Friday, January 19, 2007

A Compelling Mormon Autobiography

I just finished Levi Peterson’s autobiography a couple nights ago. I found it a very compelling, engaging read, even though at times it falls a little into the mode of “and then this happened,” probably unavoidable with a whole-life autobiography. Levi's level of self-analysis is deep enough that it made me do a lot of self-analysis of my own, comparing how I’m similar and how I’m different.

Unlike Levi, basic belief in Mormonism isn’t one of my challenges, and even after reading the book I couldn’t tell you exactly WHY Levi doesn’t believe--it just seems that disbelief is part of his personality and identity. For me, I’m able to negotiate troubling history or science or institutional behavior because, as a human, I'm aware that I can't possibly know the full story yet, and I'd rather give Mormonism the benefit of the doubt. I could never hope to make sense of the universe without the basic Mormon worldview, which I can't see myself ever abandoning unless something better presented itself, which I can’t imagine ever happening.

Where I’m jealous of Levi is how deeply he engages with the world, perhaps to compensate for his lack of belief. He has much stronger connections with community, family, and his daughter and grandchildren than I can personally comprehend, and also with nature. He seems to be always deeply engaged in things like skiing or remodeling his house or hiking or doing lots of other manly things, not to mention his career accomplishments as a professor and writer. In comparison, I have a much harder time connecting with people and the world. I don’t know where Levi gets all his time and energy! In comparison, I feel somewhat slothful and shallow and self-centered.

Anyway, it’s a great book if you enjoy peering very deeply into someone else’s life and psyche and, in consequence, looking closer at your own. There are lots of funny bits, earthy bits, and fine turns of phrase. Not to be crass, but I do sell this book for a discount at my website (look under "Culture & Memoir").

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