2019 Book List (with a very few 2018 for good measure)
Did I originally mean to do this as a Christmas Gift Guide, Book Edition (with an Art Edition coming later)? Yes. Did I get it done in time? Obviously not. But, I’m still offering it here as a sort of end of the year book list.
This also isn’t an official Exponent list. Just a from me list. That means I might be missing things another Exponenter would have included or that you might have included. I’d love to hear your recommendations in the comments. 🙂 I’m mixing specifically Mormon books and not specifically Mormon books together. Each is by a woman or women with some sort of relationship to the church, though those relationships vary.
Published in 2019:
Ask a Suffragist: Stories and Wisdom from America’s First Feminists. By April Young Bennett. Published by Brown Blackwell Books. This book is written by one of our own bloggers! It spans the feminist movement from the 1830s to the 1860s with a focus on what modern feminist activists can learn from them (even when that means learning what not to do).
The Book of Abish. By Mette Harrison. Published by BCC Press. This book is along the same (good) lines as her Book of Laman. In each one, she takes a character we know, but don’t know that much about, especially not from their own perspective or voice. And then writes an entire novel giving us a creative and rich backstory. I first heard her read from the Book of Abish last spring, and the words and story she spun were beautiful and brave.
Champions of Change: 25 Women Who Made History. By Naomi Watkins and Katherine Kitterman. Illustrated by Brooke Smart. Published by Gibbs Smith. This picture book is part of Better Days 2020’s efforts to both educate about and celebrate women’s suffrage. Three of the anniversaries worth celebrating that happen next year include: “the 150th anniversary of a woman first voting since the start of the suffrage movement, the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment, and the 55th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act, which extended needed protections for minority voting rights.” The book’s intro is from Shannon Hale (author of the Princess in Black series + much, much more). I was already into this current book right there. And then the art and bios themselves. All beautiful. All very informative. It’s ostensibly for children, but I am learning a lot and love reading it to my sons and daughter.
Crossings: A Bald Asian American Latter-day Saint Woman Scholar’s Ventures Through Life, Death, Cancer, and Motherhood. By Melissa Inouye. Published by the Maxwell Institute and Deseret Book. This is part of Maxwell’s (and sometimes Deseret’s!) Living Faith Series. As the title suggests, it covers so many things, and it does so richly, beautifully, and with great thought. She uses a mix of personal essays, letters, and drawings. Overarching all of it is mindfulness of the globalization of Mormonism.
I Gave Her a Name. By Rachel Hunt Steenblik. Illustrated by Ashley Mae Hoiland. Published by BCC Press. I’m obviously biased here, because I wrote it, ha. 🙂 But, I do think it came together as a beautiful and meaningful book, in large part because of AshMae’s artwork. It’s fuller than in Mother’s Milk, meaning that it takes up more room on the page, but also that it goes beyond our own kin to nature and women who inspire us. The poems are fuller, too. They cover more topics, including some that are more sensitive like refugees, the Me Too movement, the November policy, and more.
Girls Who Choose God: Stories of Extraordinary Women from Church History. By MacArthur Krishna and Bethany Brady Spalding. Illustrated by Kathleen Peterson. Published by Deseret Books. I read this to my 6-year-old daughter and 3-year-old son via an electronic edition shortly after it came out. (So, so helpful while living in China.) I cried on almost every page from how much I love the women featured, how they are my heroes. Emma. Eliza. Emmeline. Jane. Ellis. Inez and Jennie. Martha. They have shaped my life. And at the end, my daughter asked: “Are those real stories in real life?” When I said, “Yes,” she said “Woah. Those are some brave women.” They are. The writing and illustrations are also so exquisite. Please read!
Homespun and Angel Feathers. By Darlene Young. Published by BCC Press. What I can tell you about Darlene Young is that she went back to school to get her Masters later, and that her poems are so good at looking at the very tiny, ordinary moments of life and finding both the humorous and the holy in them. Like, so many of them make me pause or take my breath from the particular way they touch upon the sacred and then more often than not make me laugh in the very next line. Just one example is her, “Lord, Make Me an Instrument of Thy Peace,” that you can read here.
Irreversible Things. By Lisa Van Orman Hadley. Published by Howling Bird Press. $17.99Lisa has been part of the Exponent II community for many, many years, both via the retreats and help with the magazine. Her book is part short story, part memoir, and covers topics from her LDS childhood and family life, to infertility, to dealing with a parent’s Alzheimers. Her writing is so exquisite and so worth reading.
A New Constellation: A Memoir. By Ashley Mae Hoiland. Published by BCC Press. If you’re familiar with her spiritual memoir of sorts, One Hundred Birds Taught me to Fly, published with the Maxwell Institute as part of their Living Faith Series, then you know exactly how exquisite and heartfelt her writing is. It’s exactly as beautiful in this second memoir, though obvi the subject matter has changed. Here AshMae documents a very specific precipice of change in receiving an MS diagnosis. Our own precipes of change are almost certainly different. Still I believe her words can help.
The Next Mormons: How Millennials Are Changing the LDS Church. By Jana Riess. Published by Oxford University Press. All of Jana’s book and other projects are worth reading. This one feels especially important, and obviously so, so relevant. She successfully funded $$$$s to help her do very legit sociological research into the minds and beliefs of Millenial Mormons to see how they are both different and similar to the generations that came before them. There are also a lot of charts and graphs if you’re into that sort of thing (that sort of thing being: learning via charts and graphs)!
Shades of Becoming: Poems of Faith Transition. Edited by Nancy Ross and Kristen R. Shill. Independently published. The poems come from many different people in many different places with their faith and different levels of experience writing poetry. Because of all of this, there were understandably poems that resonated more with me than others, and some where the writing felt uneven, but that never bothered me much. I loved the messiness and rawness of it, because faith (including changing or shifting faith) often feels messy and raw. The book is arranged into three sections. The editors described them as “poems of early faith crisis (‘in the shallows’), processing grief and anger from loss of faith (‘the deep end’), and finally, poems that explore emerging closure after a faith transition (‘finding ground’).” This editorial choice felt wise.
The Tree at the Center. By Kathryn Knight Sonntag. Published by BCC Press. Among other things, Kathryn is a landscape architect and designer + mother with an educational background in poetry and ecology. She uses all of that as well as additional, dedicated research looking across cultures and times to ground her poems on Heavenly Mother or the Divine Feminine as the Tree at the Center, the Tree of Life. Her writing and poems are both exquisite and so different than my own on the same topic, but pair so well together.
We Hold Your Name: Mormon Women Bless Mormons Facing Exile. Edited by Kalani Tonga and Joanna Brooks. Independently published. This book came together quickly after the Mormon Feminist community learned that one of our sisters, Gina Colvin, was facing church discipline. Many individuals including Carol Lynn Pearson, myself, and others contributed poems or poem-ish letters of blessing to Gina, or anyone in Gina’s situation, full of solidarity and support, anger and mourning, hope and belief. It is a deeply meaningful book.
When I was going to do this as a gift guide, I was planning to include a handful of books from 2018 as well. Here they are:
Dove Song: Heavenly Mother in Mormon Poetry. Edited by Tyler Chadwick, Dayna Patterson, and Martin Pulido. Published by Peculiar Pages. Susan Elizabeth Howe starts the book with the *most* beautiful introduction. And the book continues with power, and force, and beauty from there. It did something my own or Kathryn’s poetry books on Heavenly Mother didn’t try to do. It gathered them from many writers over a long period of time, from the very beginning with W.W., Phelps and Eliza R. Snow, spanning into the 2010’s. It lets us trace how the questions and beliefs we have in about Heavenly Mother started with so much surety and easiness, and how they got quiet for a while, before coming back in a big way more recently. Please read if you haven’t yet.
Educated. By Tara Westover. Published by Random House. You’ve probably heard about this book a lot of times by now! Oprah read it! And Barack Obama! And I am not Oprah! or Obama!, but I did think it was very good and often so, so sad and heavy and it felt worse when I remembered that it was true, or as true as any personal narrative can be true. That the spiritual, and intellectual, and physical abuse really happened to her. And still I’m glad I read it.
How the Light Gets In: A Memoir. By Keira Shae. Published by BCC Press. Keira’s memoir details what it was like to grow up in Utah county, a place that many people think of as safe and full of happy families, with a mother whose addictions and prostitution made it impossible to take care of her. Even with all that, she got out. With others’ help, she got out, and found the light through the cracks.
Lawless Women. By Heather Harris Bergevin. Published by BCC Press. I very luckily got to read an early copy and do a blurb for it, and I still feel the exact same way, so here it is: “What can I say about Heather Bergevin Harris’s poems except that I love them, that they made me smile, and nod, and pause, and think “Wow!” over and over again. Her easy, casual tone worked well for me, as did her tiny, big twists and feminist reframing of familiar “lawless” women and lawful stories (think: myths, fairytales, and scriptures). I was especially fond of the poems revisiting Wendy Darling and Cinderella.”
p.s. all of the BCC Press books mentioned above from 2019 are on 40% off sale for literally one more day (going through Dec. 31, 2019): The Book of Abish; I Gave Her a Name, Homespun and Angel Feathers; A New Constellation; and The Tree at the Center.