Inhuman Swill : Books

Association for Mormon Letters
I was very pleasantly surprised to wake up this morning and discover that The Accidental Terrorist is a finalist for the 2015 Association for Mormon Letters Award in Creative Non-Fiction. Okay, it would have been more accurate to say that you could have knocked me over with a feather.

The Association for Mormon Letters has been around for 40 years, fulfilling its mission to promote and study literature "by, for, and about Mormons." I honestly have no expectation of winning (and as nice as it would to attend the awards ceremony in Hawaii, I probably won't be able to go anyway). Being nominated is reward enough for me, as the inclusion of my book on this shortlist speaks volumes to the organization's willingness to push the boundaries of Mormon literature to include works that try to honestly address all aspects of the Mormon experience, even ones that may not be faith-affirming.

Thanks, AML! Best of luck to all the nominees.

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The Accidental Terrorist by William Shunn
Just a quick reminder that I will be reading tonight with Nancy Hightower at Bluestockings on Manhattan's Lower East Side. The event is free! I hope to see you there. Click below for more info:

REBEL PILGRIMAGES
A Reading with William Shunn & Nancy Hightower

Bluestockings Bookstore, Activist Center & Café
172 Allen Street
New York, NY 10002

Friday, January 29, 2016
7:00 - 8:00 p.m.

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The Acolyte by Nancy Hightower
On Friday, January 29, I'm very excited to be reading with the amazing writer, poet, and critic Nancy Hightower at Bluestockings on Manhattan's Lower East Side.

Admission is free! Please come out and join us, bring your friends, buy some books, get them signed, and tag along with us afterward for libations nearby! All the details are below.


REBEL PILGRIMAGES
A Reading with William Shunn & Nancy Hightower

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Tuesday Funk for November 3, 2015
Greetings, Accidental Army! I haven't written a new poem in a while, but that subject line is almost a poem in its own right. But we have only 12 days left until the official release of The Accidental Terrorist and a lot to talk about before then, so let's get to it.

Review

First, I'd like to bring a terrific new review to your attention. Elena Colás reviewed The Accidental Terrorist last week for Chicago Literati, and while I hope you'll head over there and read the whole thing, I wanted to call out one paragraph in particular that I was very glad to see:

I felt his portrayal of his younger self was somehow more compassionate than I've read in other coming of age memoirs. When I finished this book, I was reminded of Joan Didion's advice that we are "well-advised to keep on nodding terms with the people we used to be." Shunn resists the temptation to paint himself as either naive or savvy, opting instead for the kind of even-handed description that had me wondering pretty far into the book whether the author was still a practicing Mormon. [full review by Elena Colás]
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The King's English Bookshop, Salt Lake City, UT
Good morning, Accidental Army! With only 13 days left until The Accidental Terrorist's official release date, I figure it's time to give you your marching orders—er, marching suggestions, really—about how and where to purchase a copy of your very own.

Yes, the print versions of the memoir will be widely available through online retailers, including Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and more. You preferers-of-pixels can pre-order the ebook now for Kindle, iBooks, Kobo, and more.

But if you'd like to support the book and support a local business in your own area, I would urge you to follow this link to Indiebound.org and place an order with your nearest independent bookstore:

http://www.indiebound.org/book/9781941928561

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The Accidental Terrorist Close the Book Campaign
My sixteen-year quest to publish my memoir The Accidental Terrorist is nearly over. I feel like I've been fighting my way down the field all that time, sometimes making progress, sometimes getting stopped cold, sometimes losing big ground. But now that it's fourth and inches, and I need your help to cross the goal line.

Okay, enough with the bad sports metaphors, and I'll try not to waste much of your time. What I'm asking is simple:

  • If you'd like to help, all you need to do is pre-order a copy of the book.

    Possibly you were planning to wait to buy The Accidental Terrorist at a book signing, or to order it this fall from your favorite independent bookstore. (Or possibly you don't give a rats' ass, in which case I'm not really addressing you right now.) I can't fault you for that, and I don't even want to try to dissuade you. But the fact is, you will help me more if you pre-order a copy of the hardcover today, directly from me.

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  • The Accidental Terrorist (red cover concept)
    There seems to be some confusion out there about the title of my memoir. Hey, don't feel bad about it! I brought it on myself.

    In a blog post a few weeks ago, I let casually drop that I was considering changing the title from The Accidental Terrorist to Missionary Man.

    You'd think I suggested that Sesame Street should change Big Bird's name to Lysander Lemonbeak. (Though it does have a certain ring.)

    Let me back up a bit and give you some history. When I started work on the book, Missionary Man was my working title. The Eurythmics single of the same name had dropped in the summer of 1986, just two months before I entered the Missionary Training Center to start my two years of service. Rumors abounded (in Utah, anyway) that Annie Lennox had written the song after two Mormon missionaries knocked at her door. For a lot of us leaving on missions around that time, "Missionary Man" was our anthem.

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    The Accidental Terrorist (charity auction edition)
    I never expected it would take so long to make this announcement, but my Mormon missionary memoir The Accidental Terrorist will be published by Sinister Regard in 2015.

    Although it might end up with a different title. And the cover definitely won't look like the one below. And Sinister Regard is actually me.

    I'm very excited, nevertheless.

    It's hard for me to pin down exactly when I started work on this book. The events it chronicles took place mostly between September 1986 and March 1987, when I was a Mormon missionary serving in Alberta. But before that time span had even ended, I was already learning to tell bits and pieces of the story to an audience. In 1988, I told the full story to a few fellow missionaries—with a tape recorder running. Here's an excerpt, in which you can hear me at age 20 with my Utah accent still fully intact:

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    The Bone Clocks: A Novel by David Mitchell
    This post about The Bone Clocks contains mild spoilers.

    When grappling with works of genre fiction, most mainstream literary critics can be counted on to demonstrate a peculiar tone-deafness. Take the case of The New Yorker's James Woods, who calls David Mitchell's new novel The Bone Clocks "weightless," "empty," and "demented." So "frictionless" does Wood find it, in fact, that it prompts him to call into question the soundness of such earlier Mitchell works as Cloud Atlas.

    Upon reflection, I have to admit that The Bone Clocks is probably my least favorite of Mitchell's novels (The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet being the only one I haven't yet read). But I found it for the most part extremely engaging, even thrilling, and I dispute Wood's contention that "the realism—the human activity—is relatively unimportant" when stacked up against the novel's science-fictional premise.

    The Bone Clocks is built, like much of Mitchell's work, around a structural conceit that passes the duty of first-person narrator, like a baton in a relay race, to a new point-of-view character every hundred pages or so. Each of the book's six sections becomes, in essence, a novella of its own, conveying the overall narrative from its intensely realistic beginnings with a runaway teenager in 1984 to its apocalyptic, post-oil conclusion in 2043.

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    Here's the last of the excerpts I'll bring you from the book I've just finished reading, 1904's The Making of English by Henry Bradley. This is the passage that closes the book, and I found it particularly hopeful in light of the increased focus on written communication in this Digital Age of ours:

    It is not unlikely that the future historian of the English language may find that its development in the nineteenth century has been less powerfully affected by the really great writers of the period than by authors of inferior rank, both British and American, who have had the knack of inventing new turns of expression which commended themselves to general imitation. There never was a time when a clever novelty in combination of words, or an ingenious perversion of the accepted meaning of a word, had so good a chance of becoming a permanent possession of the language, as now. In no former age was there such an abundance of writing of a designedly ephemeral character, intended merely for the amusement of an idle moment. The modern taste in style demands incessant variety of expression; the same thing must never, if it can be avoided, be denoted in consecutive sentences by the same word: and so those who are engaged in supplying the popular demand for 'reading matter' eagerly adopt from each other their new devices for escaping monotony of diction. When we consider that the literature which is for all time is read by comparatively few, while the literature which is for the passing moment is read by all, we may easily be tempted to think that the future of literary English is in the hands of writers of defective culture and little seriousness of purpose, and that the language must suffer grave injury in the loss of its laboriously won capacities for precision, and in the debasement of words of noble import by unworthy use. While these apprehensions are not wholly unfounded, there is much to be said on the other side. Even the much-decried 'newspaper English' has, in its better forms, some merits of its own. Writers whose work must be read rapidly if it is to be read at all have a strong motive for endeavouring not to be obscure; and the results of this endeavour may be seen in the recent development of many subtle contrivances of sentence-structure, serving to prevent the reader from feeling even a momentary hesitation in apprehending the intended construction. We may rest assured that wherever worthy thought and feeling exist, they will somehow fashion for themselves a worthy medium of expression; and unless the English-speaking peoples have entered on a course of intellectual decline, there is no reason to fear that their language will on the whole suffer deterioration. In the daily increasing multitude of new forms of expression, even though it may be largely due to the unwholesome appetite for novelty, there must be not a little that will be found to answer to real needs, and will survive and be developed, while what is valueless will perish as it deserves. It is therefore perhaps not an unfounded hope that the future history of the language will be a history of progress, and that our posterity will speak a better English—better in its greater fitness for the uses for which language exists—than the English of to-day.

    Backhandedly hopeful, but hopeful nonetheless.

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    William Shunn

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