This is part of Pajiba's 2009-2010 Cannonball Read. The goal is to read and write reviews for 52 books in one year. Let's see if I can do it.
My new favorite Mormon Elna Baker's memoir The New York Regional Mormon Singles Halloween Dance was exactly what I was hoping for: an honest look at life for those who love being Mormon, but also love being normal. Just recently moving back to Seattle after a 4-year stint in the LDS Mecca of Provo, Utah, I could use a little refresher of what it's like in the real world.
The book chronicles Baker's life mostly from the time she moved out and went to NYU to be an actor to present day. She talks about everything from her love life to losing 80 pounds to not fitting in at church to working with creepy realistic babies at FAO Shwarz. Some of the stories she shares I've heard before (she's been a contributor to This American Life and some of her stage acts are on YouTube), but in written form, she seems more honest. She's not just aiming for a punchline (although they are in there), but for revealing her perspective and thought process.
What I appreciated most about TNYRMSHD though, is that it's funny without being insulting. Baker pokes fun at a weird culture and weird beliefs while giving sincere reasons why she stays around. She's walking a fine line between wanting to belong to the regular world, but also wanting to feel the peace she finds in religion. It's hard to express why you believe in God without getting cheesy and overly sacrosanct, but Baker manages to do it. Probably because it's sandwiched between moments of trying to lose her virginity and finding out she unknowingly used amphetamines to lose weight, but it works for me. My experience is that you find God in the weirdest of places, and it was nice to read that someone else finds that, too.