Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Prophet's Prey

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.


Jonathan Wilhoit said...

You know, back when science fiction first started taking off critics decried it as being tawdry and culturally worthless, but a lot of very brilliant writers have used science fiction to explore a great many themes about humanity and society at large. That's not to say that there isn't tawdry and culturally worthless science fiction out there, but just about any genre can be used to explore worthwhile themes.

You read your FLDS books, girl. Take comfort, too, in knowing that I have just as embarrassing a guilty pleasure--or used to, anyway. You actually nailed it on your intro paragraph. Yeah, that's right. Star Wars books. I've still got about 80 or 90 of those damn things on my book shelves. Haven't read one in 5 years, but yeah... it happened. And now I am ashamed.

Bibliomania said...

Don't be ashamed! Own it! Have you seen "Trekkies"?

Jonathan Wilhoit said...

Psh, are you kidding? Star Trek is for losers! Star Wars is the true "Star" franchise.

I keed, I keed. But to answer your question, no, I haven't. What's it about?

Bibliomania said...

Oh my god... I just betrayed my complete and utter lack of knowledge in "Star Wars" and "Star Trek" culture. I (mostly) sincerely apologize!

"Trekkies" is an amazing documentary about the most ardent Star Trek fans.

Barbara said...

New follower via book blogs, thought I would say hello.

Bibliomania said...

@Barbara- I am following you as well- I love your blog!

Barbara said...

Thanks for your visit and lovely comment. I’m looking forward to lots of future visits to your site.

MissKimberlyStardust said...

Good review :) Was just stoping to say that you're taged as part of my chain http://turningthepagesx.blogspot.com/2012/02/book-tag.html

Rosalind said...

You know, I think I can pinpoint pretty much the exact moment when I decided to stop apologizing for stuff I really like, and it was embarrassingly recent. I had a couple of friends, at school and at home, who would be habitually judgmental, not in a deliberately cruel way but, with my many neuroses, it still got to me. All of this in spite of one of these ladies' truly befuddling taste in 90's anime. And one day I just decided, verily, to the seven devils with this. I am not ashamed of this, e.g., slightly pornographic fantasy book, and if you keep mocking me I will make you read it.

I think the trap we get stuck in is trying desperately to justify our reading as either, as you say, "civic duty", or as a guilty pleasure which we are entitled to but appropriately ashamed of, when either route just sounds silly. I can acknowledge and enjoy all the goofy situations in our previously mentioned fantasy novel while admiring some fabulous world building and character development. Nyah nyah.

Tl;dr Let's all read the books we love!

With all that said, you should read "The Lonely Polygamist," which is not a memoir but which I think you'd appreciate and also I'm curious what you'd think as a connoisseur of escapee memoirs.

Bibliomania said...

Rosalind, I think that's a brilliant way in which to explain how we should respond to people's reactions to what we read.

Also, I *own* The Lonely Polygamist but have not yet read it! It's on my shelf right now!

A benefit of not buying any books for 92 more days...