I love words and am fascinated by the myriad wonderful things that can be accomplished by putting them together in just the right way. The beauty of a well-turned phrase excites me, and a good book waiting for me on top of my nightstand is profoundly better than a stash of chocolate in the drawer.
Closely rivaling my love of books is the pleasure I find in talking about them. I belong to a book club, and I’m always happy to be in the company of fellow bibliophiles. So with all of this open affection for words and books, I find it puzzling that I become a woman of few words when talking about works of LDS fiction featuring LDS characters.
I have always been partial to mysteries with a bit of romance. I like the books I read to be clean with no unnecessary swearing or crudeness, and I really like stories that contain truths that speak to my spirit. Consequently, LDS novels, specifically the suspense/romance variety, and I should make a good match. So why should I feel somehow embarrassed checking out an LDS novel from the library?
I always feel a crazy need to sandwich those over-sized paperbacks in between some non-fiction books and a best-seller or a work of classic literature. It’s kind of like when I’m craving a chocolate doughnut, so I buy it along with a few other items, even throwing in a greeting card in hopes that the cashier will think I’m buying it as a treat for someone else and not suspect that I’m really going to devour it as soon as I get in the car. Heaven forbid I get caught giving into such stereotypical feminine cravings as romance and chocolate! How ironic that something labeled as an LDS product should invoke feelings of guilt.
Many years ago my sister-in-law gave me a book by Betsy Brannon Green called “Until Proven Guilty.” It had great characters, an engaging setting, and my favorite classic romantic set-up of two people who can barely tolerate each other falling in love. That was my first LDS fiction novel of the mystery/suspense/romance variety and the beginning of an interesting near-obsession that would lead me to many more books by Green and to works by other authors of LDS fiction. I read other genres in between, but I kept going back for more. I still get excited when I find something new on the library shelf, but I have yet to list any LDS fiction titles on my Goodreads “shelf.”
I think my reluctance to share my enjoyment of some LDS fiction stems from the fact that I am an English major and feel obligated to dedicate my reading time to weightier tomes or at least rave-review selections. Perhaps another cause for hesitation has something to do with the reaction I got from my book club when I apologetically mentioned that I occasionally got caught up in reading LDS novels. The ladies in my book club are wonderful women with strong testimonies who are very well read, and they apparently are aware that it is not a secret among even LDS avid readers that LDS fiction is considered the macaroni and cheese at a grown-up buffet. Why is that the case?
Are LDS novels cheesy? They can be. The stories can be a bit contrived and formulaic, the characters kind of unrealistic, and the plots a little far-fetched, but authors of LDS fiction certainly do not have a corner on the market when it comes to these common foibles of fiction. Mac and cheese may not please the discriminating palates of gourmands, but it is can be tasty and satisfying and even dressed up. Above all, it is comfort food.
Sometimes we want to reach beyond our own backyard for adventure. The characters in most LDS novels could be my neighbors or at least the people on the next street. Throw them in the middle of murder mysteries or terrorist plots, and I will keep turning the pages. I admit it is rare to find descriptive phrases in LDS novels that take my breath away. They do not always contain what would be considered scintillating dialogue, but they tell stories that I want to finish.
Collectively, the genre has reassured me that it is OK to be open about my beliefs, and individual works have caused me to take a moment to reflect on my relationships and examine my feelings about such weighty subjects as adversity, having a change of heart, and forgiveness.
I think the next time I indulge in a work of LDS fiction, I will toss aside the guilt and enjoy myself and who knows, I might even start devouring that chocolate doughnut on my way out of the store.
Penny Bowler has considered herself to be a writer almost ever since she discovered the power of words. Her family can attest to the fact that she is rarely at a loss for words.