Southern Arizona resident Jan Martin’s newest release is a simple collection of playful anecdotes ranging from poems to short stories, a recipe and more in her recently released children’s book titled My Word That’s Absurd.
The collection reads like an issue of Reader’s Digest with its variety of prose and articles. One short story, “Little Miss Mousie,” won first place in the American Night Writer’s Association annual writing contest and is a delightfully charming tale of a small mouse who is simply trying to do her best to take care of herself at the hands of Mrs. McGregor. Also included is an adventure story that will entertain readers of all ages.
Jan’s poetry is full of humor and wit. The chapter is aptly titled “Everyone Hates Poetry.” A Christmas poem hits the nail on the head with a comedic look at the commercial aspect of the holiday. Also included is a comical Mother’s Day poem that was printed in a Dear Abby column many years back. Jan adds in a limerick written by her son and a look at the triviality of her kitchen timer, among other subjects.
She does a great job of finding the humor in the most interesting places and includes several of these quirky photos or moments in her writing, such as the eye cream whose instructions read “avoid contact with eyes,” and more.
Even though I found the photos and illustrations slightly distracting and simple, if you have ever played sports, surfed the web or embarrassed yourself in public, you will relate to the everyday funnies contained in My Word That’s Absurd.
A warning: American Crucifixion: The Murder of Joseph Smith and the Fate of the Mormon Church
(PublicAffairs, 2014) is not a Sunday School version of the Church’s beginnings. Boston Globe columnist Alex Beam is not a member, and he doesn’t pretend to be. Though deeply flawed, his popular history is at least a thought-provoking outsider look at the forces that shaped the early Church.
Beam attempts to contextualize the event known as the martyrdom, or the assassination of Joseph and Hyrum Smith, by bringing the Nauvoo period into sharp focus and examining in depth the events that culminated in the mob violence of 1844. The book does a respectable job of laying out the political, religious, social and even financial reasons for the crisis point in Mormon history that escalated from name calling and property destruction to murder and forced the Saints’ exodus to Utah. While the framework of the tale will be familiar to Mormon readers, Beam covers the lesser known aftermath of the killings—the sham trial of the assassins and the succession crisis that preceded the trek West, for instance.
The book’s biggest defect is that Beam’s Joseph comes off as cartoonish, and the author delights in amping up the more sensational (and often debatable) details of early Mormonism: Joseph’s treasure hunting, whispered talk of teenage brides, and his bid for the presidency. Even so, Beam shows an occasional begrudging admiration for the folk tale hero he’s created.
But is that character truly Joseph Smith, the prophet? Probably not. Beam’s sources are problematic, and he cherry picks from tittle-tattle and insinuation more than he relies on authenticated material. He does capture at times—and clearly without understanding it— the charisma of Brother Joseph and the spirit of a fledgling Church that naysayers thought would end with the death of the prophet.
Bottom line: the book is not without bias, and readers looking for a more inspirational version of Church history will be disillusioned. Cast a skeptical eye on Beam’s treatment of Joseph, the man and prophet, but the larger historical framework makes the book a decent leaf-through.