Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Love, Dating and Other Disasters

I read "The New York Regional Mormon Singles Halloween Dance" for two reasons: 1) when going through the Penguin Fall 2009 catalog, it intrigued me when I found out the local Mormon bookstores weren't ordering copies, and 2) I was given an advanced reading copy.

I'm normally opposed to reading "memoirs" by people who haven't passed the age of 30 (have you really done enough to make me want to read about your life?), but because of the description in the catalog and on the book cover, it sounded intriguing- so I dove in, finishing the book in just a couple of days.

Elna Baker is a young LDS (Mormon) woman living in New York who has an internal war taking place between head and heart. Being Mormon means no drinking alcohol or engaging in pre-marital sex, among other things, and this seems to conflict with most of the non-Mormon men she attempts to date. As Elna relates, her longest relationship lasted a month and that was because the guy was out of town for two weeks. Her search for love and acceptance leads her to fall for the most unlikely of men- an atheist. A man who seems to be the exact opposite of a practicing Mormon, yet one who seems to be everything she wants in a potential husband. Can she make it work?

"The New York Regional Mormon Singles Halloween Dance" is a funny story of how a young Mormon woman navigates dating, love and other disasters. While an engaging read, some parts of the book slow down, due not to story, but to the occasional awkwardness of Baker's writing style. When dealing with Mormon issues and doctrines that play a role in her story, Baker does a satisfactory job of explaining her religion to non-Mormons, but a few statements on Mormonism aren't explained well, and would only be fully understood by a member of the LDS faith. Conversely, there will be many practicing members of the LDS faith that will be offended by some of the language Baker uses as well as some of her feelings about, descriptions of, and encounters with sexual situations.

A book that made me laugh out loud and question my own beliefs and doubts about God and religion, "The New York Regional Mormon Singles Halloween Dance" will find a niche, both inside and outside Mormonism, among those who enjoy a quest for self and a good laugh along the way.

"The New York Regional Mormon Singles Halloween Dance" is available to order from our online affiliate Powell's, or by coming into the Bookmark at the U.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Pieces of Me | Guest Blogger Mattox Roesch

Note: Occasionally we invite authors to write a blog post on any topic they choose. This post is being written by Mattox Roesch, author of "Sometimes We're Always Real Same-Same" his debut novel. I am excited to have Mattox sharing his thoughts on how writing is affected by our own lives. -Drew Goodman

“Fiction’s about what it means to be a fucking human being.” –David Foster Wallace

At the same time my good friend was sentenced to three years in a penitentiary, I moved off the North American road system, to Unalakleet, AK. This is similar to the plight of the narrator in my novel Sometimes We’re Always Real Same-Same, and yet, I hardly made the personal connection when writing it. I thought I was writing the book to better understand the humanity behind imprisonment—how it affects the inmate and his/her family. And I was. But recently, while flipping the pages to find something to read at upcoming events, I saw another reason for writing the novel. I think I was trying to save my friend, using a pen instead of a megaphone. And by leaving Minneapolis I felt like I failed him.

Angela Y. Davis, in her book Are Prisons Obsolete? argues that “Mass imprisonment generates profits as it devours social wealth, and thus it tends to reproduce the very conditions that lead people to prison.” It’s important that we question everything, (right?) politically and socially, including prisons. But how often do you hear a guy on the street corner with a megaphone yelling “Close the prisons!”? It seems we generally don’t question things until they are personal. I didn’t question prisons until I was passing my ID through a slot and walking through magnetically sealed doors and sitting at a booth to talk to the same person I had shared nachos with a few weeks earlier. We see this every day. We see authors write the same memoir over and over, and authors write the same characters over and over. And then I wondered if I was doing the same. Was I only expressing an interest in issues that I had experienced firsthand? It seemed to be the case with my novel. Prison, personal. Spirituality, personal. Mental illness, personal. Rural Alaska, personal.

But when I think about it, I hope that’s not the case. I don’t think it is. Not for most of us, anyway. Of course nobody is perfectly compassionate, but many of us have baked bread for a friend who lost her job, or driven an extra hour to give a family member a ride, or threw in fifty bucks to a local youth group fundraiser. Even if we had never lost a job or waited for a bus or went to church, we felt empathy for those who had.

And I look at some of the best-selling contemporary novels lined up on my bookshelf—Plague of Doves by Louise Erdrich, What is the What by Dave Eggers, Lark & Termite by Jayne Anne Phillips. These all, in a way, personalized an issue or two for me that I hadn’t experienced. These novels, in a way, changed my life. So maybe the easy answer is that stories, explicitly and implicitly, transform the personal into the communal.

So by writing about an ex-gangbanger whose older brother is locked up for life, maybe I was, on some level, trying to save my friend. And sure, maybe I was trying to convince the reader to care. But I didn’t write the story with the same motivation that I have for reading stories. I wrote the novel to convince myself to care, over and over, edit after edit. I wrote it to feel this life more fully. I wrote it, standing in front of a mirror with a megaphone, paraphrasing David Foster Wallace, “This is what it’s like to be a fucking human being.”

"Sometimes We're Always Real Same-Same" by Mattox Roesch is available at the Bookmark at the U and at our online fulfillment partner, Powell's Books, and wherever great books are sold.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

September 2009 Book of the Month

I little while back, I wrote a post about my favorite independent publishing house, Unbridled Books. They consistently publish great authors with well written books, and the Book of the Month for September 2009, "Sometimes We're Always Real Same-Same," by Mattox Roesch, is no exception.

Cesar, the teen gang-banger from Los Angeles, watched his older brother, Wicho, go to prison for his gang activities. Cesar's mother, determined to keep him from the same fate, moves herself and Cesar back to her native village in western Alaska. The only thing that the pessimistically minded Cesar wants is to do is get back to LA, but, Go-boy, his older, overly optimistic cousin bets that Cesar won't go back.

How these two cousins affect each other, and how their surroundings affect both of them is the basis of this wonderfully told story of life in a small village where everyone knows who you are and what you do. Infused with doses of melancholy and humor, "Sometimes We're Always Real Same-Same" is a touching novel of how we are often more alike in our wants, needs and feelings than we really like to admit to ourselves and others.

"Sometimes We're Always Real Same-Same" by Mattox Roesch is available at the University Campus Store or through our online fulfillment partner, Powell's Books.