (2).

Physically, though, Owen has a long way to go.  Thin, with a history of sickness, Owen is a far cry from the cowboy image of masculinity that confronts him on the ranch.  Manual labor does not come naturally to him, and he is more used to playing the piano and reading moralistic literature—Drinking and the Young American, Animals that Love, How the Youth Prepare for Temple Marriage—than clearing irrigation ditches and pitching hay.  Randy, on the other hand, seems more suited for the work and the bunkhouse environment it fosters.  He arrives at the ranch already in cowboy duds, and his literature of choice is back issues of Playboy.

Filling the role of antagonist in Summer Fire is the Staver, the ranch foreman, who carries a thick white scar down the length of his chest from a heart wound he received in the Korean War.  He is, in some ways, the antithesis of Owen: around the ranch he is crude, irreverent, petty, and sometimes brutally violent.  Yet he also possesses certain positive traits that Owen’s own self-righteousness undervalues or overlooks.  With Owen, for example, he is sternly patient whenever the boy makes big mistakes, like overinflating the wheels on his pick-up truck, spilling a can of red paint, or sending the wrong calve to be slaughtered.  Staver is also quick with a compliment whenever he sees a job well done.  As a character, he is a multi-sided die whose behavior is never quite predictable.  Once you begin to like and admire him, he does something to make you despise him.  Then you learn more information about his past, and your view of him again changes entirely.
    
Like Thayer’s other novels, Summer Fire is a Mormon coming-of-age story.  During his time on the ranch, Owen had a series of experiences that help refine his character and smooth the roughest edges of his commitment to personal righteousness. Indeed, throughout the novel, Owen grapples with reconciling the teachings of his beloved seminary teacher, Brother Anderson, with the moral ambiguities of ranch life.  As he does so, he gains terrifying insights into his own potential for good and evil in the world.

Often, Staver is the catalyst for these insights, and Owen frequently loses himself in violent fantasies in which he and Staver switch roles:

I wanted to run and tackle [Staver], knock him down in the mud and manure, get on top of him and push his face down in it and keep doing that until he pleaded with me to stop, and I stood and pulled him up and shoved him against the fence, and then I climbed though the fence and walked away.  I wanted Staver to feel what it was like.  That’s all I wanted, so he wouldn’t do it to other summer hands.  (120)

Such fantasies offer readers another view of Owen that contrasts sharply with the Golden Boy image he tries so hard to convey. Early in the novel, for instance, he is sure that he “couldn’t torture and kill people,” but that certainty erodes as he becomes increasingly more confused about the meaning of personal righteousness, and his ambivalence towards Staver gives way to hate. 

When the day comes that I teach an Introduction to Mormon Literature class to a room full of Latter-day Saints, I’m going to assign Summer Fire.  Not only has Thayer written the novel in an incredibly teachable way—it employs traditional plot structure, a clear theme, and plenty of accessible symbolism—but he has also used it to address many of the basic doctrines (i.e. atonement, eternal progression, etc.) that young Latter-day Saints learn about and discuss in the Seminary program.  What is more, the novel has a kind of ageless quality about it, despite being set sometime in the mid-1960s, possibly due to its remote setting, timeless themes, or even Thayer’s own distinctive, unadorned prose style.  Whatever the case may be, readers are unlikely to be distracted by any details that would betray the fact that it was published nearly thirty years ago.  

Summer Fire, in short, is an excellent novel that deserves recognition as a classic of Mormon fiction.  For readers who are familiar with Thayer and his fiction, this is old news.  In 1985, Eugene England praised Summer Fire for being “the first ‘real’ Mormon novel in nearly thirty years […] to deal seriously with Mormon characters and ideas” (Dialogue 18.4, 197). Since then, dozens of other novels have followed its example, dealing seriously with Mormonism and slowly establishing a canon of texts built largely upon the foundation established by Thayer’s unswerving commitment to telling Mormon stories. While it is not Thayer’s best work—again, that distinction, in my opinion, remains with his masterful The Tree HouseSummer Fire remains a solid stone in that foundation.

Summer Fire is currently out-of-print; however, you can purchase a second-hand copy of it from Amazon.com for as little as $0.43 plus shipping.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

A Hot Two Days in Old Nauvoo: A Review of Sorts

The next time you make plans to do some summertime camping in Nauvoo, check the forecast.  It can get hot.  Hot enough to make you wonder why the heck anyone in the nineteenth century—that heyday of heavy fabrics and modest dress—would want to live there.  


Last month my family and I made that mistake. We had camped at Nauvoo before—several times—so we thought nothing of it.  Nauvoo State Park, after all, is a notoriously cheap place to camp—cheaper than any of Nauvoo’s novelty hotels—and it always has plenty of campsites and hardly any campers.

Plus, it’s close to everything.[1] 

So, after a seven hour drive, during which my four-year-old daughter and I invented a game called “Spot the Corn,”[2] we pulled into a beautiful campsite at the top of a hill overlooking other beautiful campsites, the trunks of several tall trees, and a row of rusty dumpsters.  It was a magnificent sight for one who had just spent a really long time in a van with a bunch of little kids.  Without delay, I got out of the van, greeted my parents (who had arrived there several hours before us), and proceeded to perspire like a seventh grade math teacher. Within five minutes I was wringing out my shirt and playing connect-the-dots with mosquito bites.

Of course, I should have been ready for the heat. For most of that day, the thermometer in our van was reading temperatures in the high nineties.  But temperatures like that are hard to imagine when you’re wrapped in the chilly arms of your automobile’s air conditioner. 

The AC, I have learned, can be a deceitful lover.

Fortunately, we were only in Nauvoo for a short visit, a stop-off on our way to a family reunion in Branson, Missouri.[3]  Still, at the end of every day I felt like Humphery Bogart looked just before he was killed in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre.  It wasn’t the best time of year to be outside.  Walking between each building in Old Nauvoo was like taking a stroll through the steamy insides of a flatiron.  After a while, we gave up and retreated to the climate-controlled visitor’s center, where we watched the kids play WWE Smackdown at the feet of the Christus statue.

By the late afternoon, though, we had to brave the heat again.  We returned to the campsite and let the kids play with a nearby water pump while we ate dinner and let our clothes get sweaty again.  Off to the west, the sun was setting, but the heat—like a has-been country star on a small-time Branson stage—didn’t seem to be going anywhere.

That night our plan was to see the new Nauvoo pageant, one of the main reasons for our being in town.  I had seen the older pageant, The City of Joseph, a number of times, but had a low opinion of it.  I wasn’t expecting the new one to be much better even though everyone I had talked to—including a brother-in-law who had performed in it—assured me that it was, in a word, “amazing.”[4]

I had my doubts.  Church pageants and I had never really seen eye to eye.  And I was feeling kind of sick.  I think the sun was getting to me.

At around seven o’clock we headed down to the pageant venue, where the cast members—in full costume—were holding a kind of country fair.  Various booths were set up for kids to make pioneer crafts and play with nineteenth-century toys.  In the center of it all was a makeshift dance floor where teenage cast members dressed in pioneer dresses danced with teenagers in modern-day shorts and t-shirts.  

Of course, as well-put together as it was, I didn’t enjoy the fair as much as the kids.  Like I said, I was feeling a little sick.[5]  But I was also extremely paranoid that someone was going to steal the choice seats I had informally reserved with a ratty picnic blanket and a beach towel a few hours earlier.  Maybe it was the effects of the sun on my brain, but I had convinced myself that some type-A with big teeth an entitlement complex was going to steal my seats for his wife and kids.  I even envisioned myself having a loud shouting match with the guy.

As usual, my paranoia turned out to be just that.  Everyone was really nice.[6]  No one even asked me for a member referral.[7]

But it was still hot—even after the sun set and the pageant got underway.  In the stage lights, swarms of mosquitos turned tight circles around each other, spinning haphazardly like rogue satellites, creating something of a smog of insects above the heads of the sweat-stained actors marching single-file onto the stage.  Bagpipers played “Praise to the Man” while two men held the American and Illinois state flag in front of the audience—creating, something of an ironic juxtaposition, considering that the original lyrics to the hymn about Joseph Smith’s martyrdom sang:

Long shall his blood, which was shed by assassins,
Stain Illinois, while the earth lauds his fame.

Ironic moments like that, of course, are part of any attempt to reimagine and portray the past.[8]  As peoples and attitudes change, I’ve learned, their take on history changes with them.  In the 165 years since the saints left Nauvoo, Mormonism has certainly shifted its focus a number of times, especially during the twentieth century, and its history—the way it tells its story—has not been immune to these shifts. 

The current Nauvoo pageant reflects this.  For example, I noticed that it places a lot more emphasis on Nauvoo’s racial diversity than its predecessor, The City of Joseph, by including Jane Manning as one of its main characters.  It also gives women characters, like Leonora Taylor and Vilate Kimball, a more prominent voice.[9] 

Immigrants, too, get a bigger voice.  One of the main story threads in the pageant is about a family of Scottish immigrants, the Lairds, whose story is meant to help audience members better relate to the events being portrayed on the stage.  Robert Laird, for instance, is a non-Mormon stonecutter who has his doubts about Mormonism. His wife, Becky, on the other hand, is a ready believer.  Both provide different perspectives on the Mormon message, and the idea seems to be that audience members can identify with either one or the other, if not both.

Sadly, for much of the pageant, I was wrestling my two-year-old, who goes crazy if she’s still awake by nine o’clock.  As much as I tried to get her interested in what was happening on stage—“Look! It’s Joseph Smith!” “Ooo! Do you like their dresses!”—she wanted nothing of it.  Half-way through the production, I found myself wandering around in the dark of the night, trying my best to watch the pageant and keep my daughter from screaming.  She seemed content only when I let her walk around on her own, which every parent worth his or her subscription to Parenting knows is not a good idea at nighttime—even in a crowd full of nice Mormons.

Eventually, I traded in my crazy two-year-old for my sleepy four-year-old, who fell asleep on my lap as Joseph Smith was delivering a shortened version of King Follett’s funeral sermon, which emphasized less our potential to become like the gods and more our ability to live eternally with our families.[10]  So I was able to see the completion of the Nauvoo temple and the beginnings of the trek west in relative peace.[11]

In another blog post, I mentioned that I was keeping my expectations for the new Nauvoo pageant in check.  After seeing it, though, I realized that I didn’t have to.  I was surprised with how much I liked it.  And not only because of the impressive quality of the production and the crisp economy of its storytelling.[12]  I liked how narrator Parley P. Pratt would occasionally break the fourth wall to remind us that the past has a place in the present, that the people of old Nauvoo remain there because we’re there to remember them and their legacy.  In a sense, it was a subtle reminder that Joseph Smith’s vision of generations welded together in an unbreakable chain is not something reserved for the afterlife.  It’s something that happens whenever something like the Nauvoo pageant helps us turn our hearts and minds back to the past. 

I admit I wasn’t thinking about any of this when I left the pageant.  Mostly I was still too irritated from the combination of staggering heat and wild children to reflect much on anything but how much I wanted to go to bed.[13] 

But since then I’ve had time to think about the many ways we make usable history out of the past.  The Nauvoo Pageant, after all, doesn’t tell the whole story of old Nauvoo.  (How could it in ninety minutes?)  So it’s slanted history, biased in a way that will likely irritate historical purists who see maliciousness in selective memory.[14]  But it does tell a story—true in a very real sense—that the average Jane and Joe Mormon can take home in their pocket or hold in their hand like a souvenir brick.  It’s history-as-a-reminder that they’re part of something much bigger than a weekly Sunday meeting or an occasional munch and mingle.

To my surprise, I’m looking forward to the next time I see the Nauvoo pageant.  In my opinion, it’s a production that’s remarkable without having to be crowbarred into remarkability—which is more than I’ve said about other pageants.  I’d recommend it for everyone.[15]

And in case anyone was wondering, I did not get into any scraps with anti-Mormons.  In fact, I didn’t see a single anti-Mormon or anti-Mormonmobile around.[16]  Nor was Old Nauvoo overly crowded—except in the air-conditioned visitor’s centers. 

I hate to think the heat was cause for these pleasant absences.  Maybe the anti-Mormons are getting soft in their old age and their zeal is no longer enough to keep them cool on hot summer nights in old Mormon country.



[1] Which, I admit, isn’t saying much for a town as small as Nauvoo.

[2] And a variation, “Spot the Beans.”

[3] One of the few places I’ve been where everyone on a billboard looks as if they’ve had a facelift.

[4] As a rule, I’m suspicious of a) anything my brother-in-law says (even though he’s usually right) and b) anything modified by the word “amazing.”

[5] More accurately: a lot sick.

[6] I think my paranoia about mean Mormons goes back to my days living in Provo, where everyone is rude at least once or twice a week.  Once, at a BYU football game, I asked one of my fellow Cougars a simple question and he responded in way that left it entirely clear—in my mind—that the guy was a solid, All-American fetch-wad. At another time, my wife and I—along with our newborn baby—were pulling out of the parking lot of the Wal-Mart in Orem when another clean-cut fetch-wad punched the trunk of my car and started yelling at me. To this day I don’t know why. I’ve reviewed the incident a number of times in my mind, and I can’t figure it out. My trunk, however, still has the faint outline of this chucklehead’s knuckles—a reminder of the day my car got sucker-punched. Anyway, those are only two of my stories about the rudeness I encountered in Happy Valley.  I have others. Such experiences, though, have almost disappeared since moving back to Cincinnati.  

[7] While I was fiercely guarding our seats, my wife was asked for one by one of the teenage cast members.

[8] Take a look at what we do with America’s Founding Fathers.

[9] As I remember it, The City of Joseph also included a woman’s perspective of old Nauvoo without really naming any of the specific women who lived there or giving them major speaking roles.

[10] Which, I recognize, is basically saying the same thing.

[11] Thanks to our crazy two-year-old, my wife did not.

[12] My many beeves with The City of Joseph hinged primarily on its lack of both of these crucial elements of good theater.

[13] Which turned out to be pretty crappy itself, since my bed was actually a sleeping bag in a tent that didn’t do much to lower the overall temperature.

[14] I have a lot of opinions on this. Maybe one day I’ll write about them.

[15] And I mean that: invite your friends. It’s not something you’ll have to apologize for.

[16] I did see one guy selling Living Scriptures videos in an LDS bookstore, but I didn’t talk to him. Instead, I perused the shelves (unsuccessfully) for good Mormon fiction.