Monday, January 18, 2016

ExMormon Literature: A Disappointing Purchase





I've read numerous accounts of LDs mission experiences including [but not limited to] William Shunn's The Accidental Terrorist, Scott Miller's The Book of a Mormon, David Wagner's No Ordinary Mission, and Craig Harline's Way Below the Angels, in addition to  first-person accounts of varying lengths penned by my own cousins. Before clicking the "Buy Now" button on my most recent purchase of When I Was a Fucking Mormon Missionary  by Bailey Jones, I skimmed a couple of short reviews, of which at least half were uncomplimentary. I naively dismissed the negativity of the customer reviews as being the likely product of members of the LDS church eager to discredit anyone who told the real story of what it was like to be a young adult serving a mission for their church.

While the reviews of which I write may very well have been motivated by anti-anti-Mormon bias, after having read the book, I would echo some of the sentiments expressed therein. A good portion of the negative comments focused on the author's use of profanity.  Some reviewers took exception to the author's the use if the f-word in the book's title. I don't agree with that particular criticism: the use of  fucking in the title served as fair warning that the auther would not be frugal with respect to expletives. A buyer has the right to be warned about liberal use of profanity.

As for me, I'm far from shocked by the use of expletives. I use them myself on occasion [though far more often in written than in oral form; the words just don't flow from my mouth as freely and as easily as I would like them to, and I end up sounding like a kid practicing forbidden vocabulary while parents and teachers are not within earshot].  An occasional and well-timed application of an unexpected curse word can have a nice effect. Randomly distributing profanity throughout an otherwise not-terribly-compelling piece of writing, however, does not magically rescue the work from literary mediocrity or worse. Sprinkling f-bombs and consistently choosing cruder terms over milder ones eventually loses its charm, shock value, or anything else it might have had to offer. One would normally try to eschew the overuse of any given content word in writing. For example, a semi-skilled writer wouldn't repeatedly rely upon the the use of adjective incredible, or upon its adverbial counterpart incredibly. The writer would eventually, one would hope, scour his or her memory bank for a suitable synonym, or at least consult a thesaurus. Why would fucking be an exception to this general rule? What is so overwhelmingly powerful about the word that would merit its inclusion on virtually every page of a manuscript?*

The editing in this book was substandard. I read from the author's blog that in an earlier book, the absence of editing was deliberate. The author did not want any change of the overall essence or tone of the book  to happen as a result of the editing process. I looked for a similar note in the preface or preamble to the current book, though I did not find one. Perhaps it was there and I simply did not read carefully enough to find it. In any event, I would suspect that the author desired "rawness" for this book as well. A spell-check may have been run, as the typographical errors I noticed were ones in which actual words were substituted for similar words that would have made more sense. An example would be the use of the term "sleuth of rules" when can only guess that "slew of rules" was the intended meaning. In any event, I consider the author's choice not to edit the book to have been unfortunate. Someone -- even the author herself -- could have read the manuscript carefully and might have caught the actual errors resulting in confusion over semantics without removing any of the all-important expletives.

I googled the author, which provided me with a link to her blog, on which I clicked because I'm nosy. I also read a transcription of an interview she gave.
The author, who writes under an assumed name, claims to have an bachelor's degree in English from Brigham Young University. Her assertion may very well be true, though if such is indeed the case, I'm thoroughly unimpressed by the standards of BYU's English department. Her writing in her blog is far more technically accurate than is the writing in her book, which lends some credence to her claim that the lack of editing in at least one of her books was deliberate. 

Still, the author's blog shared a few insights not casting the author in the most positive of lights. In one case, she discussed the publication of a subsequent book. She described it as a collection of short stories. A few sentences later, she referred to that same book of short stories as a "novel."  I would expect that an English major would grasp the distinction between a novel and a collection of short stories.  In another post, she made reference to  a "ratio of people living in ward boundaries versus those who actually attend church" as "50 per cent." I was a biochemistry and music performance major [as an undergraduate], so I'm not necessarily the best source for precise definitions of mathematical and statistical terms,  but I'm pretty sure that a ratio is the relationship between two values with respect to the number of times the first contains the second. I don't think a percentage is a ratio. Perhaps it's nit-picking, but both examples I cited demonstrate that the author is arguably lacking with regard to the level of general knowledge one would expect a holder of a "bachelor of arts" degree to have attained. Vocabulary should be an area of strength for an English major, and the vocabulary of an English major should extend beyond literary terms to the basics even of mathematical terms. I haven't even scratched the surface in terms of the many ways in which the author's lack of mastery of the conventions of standard written English is not on par with what one would expect of a university English department graduate.

All of that having been said, the book's single greatest detraction, in my opinion, was its lack of absorbing anecdotes. The author told readers that her companion in the Mission Training center "acted manipulative and bitchy." She told readers that her mission president was an "asswipe." Would her story not have been more compelling had she shown us just how it was that her companion behaved in such bitchy and manipulative ways and what it was her mission president did to convince her that he was such an asswipe? These are only two examples of the many places in her book in which the author might have painted a more cogent picture for her readers. I suspect that the story of the author's mission probably is a captivating one, but her retelling of it was anything but captivating.

I could list even more ways in which  the book disappointed me, but I shall cease. As it is, I'm risking a major blast. The author sometimes googles her pen name or book's title. Those who have criticized her works are frequently called "morons" or "idiots" in retaliatory rants. I may very well be the next idiot or moron blasted in her blog, or perhaps even in the comments section here. I wish my aunt could be given a refund on the purchase price of the book, but I doubt that will happen.

P.S. I live in a house that is very much made of glass in terms of my own typing skills. My blogs frequently contain typographical errors. My written work for school, however, does not, nor would any manuscript I sold on Amazon or elsewhere.


* An obvious exception might be a sex manual or similar how-to book.




17 comments:

  1. I might be tempted to read that book just because of the word "fucking" in the title...

    Typos are annoying, though, especially when you've paid to read something.

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  2. Even in a how-to book I think it could be overused.

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    1. Probably, but I'd like to read it, just the same.

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  6. Thanks for the review. My favorite Mormon missionary memoir is Heaven Up Here by John K. Williams. http://www.amazon.com/Heaven-Up-Here-John-Williams-ebook/dp/B005WYQ7SI/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1453325218&sr=1-1&keywords=heaven+up+here

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  7. CNN headline today made me think of you:

    "GOP on Trump and Cruz - It's like being shot or poisoned."

    la perla

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  9. Alexis, Your're best feature may be your love of playing music which I admit goes beyond me and I am envious of. You are on whole different level than me. But it was kind of romantic that when you got your cello, you spent hours playing it.

    So Bernie Sanders has his ad made up that is going to be played in Iowa & New Hampshire. The ad has no talking just a song from Simon & Garfunkel that they approved of. So maybe you can get behind Bernie Sanders since he trusts in the music. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MZOSjXYaN20

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    1. I'm not getting into the primary all that much, although I will vote, and I may very well vote for Sanders. This year I will likely vote for whoever has won the democratic party nomination, though I'll have to consider Rubio if he somehow beats the odds and pulls ahead of Trump and Cruz.

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    2. Thanks for telling me how you feel.

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  11. You are right. Her description of the ratio is screwy. While you could technically describe a ratio using a percentage because a ratio is represented by a fraction and you could always simplify it and then give the percentage of the resulting number, it doesn't make a lot of sense to anyone trying to figure out the data.

    However, if that is actually what she wrote it makes even less sense because she said the ratio of people in the ward boundaries to people who actually attend is 50% or .5. Well that means the ratio is 1:2 which means that there would be two people attending for every person in the boundaries. So not only did she say it in a funky way but she was downright wrong. I'm guessing she meant the other way so 2:1 but saying the ratio was 200% is even more confusing. I would overlook something like this if someone was speaking because it's easy flip them in your head by accident but actually writing it that way is pretty terrible. Especially in a book.

    I also have a close relation from the BYU English department and while I have no business judging anyone's English (I still can never remember when you use than vs then and I have a masters) lets just say that it didn't seem like a very rigorous course load.

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    1. The author frequently refers to herself as being funny. It's as though she thinks a person can insert f-bombs into something like a general conference talk, and it miraculously becomes funny -- although, come to think of it, I would like to hear a GC talk with randomly-inserted f-bombs. That might actually be funny.

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