2012 Christmas gift book guide

How about this: I offer some book suggestions for Christmas as usual, and we forget that this Mormon Moment business ever happened.

Matthew Bowman, The Mormon People: The Making of an American Faith (Random House, 2012), $19.
John Turner, Brigham Young: Pioneer Prophet (Harvard UP, 2012), $20.

Matt’s single volume history of Mormonism is great for Mormons who want to know more about their history (even those who are well-read) and non-Mormons who want to know about the church without the Missionary Department’s shtick. Aside from being omnipresent, Matt’s a gifted author and crams a significant amount of insight in his accessible synthesis. Also, if you’ve not seen him speak in public, you are certainly missing out. And John Turner’s biography of Brigham Young is simply extraordinary (see the JI’s roundtable). Pioneer Prophet will be eye opening to any reader. Turner had open access at the church archives and those not accustomed to scholarly history of Mormonism may be a bit discomfited with the gritty (and sometimes profane) actions of our second President. The events of Brigham Young’s life should shake us to our cores, and in many ways. I found in Turner’s portrayal a sympathetic man, and important moments of transcendent brilliance.

Terryl L. Givens and Fiona Givens, The God Who Weeps: How Mormonism Makes Sense of Life (Deseret Book, 2012), $18.
Apparently Terryl Givens made a public comment about Deseret Book being an intellectual wasteland. The CEO sought him out and asked for a manuscript that would help rectify the situation. Terryl and Fiona Givens then produced The God Who Weeps, a volume that is as Julie Smith puts it, “the single best book of Mormon Studies” that she has ever read. That may be hyperbolic, or she maybe meant Mormon Devotional reading, or maybe it is that awesome. I haven’t read it, but it has been universally applauded by people I respect. Jacob’s review of the intro alone is meaty. Let’s hope this is not a solo effort by Deseret book; the canteen is still far from full. Also, I really liked the Deseret’s short volume on Joseph Smith’s sermons to the Relief Society (reviewed here).

Stephen Harper, Making Sense of the Doctrine & Covenants: A Guided Tour Through Modern Revelations (Deseret Book, 2008) $35.
Thomas Alexander, Mormonism in Transition: A History of the Latter-day Saints, 1890-1930 (3rd ed., Kofford Books, 2012), $32.

Honestly, I consistently wait three years for Doctrine and Covenants to be the topic of study in Sunday School. To think that the youth won’t be getting it breaks my heart a bit. But I am giddy and I have one month to get my son to stay in nursery. Harper’s Making Sense isn’t perfect, but it is consistently good, and sometimes quite great (I compared it to other resources here). Turley and Slaughter’s recent How We Got the Doctrine and Covenants is also a nice volume that introduces readers to the history of the book in a very accessible format. We are also shifting to the teachings of Lorenzo Snow in Relief Society and Priesthood. There isn’t a really solid biography of President Snow, but Alexander’s classic, and recently re-released, Mormonism in Transition is the best treatment of Snow’s tenure at the head of the Church. If you haven’t read it, you should make the effort.

Steven Peck, Quickend Chronicles: The Rifts of Rime (Cedar Fort, 2012), $12.
This is Steve’s second year in a row…maybe his third on the BCC Christmas list. Blair reviewed it: “…it’s a ‘good story’ first and foremost, even while weaving theological ideas from Mormonism into a tale of moral ambiguity, death, doubt, and the hope of redemption. Peck actually wrote it over twenty years ago; its woodland creature vibe preceded the Harry Potter craze and the more recent vampire stuff. Rifts is a rawer Peck, it lacks the precision of his more recent works (The Scholar of Moab and A Short Stay in Hell)…This is precisely the sort of fiction I’d like to read with my own kids someday.” As it was a slow year on the fiction front, consider getting Dispensation: Latter-day Fiction if you missed it in years past. It is a great compilation of Mormon short fiction.

J. Spencer Fluhman, A Peculiar People: Anti-Mormonism and the Making of Religion in Nineteenth-Century America (UNC Press, 2012), $25.
All right, this is if you want to watch your beloved Mormon Studies nerd get their geek on. With Peculiar People Fluhman carves out from his dissy an amazingly tight book that documents how understanding Mormonism, and importantly reactions to it, can help us better understand what it meant to be American in the nineteenth century. Here is a curt Q&A with the author. This book is nicely paired with Patrick Mason’s Mormon Menace from last year’s list.

BYU Studies Quarterly, 1 year for $24.
Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, 1 year for $50.
Journal of Mormon History, 1 year for $55.

As ever, subscriptions are nice. People like to get them. Both BYU Studies and Dialogue are general Mormon Studies publications. You’ll find a little bit of everything (though Dialogue also has regular fiction). The JMH is not a subscription, per se. It is actually a membership to the Mormon History Association which comes with a year’s worth of journal and a regular newsletter. It is strait up Mormon History, as the name implies. They are all quarterly, but BYU Studies is typically significantly less pages than the other two. You can also purchase single issues from the respective websites. I’ve generally switched to reading journals on my tablet, which is a nice feature. I wish that publishers gave a better break to digital-only subscribers.

The Joseph Smith Papers: Histories, Vol. 1 (1832-1844) (CH Press, 2012), $50.
The Joseph Smith Papers: Histories, Vol. 2: Assigned Histories, 1831-1847 (CH Press, 2012), $50.

I guess you can plan on seeing two of these volumes on this list every year for the next eight to ten years. Rock on. My review of Histories 1 is available here. I haven’t published my review of volume 2 yet, but it is great.

The Science of Good Cooking (Cook’s Illustrated Cookbooks, 2012), $24.
Seriously, how could I not go with this?


  1. Givens book is wonderful. I haven’t finished it yet, but it’s moving, thought-provoking, and beautiful. I wish we could make it part of the missionary library. As I was reading on the plane the other day, I wrote to myself, “Givens’ book all alone justifies the continued existence of Deseret Book.”

  2. Love the last selection. (grin)
    The others are great as well.

  3. Christopher says:

    Excellent, J. A lot of great books on this year’s list.

  4. Harper is a definite to counteract some of the weirdness from DB. And for a little thoughtful giving, you can’t beat Turner, no way no how.

  5. The Bowman and Turner volumes were both fantastic. Reading Givens now. Didn’t Sam’s volume come out this year, or was it last year?

  6. Sam snuck in on the 2011 list.

  7. .

    I’m thinking of writing a similar post this year, but in case I never get around to it, here are some early thoughts unmentioned in your post.

    1. The Roots of the Olive Tree by Courtney Miller Santos (I’m not yet halfway through, but I’m already confident declaring this novel the rightful inheritor of Hallstrom’s Bound on Earth. Even if it doesn’t have any Mormon characters.)

    2. The Five Books of Jesus by James Goldberg (I haven’t started reading my copy yet, but it’s about Jesus! and by James Goldberg! I don’t see how you can go wrong with this as a Christmas present.)

    3. A Short Stay in Hell by Steven Peck (What better way to shake people out of their staid ideas re what Mormon literature is?)

    4. An Irreantum subscription. (Still my favorite of the periodicals.)

    5. Millstone City by Shawn Bailey
    6. iPlates by Stephen Carter and Jett Atwood
    7. From the Dust by MM

    And although far be it from me to promote myself, my novel Byuck might just be out in time.

  8. Thanks Th. Those are awesome suggestions, and I feel bad for not remembering several of them.

  9. _The Five Books of Jesus_ gets a definite thumbs-up from me. I’m only about 50 pages in but at least every other page gives me chills, it is so beautiful and insightful.

  10. Thanks J! I’m really honored to be included. And thanks Th. I can vouch for ‘The Five Books of Jesus’ by James Goldberg too, I’m only about 1/4th into it, but am blown away by its excellence.

  11. This is great, J. Thanks for putting it together.

  12. Last selection ftw.

  13. The God Who Weeps is absolutely amazing. Buy it.

  14. Shallow Bibliophile says:

    “Mormonism in Transition: A History of the Latter-day Saints, 1890-1930”

    Print-on-demand. Boo! Hiss!

  15. I own and have read all of these except for Peck’s book and the cook book; I own Peck’s other books and follow his blog, he’s brilliant. This is a great book selection. Harper’s book was fantastic. Too bad is was published by DB, if you took out the “application” section, a better publisher could have done it and opened the book up to a wider audience. What about “Tales from the World Tour”? That was a great Mormon History, well-worth reading.

  16. Over the past few years my Christmas books have consistently been the volumes published by Smith-Pettit/Signature. Mike Marquardt’s 2nd patriarchal blessings book was this years. These will bring tons of joy to that Mormon book geek in any family!!

  17. Since we’ll be studying the Lorenzo Snow manual next year, Dennis Horne’s just published “Latter Leaves in the Life of Lorenzo Snow” would make a very timely Christmas gift.

  18. This is a very nice list. For a list of excellent scriptural and theological books overlooked in this post, check out Kirk’s list at the Feast blog.

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