Must Read: Under the Banner of Heaven / by Madeleine

Do you ever have one of those moments where you just can't find the right book to read? I've been in a reading rut the past two weeks, skipping from book to book and never feeling like I can settle into just one story. These moments tend to happen for me at the end of the semester, and I usually attribute it to having too much on my mind. The other part of it is that I'm one of those people who gets so wrapped up in a book that I'll sacrifice everything else to get to that last page, and that's not something that I can afford to do as we finish up the last week of classes and head into the final exams period.

My solution so far has been to take three or four books with me when I get into bed and skip around until I figure out which one fits my mood best. I've also been indulging in more magazines and news stories- particularly from Time and BBC. (This article is one of my favorites that I've read this week.)

I was feeling kind of blah about my reading choices until I decided to pick up an old favorite, and found that it was the perfect choice for this week.

When I was still in high school, Krakauer's most famous book was Into the Wild, which I didn't find particularly captivating, but out of all the books I've read by him, Under the Banner of Heaven is the best. It's on the top five favorites list for not only myself, but also my father and brother, and though they usually have similar tastes in nonfiction, it's rare for the three of us to come to such a strong agreement on a single book or author.

The story begins with a murder of a woman and her infant daughter at the hands of her fundamentalist (and deranged) mormon brother-in-law. The murder is the thread that weaves the whole book together, but Krakauer really brings front the history of the Mormon religion. I've been interested in reading about Mormonism since I first did a lengthy report on the founding of it back in eighth grade. What's fascinating to me is that despite its infant state, it's one of the fastest growing religions in the world, and is considered by some as the "American religion" not only because of its vast following here but also because it states that the Garden of Eden was actually right here in North America. The mainstream Mormon religion is harmless- orderly to the point of perfection, actually- but it's the various fundamentalist sects that it has sprouted that are of interest to Krakauer in this account. Learning about their different ideas on faith and about their radical actions to achieve a spot in the Celestial Kingdom is like reading a tale from another world, but it's all true and it's happening right here in the United States. 

My favorite part about reading this book is that it gives me great conversational pieces. Just last night, my roommate and I chatted about one particularly intriguing sect over dinner, which was a nice break from our recent stream of discussions about grades, graduate school, and other things that are frying our brains. I wouldn't hesitate to recommend this book to just about any reader, but for non-fiction lovers it's a must-read. If you're looking for a last minute gift this season, wrap it up in a bow and say that it comes highly recommended. And if you have a nonfiction book that you can't stop talking about, I'd love to hear any recommendations for my own must-read list!