Wednesday, November 14, 2007


A couple weeks ago I ignored everyone and everything for two days to read the third in the Twilight series, Eclipse. You've heard of these, right? The vampire and high school girl who fall in love? It is a hugely popular, best-selling series by Stephenie Meyers, incidentally a member of the LDS church. I think they're making Twilight into a movie. I can see why these books are so popular. Meyers is a genius at blending romance, suspense, and action. There are times when I get very tired of Bella, the heroine. She is weak and annoying. Actually, the other characters annoy me too, but character development is so far from being the draw of these books, it's not even worth mentioning. I applaud Meyers for coming up with such a unique fantasy series. I've never read anything like it.

I finally finished Dorothy Dunnett's Niccolo Rising. People rave about this series. The first sentence is brilliant: "From Venice to Cathay, from Seville to the Gold Coast of Africa, men anchored their ships and opened their ledgers and weighed one thing against another as if nothing would ever change." Whoo! I love it. The fifteenth-century merchant's world is gloriously alive in this book. I could see it, feel it, smell it. There are fascinating characters caught up in equally fascinating situations. I loved the frequent shifts in perspective. You get into everybody's head here. However, there are two reasons I will not continue with the series. First, there are too many characters for me to keep track of. There is a four page list at the beginning of the book. Second, Dunnett's prose obscures the action. I blame it on her because it makes me feel better. I don't like to think I'm not bright enough to follow what is happening. People have conversations and I don't know what they are talking about. They give each other significant looks and I don't know why. "What in Sam Hill is going on here?" I wonder. Sometimes I would find out a few pages or chapters later, and sometimes not.

I gave J David O. McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism for his birthday and we're both reading it. I've only read the first couple chapters. David O. McKay was the tall, handsome, charismatic prophet of the Mormon church in the mid-20th century. Under his leadership the Church went from being a Podunk, Utah concern run by long-bearded polygamists to a world-wide, modern organization. The book takes an unprecedented look at how the highest leadership of the Church works. It is organized by topic rather than chronologically.

It is completely fascinating. J and I have been discussing it quite a bit. I've just started the chapter called "Blacks, Civil Rights, and the Priesthood." Wow. I've only read a few pages describing Church leaders' attitudes toward blacks in the 50's and 60's. It's shocking to me, but I see that it was part of the times. These old men, educated and well-traveled though they were, were products of their conservative, insular culture.

The "Free Agency and Tolerance" chapter was also an eye-opener. I didn't realize there was such controversy about the book Mormon Doctrine written by Bruce R. McConkie. When I was growing up, this book sat on the shelves next to the scriptures and was the resource sought after the Bible Dictionary or Topical Guide when preparing a talk for church. It was The. Mormon. Doctrine. Here is what President McKay wrote in his diary about it: "It was agreed that the necessary corrections are so numerous that to republish a corrected edition of the book would be such an extensive repudiation of the original as to destroy the credit of the author; that the republication of the book should be forbidden and that the book should be repudiated in such a way as to save the career of the author as one of the General Authorities of the Church."

The book was eventually revised and republished and according to the authors of this McKay book, "[It] became one of the all-time best sellers in Mormondom, achieving the near-canonical status that McKay had fought unsuccessfully to avoid, and setting a tone of doctrinal fundamentalism, antithetical to McKay's personal philosophy, that remains a legacy of the church to this day." Well! From what I read here it does seem that McKay was very tolerant of divergent beliefs within the Church. The information on the debate about biological evolution was also very interesting, though this is something I had read about before. Joseph Fielding Smith wrote an anti-evolution book called Man, His Origin and Destiny. He pressured the Church seminaries and Institutes of Religion to include it as a text in their classes. Three of the apostles at the time were scientists. They supported evolution and were vehemently opposed to Smith's book. McKay didn't make any public statements in favor of evolution, but it seems that he was inclined to believe it. However, he did not publicly oppose the book, and a result (according to the authors) Smith's views "came to be embraced by a substantial porportion of the church membership as the official position." I grew up believing it was so.

I'm excited to read more!

I haven't decided yet what to read next for fiction. I always like to have a novel going. But nothing jumps out at me right now.


k. said...

Have you read much Orson Scott Card? I'm not sure what you think of SciFi, but he is the only author I've read all of his books. If you aren't really into SciFi, then I'd recommend reading Pastwatch: The Redemption of Christopher Columbus. It is more revisionist history than SciFi.

And if you haven't yet read Enders Game, it is a must read. I read it in one night because I couldn't put it down. I should reread that series. You might like the Alvin Journeyman series as well.

Calandria said...

Thanks, K. I haven't read a lot of Orson Scott Card. I am not a huge SciFi fan, but Enders Game has always been on my list of must-reads. I've heard, of course, of the Alvin Journeyman series and it also sounds interesting.

I actually have a big list of novels I'd like to read. My problem is that nothing seems "appetizing" right now. :-)

Julie said...

Great post! I've read Enders Game and the first of the Alvin Journeyman series and enjoyed them both. Card's language can be a bit rough at times. I don't know if that matters to you. (I ignored it, though I was annoyed that he felt he needed to include it at all.) Another book I enjoyed by Card was Stone Tables. It explores what it might have been like to be Moses.

athena said...

i'm the same way at the moment. nothing seems appetizing right now. looks like i'll end up reading that biography on churchill. and you must have neat conversations with your dh about church related topics. i'm thinking how i don't want to participate online with this discussion. i want to come to your house to discuss it! how yummy. are you guys going somewhere for christmas? to the snow? i told olivier we should go some place cold. :-)

Calandria said...

If you want to go somewhere cold for Christmas, come here!! We're not going anywhere.

ave said...

I couldn't finish Enders Game, too intense. I felt like I was going to have an anxiety attack while reading it. You didn't give your opinion of Eclipse, I loathed it and found finishing it painful. I guess I feel like the whole love triangle thing ruined the book.

dave said...

First, let me say that I really enjoyed the McKay book that you're commenting on. I feel books like that are faith promoting because they encourage me to have faith - not in infallible leaders - but rather in the source of the power, which is then shared with fallible but good persons working in the kingdom.

I'm currently reading a history of the Kimball presidency which isn't as good but has some marvelously insightful chapters on the lifting of the priesthood ban.

And if you're looking for excellent fiction, may I recommend Rohinton Mistry's A Fine Balance. If you haven't read it; this is one of my favorite novels of all time. Brilliantly put together, tragic. (Another favorite of mine is Michael Chabon's Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay.)

I just gave up on another Allende book. Her first book for youth, La Ciudad de las Bestias. I read half but it was so cliched and boring that I just couldn't take it any more. My book club wants to read Love in the Time of Cholera, and I've never read any Garcia Marquez in Spanish, so I may give that a try.

nestle said...

okay, Robin McKinnley is awesome!!! Seriously she reworks fairytales. But it's her own writing that takes the cake. Try the Blue Sword series. It truely is fun.

Enchantment by Orson Scott Card is the modern/past version of sleeping beauty. fun stuff.

Clive Cussler. Adventure but CLEAN. We totally love him because there isn't any cuss words of sexual scenes needing to be edited out.

Jeff Shaara- a fictional take on history. SOOOOO much fun to read