Ten years ago I would have described myself as someone who "doesn't read much fiction." Sure I liked to go to the bookstore and poke around for non-fiction titles on whatever topic caught my fancy at the moment. But when it came to novels, I was reading only a few per year, and almost exclusively things that were recommended to me (sometimes quite literally pressed into my hands) by friends and family members.
It's not that I didn't like literature. It's just that there are plenty of other (time-consuming) things I like to do, and fiction has this added hurdle that you can't really know if you want to read a given book until after you've done it.
I'd like to attribute my change of habits to blogging and the Internet. Because if you know anything about me, you know that I'm a true believer who can trace all that is good and right in this world back to the Internet. But really, that wasn't it. To give credit where credit is due, I think I started reading more novels when I took up with my husband, who is a big-time literature lover. He didn't deliberately try to convert me to his hobby or anything -- it was more just the osmosis of his leaving books around the house all the time and my resulting reaction of "hmm, this looks kinda interesting..."
My first book review (Parade of Mormon Light Fiction) grew out of an attempt to explain (to myself mostly) why I was so fascinated by the shelf of Mormon teen romances at my parent's house: "Do you ever hide the book you're reading because it's something you'd be embarrassed to have people catch you with? Particularly your parents?"
I wrote the next one (Lifestyles of the Rich and Literate) after noticing how the characters in three popular leisure-class novels (Dangerous Liaisons, The Age of Innocence, and Pride and Prejudice) have very different attitudes and outlook -- corresponding to their vastly different ranks in the social hierarchy of the upper class. You might have thought that there's nothing left to be said about Pride and Prejudice, but wait until I go after it with my famed love of primatology!!! :D
Then we have His Dark Materials -- the first set books I ever read with the intention of writing a review. As I explained in Ask Chanson (via Google)!, this is my all-time most googled book review. Some readers want to know about the atheist themes, some want to know how these books compare to Harry Potter, but most are asking that burning question: "Do Will and Lyra have sex?"
After that, I decided to go back and try some more Mormon lit, so I read The Pictograph Murders by P. G. Karamesines and Wives and Sisters by Natalie R. Collins. The contrast that really took me by surprise when reading these two murder mysteries was that in the mystery by the apostate author, the hero was an exmormon/apostate and the villain was a devout Mormon, whereas in the mystery written by a faithful Mormon, it turned out that the hero was a Mormon and the villain was an atheist.
Hahahahahahahahahaha!!! Just kidding -- that didn't surprise me at all. The parallel was just too perfect! So I had to write a review comparing them. Natalie Collins liked my review well enough that she sent me an ARC to review her next book (see below). P. G. Karamesines didn't give me any reaction or response at all even though it was a positive review and I'm pretty sure I left a comment over on A Motley Vision pointing it out to her. I can only assume that she didn't think it was very funny that I would compare her book back-to-back with such a naughty, naughty exmo book like Natalie's. Personally I thought it was hilarious!! But I have a perverse sense of humor...
(Out of fairness, I did a review comparing my own book to Wives and Sisters as well. Not sure if that helps....)
I had a little more luck with the faithful Mormons after I met up with Christopher Bigelow of Zarahemla Books, and I reviewed his novel Kindred Spirits (with some follow-up here).
This later led to reviewing some more Zarahemla titles, notably Brother Brigham, and more recently Angel Falling Softly. (By crazy coincidence, I had decided to review Eugene Woodbury's earlier novel The Path of Dreams before I discovered that he had a new novel out through Zarahemla Books.)
But I'm getting ahead of myself. Before those last few Zarahemla titles, I had a little more to say about the classics of the Mormon teen romance genre. You know who I mean: Jack Weyland.
After that, I hit my stride with an exmo-lit bonanza!!! There isn't much exmo lit out there, but I'm determined to find it all and review it for you! :D
There's My Ex is Having Sex with Rex: Jennifer Lee's memoir about rebuilding her life after divorcing her gay husband. There's Natalie R. Collins' next thriller Behind Closed Doors. This was the first book that I got an advance copy of for review. So far I have four (not including e-copies), and we'll see how many more I can collect! :D And who can forget the hot, hot Always Listen to the Ravings of a Madwoman?
Then I discussed some of the challenges of Mormon Literature (such as difficult topics like unbelief and sexuality) when reviewing the short story anthology In Our Lovely Deseret collecting up some of the best short stories "not for or against, but about" Mormonism. For a taste, you can read Love, Mormon Style online.
Of course I can't help but want to poke my head out of my little niche every now and then to have fun with the biggies that everyone is talking about!!! So I compared Harry Potter to Jesus (and to Spock and George Bailey for good measure) even before the author announced the connection in an interview.
I also explained my Da Vinci Code-inspired conspiracy theory (after giving my excuses for why I even picked up this book in the second-stupidest thing I did in Scotland and later explaining the stupidest thing I did in Scotland).
I also recommended some of my favorite new and popular graphic novels: Fun Home and Persepolis.
But I can't stay away from my favorite topics, like atheism! So, of course I reviewed "friendly atheist" Hemant Mehta's delightful church-visiting spree I Sold My Soul on eBay.
That one isn't fiction, though. It's weird -- even though atheist-interest nonfiction titles are all over the best-seller list, it seems like atheist-interest fiction is rarer than hen's teeth! (Can I say "rarer than hen's teeth in the Internet age"?) What is up with that? Is it true -- as they say -- that atheists are "obsessed with reality" hence have no interest in made-up stuff like novels?
The folks over on A Motley Vision are always lamenting about how hard it is to build an audience for Mormon literature. Well, let me tell you, you guys are riding the gravy train. There's a whole publishing and distribution industry just for Mormon lit, not to mention the few million (very well organized) members to make up your potential audience.
But atheist lit? There are far more atheists than Mormons, but unfortunately we don't make up much of a market since the publishing industry apparently doesn't have any special talent for herding cats. A lot of fiction has nonbelief/skepticism as a major theme, but it's very hard to find an organized network of people interested in atheist literature or any kind of atheist lit resources. (Try googling "atheist literature" and you essentially get nothing but the non-fiction "how and why not to believe in God" books.)
That won't stop me from trying though!!! I have a few plans in the works to put atheist lit on the map! :D
The Exterminator has been making some great headway with the entertaining book club Nonbelieving Literati. Have a look, and consider joining if you like reading (or if you're thinking of taking it up)!!
Reviews I've written for this club include Humans vs. Death, Humanist blogging a la Voltaire !, and The Grasshopper King (this one was cheating, though, since it wasn't on the list).
You can find these and more on my book catalog page, conveniently linked from my booklist sidebar. I imagine all of those Amazon links make it look like Exmormon/LFAB is a money-making operation, but it's not really. The ads don't even pay the server costs, let alone begin to cover the cost of my time. It's a labor of love and a public service to bring good books and readers together.
Happy reading!!! :D