It took me a long time to openly confess my fascination with memoirs and biographies about people living in polygamous cults. While other readers may guiltily hide their tawdry romance novels, Star Wars fan fiction or Dan Brown thrillers, I was reticent to crack open my "polygamy books" in the presence of others. I was embarrassed to read something so lurid and trashy. Still, whenever I saw a mass market paperback with a girl wearing the tell-tale prairie dress and FLDS bouffant hairstyle, I felt an inexorable pull to purchase the book. I would furtively hide it in my purse until I got home. Then I would devour it in the privacy of my bedroom. Shades drawn.
In time, though, the facade began to crack. I became careless and started leaving books out. I complained that "Big Love" wasn't "accurate" enough. People noticed. At first I was apologetic, rolling my eyes and laughing in a self-deprecating way. Then I became defensive. Why shouldn't I read my polygamy books? More people ought to know what's going on in this country!
To be completely honest, I'm not reading these books out of a sense of civic duty. As someone who is studying psychology, I find the mental conditioning within these fundamentalist cults to be simultaneously terrifying and intriguing. At first I wondered, "How could anyone live like that?". I've read countless stories about generations raised without exposure to the outside world. Members are psychologically conditioned to follow illogical demands: from "stop wearing the color red" to "leave your son on the side of the road and forget he existed". Anyone who leaves the cult is said to relinquish everlasting salvation. Now I wonder, "How does anyone find the courage to leave?".
I've reached the point in my torrid affair with polygamy books where I'm no longer ashamed of my love. I geniunely admire the people who find the courage to leave everything they have believed and embark on a life in the undoubtedly overstimulating secular world. I am sickened by the behavior of FLDS leader Warren Jeffs and appalled by the government's reticence to take strong action against chronic child abuse. I don't understand why the public isn't asking more questions and demanding changes.
I recently read "Prophet's Prey: My Seven-Year Investigation into Warren Jeffs and the Fundamentalist Church of Latter Day Saints" by Sam Brower. I was impressed with its comprehensive nature. Private Investigator Sam Brower exhaustively researches the FLDS cult and impressively supplies insider information into the notoriously secretive society. This is a great introduction for the curious FLDS novice. However, I would also recommend "Under the Banner of Heaven" by Jon Krakauer and "Secrets and Wives: The Hidden World of Mormon Polygamy" by Sanjiv Bhattacharya as well.
It's a landmark revelation in the journey of bibliomania: a book does not have to be critically acclaimed or deemed worthy by some arbitrary cultural standard in order to alter the way we think or see the world. Whether the cover art employs shock tactics or the subject matter lends itself to mockery, it is my belief that any book that invites us to think critically and cultivate empathy is one worth reading.