Put Twilight on the “best 100 Mormon books” list

Guest post by Rachel Helps. Rachel Helps is the Wikipedian-in-Residence at the BYU library. She eagerly anticipates the release of a parenting videogame she is working on with her sister, Space To Grow. She often fills conversational gaps with the minutiae of her current research, which currently includes world folklore and chess.

Hi, I’m on the board for the Association for Mormon Letters. We’re compiling a list of the most recommended Mormon books. We are accepting nominations through this Google form. We want to make sure women are well-represented in this list, and we also want to include genres that might typically be overlooked, like children’s books and romance novels.  

There have been past attempts to create lists of Mormon books. A 1990 Sunstone magazine article lists fifty important Mormon books . Sadly, only 10 of the books are by women (and four of those are in the “anti-Mormon” category). Of the 21 novels on The Motley Vision blog as being candidates for a Mormon canon of literature, only 5 are by women. This unequal representation isn’t explained by a lack of candidates–there are plenty of books by Mormon women from the last 130 years. 

This new list gives us the opportunity to fill a gap in previous lists of Mormon books. From Eliza Snow’s poetry to Lucinda Lee Dalton’s passionate essays in the original Exponent, women have been writing since our religion’s early days. Mormon books by women authors go beyond Maurine Whipple’s The Giant Joshua and Terry Tempest Williams’s Refuge. The Exponent II blog has covered several recent works by Mormon women, including Mettie Ivie Harrison’s The Book of Abish, Rachel Hunt Steenblick’s I Gave Her a Name, and Melissa Leilani Larson’s Third Wheel. Books like those are the kind of nominations we’re looking for.

What about Arianne Cope’s The Coming of Elijah? Where are our critical picture books and romance novels? Should Twilight be on this list? Nominate them all! Even if your nomination doesn’t make it to the main list, the anonymous committee could use it to make more specialized lists, like “top ten Mormon novels with vampires” or “best Mormon nature poetry.” You can submit any book by, for, or about Mormons, although the final list will focus on books with Mormon themes.

As the Wikipedian-in-Residence at the BYU library, I’ve worked on the Wikipedia page for Mormon fiction. Since Wikipedia doesn’t allow original research, I had to limit mentions of work to those already discussed in articles on Mormon literature. The few articles about science fiction and fantasy novels by Mormon authors allowed me to cover them with some depth. However, there isn’t much academic discourse or even news articles about the kinds of novels typically for sale in Deseret Book. Please do nominate your favorite “literary” Mormon fiction, but don’t be afraid to include romance, inspirational, or speculative fiction. Fill out this form and become part of Mormon literary history!

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18 Responses

  1. Dot says:

    I’m all for women’s representation on this list, but Twilight? No.

  2. BETSY SHAFER says:

    Has Carol Lynn Pearson passed from notice?

  3. I love that you are working to ensure representation of women on this list! I hope lots of readers will nominate their favorite books Mormon women.

  4. BETSY SHAFER says:

    I’ve never read Twilight books and am not likely to, but . . . given the splash they’ve made in the world they are ‘significant’ . . . should be included . . .

  5. JC says:

    I have to agree and say NO to “Twilight” being included on the list. The books themselves are written horribly and the main protagonist and message the series sends set a horrible precedent.

    A book series about a selfish, self-absorbed, spoiled brat who has no hobbies/interests/passions/plans for her life outside of marriage and children with a creepy teenage vampire who lacks proper boundaries, yet somehow still ends up with everything she wants without having to work for any of it, without any substantial sacrifices and stakes, is not what I call prime reading material. Nor is it the message we want to send out to any young impressionable girls who will come upon this list.

  6. Dot says:

    JC: Amen. You said it perfectly. Many things that have made a splash in the world are not worth recommending.

  7. JC says:

    Amen to that, Dot.

    We need to be careful that we’re not putting Mormon female authors on this list purely because they’re Mormon and female. We need to be sure that the books going on this list actually have something valuable in and to them.

  8. Cate says:

    I’m not a fan of the Twilight series myself, but in all fairness, Stephenie Meyer had a capacity to connect with her audience in a way and to a degree that we very seldom see. That’s a rare skill. So I think that’s worth noting.

  9. MW says:

    One might want to watch “Beauty and the Beast and Twilight How we Socially Normalize Domestic Abuse” on YouTube before placing Twilight on the list. I read Twilight after seeing a friend experience intimate partner violence and found aspects of the story and how it was handled to be troubling.

  10. Anna says:

    My mother called books such as Twilight “literatrasher.” So, maybe the list maker could compromise and put two categories, one of literature by female Mormon authors and one for literatrasher by female Mormon authors. I am half kidding. The Twilight series was significant in that it was popular and it accomplished starting discussions of all the things bad in the book. So, the discussions it generated were good. So, I have mixed feelings about putting it on any list of significant Mormon authored literature. Like the popular rape fantasy novels, it appeals to something that is common in a lot of women, but I think the book could be recognized and in the short blurb about it, the problematic aspect mentioned along with the popular appeal. But then, I never read it as I am not into literatrasher.

    • Dot says:

      I think adding it to a list of “The Best Mormon Books” is a mistake. However, it definitely does belong on a list of “The Most Significant/Popular/Well-Known Mormon Books.” (I love that term–literatrasher!)

  11. Nicole says:

    So, I gotta come in here in defense of Twilight since there’s a lot of anti-Twilight sentiment coming out of the woodwork in these comments. I don’t think Twilight is to everyone’s taste, and I do think that Twilight definitely has some “problematic” aspects. Almost all media does.

    In the end, Twilight is a wish fulfilment story and a romance, and a lot of romance is going to be particularly problematic because we all exist within a patriarchal society. That said, I don’t really feel like waiting for a couple of decades while I try to fully deprogram myself so that I can get off “correctly.”

    I do think that there’s room for criticism for ALL media, Twilight included, but to be blunt, I see the hatred of Twilight as being mostly a manifestation of our cultural disdain for women, and our special hatred for teenage girls in particular. And to be even more blunt, I see a lot of criticism of Twilight as being just another way we infantilize women and police their sexuality.

    • Dot says:

      Could you be more specific? How is hatred of Twilight a manifestation of cultural disdain for women and teenage girls? And how does the criticism (particularly the comments above about normalizing domestic abuse, lack of respect for boundaries, lack of goals for women beyond marriage and children, and overall poor writing) infantilize women and police their sexuality? I’m really interested in your thoughts about this.

      • Nicole says:

        The level of vitriol Twilight received, and is still receiving, seems pretty disproportionate to how bad it is. Other media with similar or even much worse problems haven’t received anywhere near the levels of hatred that Twilight has. Our culture has shown a pattern of doing this, specifically to things that teenage girls like. Think Justin Bieber, NSync in the 90s, etc. This on it’s own is harmful to girls, who consistently have their interests mocked, which reinforces the idea that women and femininity are inferior.
        As to infantilizing and policing women, there’s a tricky balancing act between discussing the problematic aspects of media and how they reflect cultural norms, and treating women like they’re going to put themselves in danger because they got an idea from a work of fiction. Women are not to blame for domestic abuse situations that they are in. Their sexual fantasies are not to blame for it. Men who abuse women are. Men who abuse women are not the ones reading Twilight.
        I don’t think it’s a good idea to just flatly dismiss culturally relevant works of literature (especially works written by women for women) as being worthless. There’s an underlying message there that women’s sexual fantasies are pointless, dangerous, and stupid.
        There’s a lot of nuance with this kind of thing, so I hope I’ve explained myself in a way that makes sense here. There’s definitely room to discuss the problematic aspects of Twilight, but we shouldn’t completely dismiss it as having no value.

      • Cate says:

        I’m going to take a stab at this and say that Twilight and its sequels got a lot of non-readers to start reading, at least one of my family members among them. Criticizing the choice that got them into books in the first place, and by extension their personal tastes, could certainly come across as cultural disdain.

        Loving this discussion, by the way! Has EII ever had a book club?

    • JC says:

      It’s interesting to me how you say that criticizing TWILIGHT is another way people “infantilize women and police their sexuality” when the series does a good job of doing those things itself.

      Over the course of the series, we see Edward sneak into Bella’s room to watch her sleep at night (ick), belittle her, lie to her, dictate who she is allowed to see and who her friends are, and remove her car engine so she can’t drive her own car or go anywhere other than where Edward chooses for her. We even see Jacob get involved, with him and Edward arguing over what is best for Bella while she does nothing and remains a passive figure in her own life. Tell me right now how that isn’t infantilization.

      Also, please tell me how the practice of imprinting doesn’t count count as policing the sexuality of women. The girls and even toddlers (ick, ick, ick) the werewolves imprint on don’t have a choice or say in the matter. These girls aren’t given a chance to choose their own mate or even the path for their own lives once they become women. The imprinter is always around as an authority figure when the girl is young and then will expect a sexual relationship with her once she’s of age. It doesn’t help that the girl’s parents are complicit in this awful behavior. Not only is imprinting policing sexuality, it is also child grooming.

      Ultimately, I think the value that the series has brought to the table are contained in the discussions people have had about the books and the opinions they have shared. I also don’t deny what the series did for pop culture, because that led to the conversations and analyses people have had about the series. I wouldn’t have a problem with people liking TWILIGHT if it was taken at face value as the wish-fulfillment, romance, escapism that it is even with its problematic elements.

      But to say that the series has literary value and should be included on a best books list is where I, personally draw the line. I feel there are better books and better characters for people – girls and women in particular – to emulate than what is found in the TWILGHT series. Perhaps we will have to agree to disagree.

      • Nicole says:

        You’re not wrong. The story certainly mirrors real life problematic behavior. Romance, erotica, porn, etc often mirror real life problems to enhance sexual excitement. We could have a whole other conversation about the pros and cons of that, as well. But the book is just a reflection of real life problems; it’s not the cause of them. I think the idea that girls or women will read these and then try to “emulate” the characters is the part that’s infantilizing. Women aren’t stupid, and I think that most women who like Twilight ARE taking it at face value – and they’re enjoying it for exactly what it is.

        Twilight is hella problematic, but it’s pretty clear by the numbers that women really liked Twilight. And I feel like it’s rather insulting to women to insinuate that they only like it because they don’t know any better. It’s sort of a lose-lose situation when we basically indoctrinate women to behave a certain way and then insult and degrade them when they get turned on by those things. I see infantilization and sexual policing when we tell women that they’re only allowed to sexually enjoy the approved curriculum. I see it when we insist that we need to promote literature that is “good for” women and not promote literature that is “bad for” women, because they are incapable of choosing for themselves.

        Not everyone is gonna like Twilight, and that’s okay. And I think it’s good to talk about the problematic aspects of all media, Twilight included. But, I don’t think it’s good to dismiss media entirely, especially media that’s so culturally relevant to women, in particular. Media by and for women already gets dismissed so often, and women’s sexuality is also often dismissed – and I do see that as a very real problem, as well. Lindsay Ellis has a really good video about this as well called “Dear Stephanie Meyer,” if you’re interested.

  12. meri says:

    I would like to see more specific parameters for your project, I get an uncomfortable feeling that many will be chosen simply because they are by women and you feel a need to “balance” such list. If that is the case, then I suggest that you specify that you are making a list of Mormon literature by women. What will be the reasons for choosing those that make the list? Gender? Popularity? Historical accuracy? Quality of writing? Relationship to Mormon theology? Will there be different categories? What are they?

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