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10 / 30 books. 33% done!

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- Alabama (1)
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Thursday, September 02, 2021

Mormon Mentions: Jon Billman

If you haven't got a clue what a Mormon is, let alone a Mormon Mention, allow me to explain: When I see a reference to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (nickname: Mormons) in a book which was not written by a member of the Church, I post it here. With commentary from Yours Truly.  I'm no theologian, but I try to explain doctrinal issues as well as debunk myths and clear up misconceptions.  Speaking of, I should probably make this crystal clear: My dad only has one wife. As does my husband.  And, yes, people really have asked me those questions.  (I've also been asked if I have horns.  Of course I do!  I just keep them hidden under my hair.  Duh.)  Just FYI: mainstream Mormons haven't practiced polygamy for more than 120 years.

Everybody got that? Great. Let's move on...

In The Cold Vanish, Jon Billman talks about the search for a man named Troy James Knapp, a survivalist who lived off the spoils he acquired from breaking into cabins in Southern Utah for seven years before he was caught and jailed in 2013.  

  • Of Southern Utah's arid landscape, Billman says:  "It was drier than a Mormon wedding." (205)
Ha ha.  This reference made me laugh out loud!  If you know anything about my church it's that its members abide by a health code known as The Word of Wisdom.  It stipulates that we abstain from drinking alcohol, hot beverages (coffee and tea), using tobacco, and ingesting other substances that are harmful to the body.  Thus, alcoholic beverages are not consumed by Latter-day Saints and not served at Mormon wedding receptions.  In fact, I was shocked when, at a recent reception, I was handed an empty glass for a later toast to the bride and groom.  Toasts are not traditionally part of Mormon receptions.  This one—of course—was done with Martinelli's sparkling apple cider!

  • About Knapp:  "At times he appeared angry at Latter[sic]D[sic]ay Saints—he shot holes in a portrait of Joseph Smith and ripped up the Book of Mormon." (200)
I don't know anything about Knapp's religious background.  Perhaps he is a disgruntled former member of the Church.  Or he just likes to be destructive.  Morality is obviously not the man's strong suit.  Desecrating religious paintings and sacred books, especially while in the act of ransacking a stranger's cabin, are simply not the actions of a good man (although the owners probably forgave him since both Joseph Smith's [the Church's first prophet and president] teachings and the Book of Mormon preach forgiveness for all). 

Haunting and Memorable, The Cold Vanish Explores Alarming Number of Missing Persons Lost in North America's National Lands

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Did you know that each year in the United States about 600,000 people go missing?  Most vanish in populated places.  The majority of them are found alive and in a short amount of time.  While these statistics are comforting in a way, the one Jon Billman is concerned about is this—around 1600 people are currently missing from North America's public lands (including national parks, national forests, and BLM land).  And this, Billman says, is likely a vast understatement.  For various reasons, hundreds go missing on federal land every year; many are never found.  

In The Cold Vanish, the writer uses the story of Jacob Gray (link contains spoilers)—a 22-year-old from California who disappeared in Washington's Olympic Peninsula while on a solo bicycling trip—as a springboard to explore these disappearing acts.  Who is most likely to vanish on public land?  Why?  And what is being done to locate the missing?  Billman discusses obstacles to finding people in the wild (vast acreage, inclement weather, difficult terrain, bureaucratic red tape, etc.) as well as the lengths that volunteers (including a group of dedicated Bigfoot hunters) have gone to to find missing hikers, bicyclers, and explorers.  Since so many of the circumstances surrounding these disappearances are strange, even inexplicable, Billman also talks about the more out-there explanations embraced by some: aliens, Sasquatch, and other otherworldly explanations.  The levity of this discussion is over-balanced, however, by those about how a missing persons investigation affects the family and friends who are left behind with no answers and no closure.  It's heartbreaking. 

Although there has apparently been a bit of a hubbub over Billman's portrayal of Jacob Gray, including some "facts" of the case that Billman may have gotten wrong, I found his coverage of Jacob's case to be both sensitive and absorbing.  On the whole, The Cold Vanish is very informative, compulsively readable, and highly compelling.  Also, sad and disturbing.  Although I read the book quickly, what I learned has stayed with me.  Haunted me.  My biggest takeaway: always maintain a healthy respect for Mother Nature, which will kill you just as soon as cradle you.  When exploring, stay on established paths, don't venture out alone, take a cell phone, and always—always—be prepared with emergency supplies.  Not doing any one of these, as Billman so clearly points out, can be deadly.

*Thanks to Lark for recommending this book to me.  You can see her excellent review of The Cold Vanish here.

(Readalikes:  Reminds me of books by Jon Krakauer, especially Into the Wild, as well as Carried by Michelle Schmidt and Angie Taylor)


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

for language (a dozen or so F-bombs, plus milder expletives), violence, blood/gore, and disturbing subject matter

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find

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