Favorite Mormon-Related Books

I was asked elsewhere to list my favorite Mormon-related books. Here they are:

1. Favorite five LDS fiction books?

The Giant Joshua by Maurine Whipple. Just really well written stuff.
The Evening and the Morning, by Virginia Sorensen. Again, top-notch writing.
The Backslider, by Levi Peterson. So, so cynical.
The Work and the Glory, by Gerald Lund. The writing is spectacularly bad (though not as bad as Chris Heimerdinger’s stuff). This stuff is good just for the sheer entertainment value.

2. Favorite five LDS non-fiction/non-apologetic books? (Excluding the Standard Works).

Mormon Enigma: Emma Hale Smith, by Linda King Newell and Valeen Tippetts Avery. Hands down the best-written LDS biography written so far.
In Sacred Loneliness: The Plural Wives of Joseph Smith, by Todd Compton. Really well done.
Personal Writings of Joseph Smith, Dean Jessee, ed.
The Mormon Experience: A History of the Latter-day Saints, by Bitton and Arrington. An admirable attempt at an objective history.
History of Joseph Smith by His Mother, Lucy Mack Smith. Lucy’s personality and her fierce defense of her son come alive in the words of this book.

3. Favorite five LDS apologetic works?

Book of Mormon Authorship Revisited, Noel Reynolds, ed.
Second Witness, by Brant Gardner.
Echoes and Evidences of the Book of Mormon, Parry, Peterson, Welch, eds.
Man: His Origin and Destiny, by Joseph Fielding Smith. The ultimate in “it was just his personal opinion.” Ignorance and superstition masquerading as dogma.
Truth Restored, by Gordon B. Hinckley. Institutional spin in a handy pocket size.

4. Five ‘Favorite’–implying best-written, most thought-provoking, NOT ‘most ridiculous’ or ‘most laughable’–books critical of the LDS Church.

New Approaches to the Book of Mormon, Brent Metcalfe, ed. This was the first critical book that made sense to a believer who had reached some of the same conclusions outlined in the book.
American Apocrypha, Metcalfe and Vogel, eds. Another fine collection of thought-provoking essays.
No Man Knows My History, by Fawn Brodie. Yes, the “psychobiography” is annoying, but the writing is cracking good, and much of Brodie’s work has stood the test of time.
Losing a Lost Tribe, by Simon Southerton. Finally puts the hemispheric model to rest.
Farewell to Eden, by Duwayne Anderson. Duwayne was a thorn in the side from way back on a.r.m. His book is well-written and is a good outline of how skeptics view the church.

5. Five LEAST FAVORITE books critical of the LDS Church–yeah you can have a little fun with this one if no one derails this thread in the process.

Godmakers, by Ed Decker. The embodiment of the word “craptacular.”
One Nation Under Gods, by Richard Abanes. Bless his heart, Richard tries.
Mormonism, Mama, & Me, by Thelma “Granny” Geer. A manipulative and distorted view of Mormonism dressed up to sound loving and kind.
Kingdom of the Cults, by “Dr.” Walter Martin. Mean-spirited sensationalism, pure and simple.
The Book of Zelph. Absolutely brilliant satire.

11 Responses to Favorite Mormon-Related Books

  1. GBSmith says:

    I remember sitting in a Lutheran church in Tacoma, Wa. listening to Dr. Martin. I’d been invited by a presbyterian friend who thought it was going to be a calm, quiet discussion of mormonisma and mainstream christianity. Martin’s final comment was “Mormonism is a satanically inspired, polytheistic, pornographic pagan cult”, at which 500 crazed lutherans leaped to their feet and cheered. I figured if they know I was back in the back I would have been lynched.

  2. Mina says:

    Why is the “brilliant satire” The Book of Zelph on your least favorite?

    I’m surprised you like The Giant Joshua and The Backslider. I’ve read both of them recently in relation to an on-going project and was surprised at how bad I found them. Joshua I thought was ghastly writing, pseudo-history), and heinous gender moralizing. Backslider, a cringe-worthy attempt at—I don’t exactly know what. The “psychology” behind the self-castrating brother was ludicrous, the sex parts just repellent. I’ve not read other Levi Peterson except his bio of Juanita Brooks (which is quite good), but the comments I’ve caught of his on various Bloggernacle blogs seem strangely naive and ill-informed. He’s kind of an enigma to me, I guess.

    No Man Knows My History has long been one of my favorite books ever, even before I started working with mormon/Utah history.

    And I’d include Shot In the Heart on my list of both all-time favorite books and books about Utah history/mormon history and culture. Ditto the Executioner’s Song. And though I’ve been reading a lot of it, I’ve not found one bit of mormon fiction I can stomach except as “bad lessons.” Of course, I’m not through with my reading by a long shot (just thought of one possible exeception “Turn Home Again” by Herbert Harker. Of course its excellence is relative to the other mormon ‘literature” I’ve been reading and not Literature In General).

  3. runtu says:

    Hi, Mina,

    I read the Giant Joshua and the Backslider many years ago. I’d probably view them differently. Honestly, I was trying to think of any Mormon fiction I liked. It was difficult to find something. I had remembered enjoying them when I was younger.

    As for the Book of Zelph, I just really like that book. Yeah, it probably doesn’t belong on “least favorite,” though.

  4. Mina says:

    I’d like to read more Levi Peterson, and I’m sure I will eventually. I think there is potential there that I just haven’t found. I’ve not looked at Virginia Sorenson yet, either. I still feel I need a better handle on many layers of “mormon fiction” in general, including things like The Work and The Glory as well as those works identified/self-identified as more “serious” literature.

    I’ve read a few of Robert Irvine’s Moroni Traveler detective series—fun in a genre fiction/local place name sort of way.

    But really all the really good “mormon related” books I know are non-fiction. I should have included all of Dale Morgan’s oeuvre (especially The Great Salt Lake) and of course the work of Brooks—her memoirs, Quicksand and Cactus are very enjoyable and sweet. Stegner deserves mention as well…just no really compelling fiction.

  5. runtu says:

    It’s been a long time since I read any Mormon literature. I think the last was either Goodbye to Poplarhaven or maybe Under the Cottonwoods.

  6. BHodges says:

    No Gene England? For shame.

  7. GBSmith says:

    I’ve enjoyed history mostly. Richard Poll published two books of essays including his “What the Church Means to People Like Me” that I thought were very good. Also Leonard Arrington’s “Adventures of a Mormon Historian”, his biography of Brigham Young and small book of historical vignettes that I think was called “Saints Without Halos”. I’ve alway felt bad that I never finished “Great Basin Kingdom”.

    Susan Staker did an edited version of Wilford Woodruff’s diaries called “Waiting for World’s End” that was interesting. I especially liked Annie Clark Tanner’s “A Mormon Mother” for it’s insights into what polygamy did to families.

    I’ve always liked Douglas Thayer’s work, especially his short stories and my favorite is still the title piece in “Under the Cottonwoods”. He’s had some pieces in Dialogue over the last few years that are quite good.

    My favorite is still Levi Peterson. His portrayal of the cowboy Jesus was really fine and to me the message of forgiveness of self and acceptance of the atonement was very compelling. His essay “A Christian by Yearning” is by far my favorite though I’ve read almost all of his work. I was a little curious about the above comments because I’ve found him to be anything but “naive and ill informed”. But that’s IMHO. He’s just finishing his stint as editor of Dialogue so hopefully will be able to do a bit more writing.

  8. abritdifferent says:

    I haven’t read enough to make a better, informed decision, but I am enjoying Stephenie Meyer’s writing. Have you read that series?

  9. LOL – at least I got a “Bless his heart, Richard tries,” which I suppose is better than a “Mean-spirited sensationalism, pure and simple.” 🙂

    I wish you the best — thanks for the mention.

    R. Abanes

  10. runtu says:

    Hi, Richard, ltns. Admittedly, I skimmed your book over a couple of days. How’s life treating you?

  11. runtu,

    🙂 Very well, TY.

    i’m keeping busy. just released a christian response to Eckhart Tolle — i.e., the new ager being pushed by Oprah Winfrey. actually, LDS would probably agree with a lot of what i say in this particular volume.


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