This is a short review/synopsis of the 2014 Whitney General finalists. This year four of the five books seemed more inspirational, and that’s not my favorite genre, so I will tell you up front I’m not the best reader for these books. I have even wondered if the Whitneys should have a separate category devoted entirely to inspirational fiction, so that the General category can be about stories that have no message attached. So if you love inspirational books (or if you wrote them), take my thoughts with a grain of salt (or don’t read them at all). I’m not in your intended audience, but I’ll say my piece anyway.
On to the books, which I’ve sorted alphabetically by author:
A Plentiful Rain, by Elizabeth Bentley. This is the story of Ellis, a Mormon intellectual who has avoided marriage and commitment for many years, but decides to brave the waters of the older singles scene again when his sister and father both get engaged. Initially attracted to the gorgeous Cassandra, he finds that her younger, recovering alcoholic sister has more depth and kindness to her. Continue reading
We are days, hours even from the biggest gifting, making, baking, mailing, visiting, hosting, wrapping, singing, cooking, things-to-be doing holiday of the year, not to mention the commemoration of Christ’s birth; I am not entirely ready.
As I was happening upon this realization last week this festive little book showed up in my mail box. I flipped open to the list of contributors and knew friends had come to call; (Segullah’s own) Linda Hoffman Kimball has an incredible collection of friends, and as reading this book it’s easy feel numbered among them. In truth, that’s exactly what she’s hoping for, filling the pages with the wise, honest, inspired and often humorous words of her “entourage of thoughtful friends.” Continue reading
It’s a good year for books for LDS women. The Diary of Two Mad Black Mormons, Neylan McBaine’s Women at Church, and the LDS authored, broader appealing Girls Who Choose God just among those we’ve reviewed so far, a lot of women are sharing what matters to them. These books are speaking to the needs of women who want to listen and also feel heard. Add to that Heather Farrell’s just released Walking With the Women of the New Testament.
Farrell, a frequent reader here is also a blogger herself, writes the thoughtful, inspiring blog womeninthescriptures.com. The ideas she began the blog with are extended into this new publication. The book is lush with information: each women (or groups of women) are featured with scripture references and accessible retelling of and suggestion of what each woman’s life may have been like as well personal connections and insights Farrell found from studying each story. The book is especially written as an LDS woman for an LDS audience, references and links pulled from LDS leaders and LDS scriptures (Book of Mormon, D&C, and the Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible).
The book is approachable for anyone who wishes to see and know the women in the New Testament as personally as Heather Farrell has. In the process of writing and researching she’s become an amateur scholar and her book is filled with keen observations that have come though her earnest wrestling with the text, research, and asking to understand.
The book is designed to be savored with rich styling and color throughout the book. However, I found Mandy Jane Williams’s art to be a bit distracting: the models and clothes she features in her images look at lot more blond and modern than what hey were ancient women they were intended to imply. Or perhaps the choice was deliberate to help the reader connect with inspiration though the image?
Regardless, the book is deeply personal and thoughtful. It’s the sort of book that is perfect for gifting to those who want to get more from their scripture study. Each woman’s story is so open, inviting the reader to connect with these women as examples and as friends. Heather’s deep faith and belief enriches the text beckoning all readers to share what she has found.
Diary of Two Mad Black Mormons: Finding the Lord’s Lessons in Everyday Life
Authors:Zandra Vranes and Tamu Smith
Back in 2011, I had the pleasure of interviewing Sista Beehive and Sista Laurel (aka Zandra Vranes and Tamu Smith) for the Mormon Women Project. They were fantastic to talk to– funny and very real and willing to open up about why, as black Mormons and converts to the LDS Church, they felt they had a unique perspective to offer readers to their blog. In the years since that conversation, they have found even more success, launching their own radio show, speaking at various engagements, and now publishing their first book together, Diary of Two Mad Black Mormons.
In the book, the Sistas start out speaking generally on various topics (“Breaking and Entering” is about finding God, “Stand” is about having standards and standing things that are important to you). They expound on these topics in their trademark style– talking forthrightly, with lots of emotion, in language peppered with Ebonics. Their book is at its strongest when it delves into their personal stories, which is something that they do to highlight most of the points they want to make. They talk about the time Sista Beehive got caught shoplifting, when Sista Laurel pretended that her mom was dead and her hilarious experience at EFY as a teenager. They’re willing to talk about hard things and to help us see that even if we have hard circumstances in our lives, that shouldn’t separate us from the love Christ has for us or from his plans for our lives. The book is a quick, useful read. I think it’s important because of its perspective and because of its wonderful storytelling.
In the Sunday morning session of General Conference this weekend, President Eyring told the story of how he traveled to a “small city far away” to confer the sealing power on a man whose “hands showed the signs of a lifetime of tilling the soil for a meager living.” The man’s wife sat in the room, weeping, and when President Eyring asked her how she felt, “She looked up and then said timidly that she was happy but also sad. She said that she had so loved going to the temple with her husband but that now she felt that she should not go with him because God had chosen him for so glorious and sacred a trust. Then she said that her feeling of being inadequate to be his temple companion came because she could neither read nor write.” President Eyring reassured her and spoke to her about her spiritual gifts, and her great faith in the gospel.
What struck me about this exchange was not just the kindness President Eyring showed, or his ability to discern that this sister had received personal revelations which she held dear, but the fact that her husband’s new church responsibilities highlighted her own feelings of inadequacy. While I don’t know enough about this woman’s life experience to even begin to guess whether her church experiences or experiences in her culture of origin helped shape this feeling, the anecdote highlights the fact that women in the church can struggle with feeling less than their male counterparts. We see men on the stand every Sunday. Our boys pass the sacrament. Few women have the opportunity to work in church leadership. Our religious language is often gendered. There are so few female voices and role models and leaders for us to turn to as examples. As more women work closely with men in the workplace and work toward egalitarian relationships with their male partners, church may be one of the few places where women may feel limited by their gender. I’m not saying that every woman feels this way; many women feel that their membership in the church empowers them. I just want the church to be a place where every member can feel that she belongs.
But enough about me, let’s talk about McBaine’s important book, Women at Church: Magnifying LDS Women’s Local Impact. First, I want to talk about something the book doesn’t do– in a time when the ordination of women has been a hot-button issue, Women at Church doesn’t doesn’t address female ordination. Instead it’s a primer for what leaders and everyday members can do to capitalize on the talents of women in the church. McBaine lays out the mission of the book in the opening sentence: “This book is predicated on a single belief: that there is much more we can do to see, hear, and include women at church.” She continues, “I have written this book as an inducement toward greater empathy for those who feel unseen, unheard, and unused, and a strategic guide to improving our gender cooperation in local Church governance.” Continue reading