I’ve read exclusively non-fiction for the last few months. This is a departure for me (I likey the fiction), but alas, books about real things are what my spirit craves this year, apparently. The books in this post are heavy on faith, spirituality, women’s voices, and Latter-day Saint history, because my spirit self also wants all the churchy stuff, mkay? Here are some tiny book reviews. Cheers xo
Temple and Cosmos
This book is hefty and written in the rambly professorial verbage of Hugh Nibley, who wrote and taught at BYU for decades on ancient scripture. My interest in the temple–its origins and meaning–has ratched up exponentially this year, which is why I delved into this behemoth. I learned a lot about the ancientness of temple ceremonies, and about the pervasiveness of their symbols throughout history. The last few chapters aren’t really about temples, but are various papers tacked onto the book. These didn’t interest me, but the rest of this tome was pretty fascinating. Nibley’s daughter Martha, said he abused her during her childhood. This is distressing information, which gave me some cognitive dissonance because while he wrote astutely about the deepest mysteries of my faith, he may have also been a monstrous pedophile. My son and I argue over Michael Jackson for this very reason. He says MJ’s music is amazing. I say I don’t want to listen to the art of a child predator. Only you can decide how to proceed regarding this landmark book and it’s questionable author.
Saints, vol. 1
This is the first in a series of four volumes recounting the history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The Church is making an effort at greater transparency in relating some of its more distasteful historical events, and this book reflects that stance. It doesn’t dismiss or justify uncomfortable facts, but it does present them in context. A group of writers worked with Church historians on the book, and while I wouldn’t say it’s a gripping page-turner, I enjoyed reading the sequential unfolding of the fledgling Church. I learned a lot. Some of it made me feel icky. Much of it was faith-promoting. For me, Joseph and Emma Smith became real people, and this humanizing discussion gave me empathy for them. I will def be reading the next volume, which comes out in February 2020, and which will obvs be about the trek West, at least in part.
Doctrine and Covenants Encyclopedia
This is a really thick reference book by Hoyt Brewster which cites scripture and prophets as it expounds on people and terms found in the Doctrine and Covenants. I intended to read just a few sections on specific words of interest to me, but ended up reading the entire encyclopedia like a novel because I’m weird and it contained a bunch of hidden gems.
A House Full of Females
Harvard history professor and Pulitzer Prize-winner Laurel Thatcher Ulrich wrote this really quite readable book about the practice of plural marriage in the early Church. When this book was released in February 2018, I decided I wasn’t in a place to read it without filling with rage. Somehow, I was in a better place this spring and found this book immensely informative and thought-provoking. Again, I learned so much from this discussion on a practice which, while believed to be eternal, exalting, and divinely-mandated, also at times resulted in incredibly messy lives and situations when practiced by regular humans. And here we reprise our high-maintenance pal, cognitive dissonance.
I heard about this book on the Mormonland podcast and couldn’t order it fast enough. It’s written by Jeff O’Driscoll, a veteran emergency room doctor, who has vast experience with both death and near-death experiences. He has a spiritual gift where he physically sees people who have died, as clearly as he sees the living people in the room. He doesn’t attempt to persuade skeptics, he simply tells his experiences, which span decades in the ER. I devoured this book. I am obsessed with NDE accounts because I believe every last one of them is true and as a body, they inform us regarding our own mortality and our eternal spirits.
At the Pulpit: 185 Years of Discourses by Latter-day Saint Women
Edited by Jennifer Reeder and Kate Holbrook, this is a collection of women’s discourses throughout Church history. It is a testament to the strength of women as preachers, leaders, and disciples since the Church’s restoration. Perhaps as interesting as the discourses themselves are the biographies of the women preceding each chapter, and the copious and rich textual notes at the end of the book. I read every single word and learned so effing much. I finished this work and FELT the power of women who serve and study and learn and teach. The more recent talks appealed most to me, probably because their current topics and language spoke to me exactly where I am. If you read it (it’s free online on the Gospel Library app under “Church History”), these are my favorite chapters: “The Prayer of Faith” by Drusilla D. Hendricks, “A Latter-day Saint Theology of Suffering” by Francine R. Bennion (this one is a REVELATION), “The Unknown Treasure” by Jutta B. Busche, “Decisions and Miracles: And Now I See” by Irina Kratzer, “Knowing Who You Are–and Who You Have Always Been” by Sheri L. Dew, and “Our Father in Heaven Has a Mission for Us” by Judy Brummer (I personally found this one super inspiring).
The Witness of Women
This collection of firsthand accounts of women involved in the Restoration of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is edited by Janiece Johnson and Jennifer Reeder. I’ve had a harder time slogging through this one, probably because so much of it is written in the embellished and wordy syntax of the nineteenth century. I also find myself hungry to move beyond the nascent Nauvoo Relief Society and well-known female pillars of the early church like Eliza R. Snow to the many many many multitudes of contemporary women who also possess great faith, fascinating life stories, and the ability to inspire and lead.
Crossings: A Bald Asian-American Latter-day Saint Woman Scholar’s Ventures Through Life, Death, Cancer, and Motherhood (Not Necessarily in That Order)
This is a memoir by Melissa Wei-Tsing Inouye who has lived a fascinating global life with her husband and four children. She is incredibly accomplished and yet writes relatably about living in Taiwan as a missionary, Hong Kong as a young mother, and now Auckland, New Zealand as a university professor. I’m only part-way through, but I already love her and am immersed in her voice and her story. I also heard about this book in an interview with Inouye on the Trib’s podcast Mormonland, which is now driving many of my book purchases.