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Godtalk: Travels in Spiritual America Hardcover – April 2, 2002


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; 1 edition (April 2, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679447091
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679447092
  • Product Dimensions: 8.4 x 6.1 x 1.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,541,988 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

In Godtalk novelist Brad Gooch stumbles into the gracelands and wastelands of contemporary spirituality. In the late 1990s he embarked on an unconventional odyssey to explore the spiritual movements of America. The result is a rich memoir about a "frequent flier pilgrim" who mixes with celebrities like Deepak Chopra as well as cloistered nuns and chanting Sufis. He finds committed, disciplined disciples alongside individuals who treat religions like self-help programs and mix rituals, prayers, and practices into a personalized stew. Gooch has a novelist's narrative skills and is able to pan back and give sweeping overviews. "We spent most of the week sitting cross-legged in large white plastic chairs or lying on blankets breathing carefully in and out, trying to slip into what Chopra called 'the gap'--the missed beat where bliss lies," he writes of a meditation retreat. "For anyone who peeked into the tent, we must have looked like we'd been knocked out by a powerful bug spray." His rich experiences in ashrams, monasteries, churches, and retreat centers are engaging as stand-alone chapters (some were the basis of magazine articles). Unfortunately, Gooch rarely ties these experiences all together. For readers who want their fingers on the pulse of American spirituality, this makes an interesting, but limited, armchair pilgrimage. --Gail Hudson

From Publishers Weekly

Gooch, a professor of English at William Paterson University, introduces his book as "close-up, detailed reporting on the social aspect of the spiritual scene in America," the subjects of which are based on his own "deep whim." They include readers of the Urantia Book, followers of Deepak Chopra and Gurumayi Chidvilasananda, communities of Trappists and Trappistines, gay churches and Jerry Falwell's interaction with them and Muslims in New York City. Each chapter is indeed detailed, with Gooch including lengthy descriptions of interiors, rituals and beliefs, as well as interviews with adherents he meets (and, in the case of the Urantia Book and Chopra, with critics as well). The book's thorough detail at times causes the narrative to lose focus, as when Gooch veers off from an interview to mention that the interviewee is the cousin of the author of Six Degrees of Separation. His own explorative "whim" also causes the narrative to ramble. For example, one chapter begins with architect Philip Johnson talking about designing the Cathedral of Hope, then minutely discusses various gay churches and leaders as well as the California and Texas cultures in which they move, and then describes a potentially confrontational encounter between Mel White and Jerry Falwell. The title itself seems to encapsulate the book's lack of focus; this is an ethnographic portrait of several religious groups, not a study of "Godtalk." However, those willing to follow the meandering trails of Gooch's detail will find an engaging portrait of at least five religious movements.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

More About the Author

Brad Gooch is the author of the acclaimed biography of Frank O'Hara, City Poet, as well as Flannery: A Life of Flannery O'Connor, a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award in Biography, along with other nonfiction and three novels. The recipient of National Endowment for the Humanities and Guggenheim fellowships, he earned his Ph.D. at Columbia University and is Professor of English at William Paterson University in New Jersey. He lives in New York City.

Customer Reviews

3.8 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on April 30, 2002
Format: Hardcover
This is a fascinating book which mixes personal observations and historical background to reveal, with insight and humor, a number of religious quests in contemporary America. For me the most satisfying chapter was "A Busy Mosaic: Islam in New York City." After September 11, we have come to demonize Islam as a religion of hate and terrorism. What this chapter reveales is the binding sense of community that has drawn to Islam in America a disparate group--including those seekers from other faiths. Islam is not an easy religion to follow, and I was profoundly moved by Gooch's ability to describe how the principles of the Moslem faith become the string that binds people together even in the most distracting city in the world--New York. The extent to which Thomas Merton has influenced several generations of monks was also a revelation to me. For someone like myself, who is not religious but religious curious, I admired the non-hokey tone of the book.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on April 12, 2002
Format: Hardcover
A good book takes you on a journey...this one will take you on a spiritual marathon. Gooch's writing, a graceful blend of intellect, humor and straightforwardness, left me longing for more...each chapter like a visit to a small story book town...a town you don't want to leave. From the mysterious Sadler and Book Urantia to the minimalistic way of life of the Trappists, to the detailed accounts of Jerry Falwell's ministry, the experiences reads with a naked, rich, insightful, yet intangible simplicty, the very core of what one hopes religion is truly about. Gooch is on the pulse...genius.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on July 11, 2003
Format: Hardcover
This book might not be what you're expecting. As the other reviewers point out, it's more about his experiences than anything. The author avoids almost any editorializing, which I wish he would have inserted more often. I personally like this genre, which I would call the "behind-the-scenes" look at different, often esoteric, religious expressions. To write a book like this involves a long time, many interviews, and the willingness to participate in a variety of often strange religious ceremonies and events (and, in his case, apparently alot of money to pay for Deepak Chopra's and other's seminars). If you're at all Catholic, I would recommend Michael Cumeo's "Smoke of Satan" and "American Excorcism" as excellent examples within this type of religious writing.
Overall, Gooch's book was a page-turner but, again, should be read more for pleasure and subtle insight than for systematic treatments of "spirituality in America."
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Format: Hardcover
In "Godtalk" writer Brad Gooch plays the role of a "spiritual tourist", covering 5 different American religious subjects:

1) the Urantians 2) Deepak Chopra and Gurumayi 3) Trappist Monks 4) The Cathedral of Hope 5)Islam in New York City.

Gooch does a good job of getting a variety of different religious persectives and involving himself in the spiritual rituals of the groups he encounters. But, ultimately, the book amounts to a series of sociological surveys without the writer actually being able to experience first hand what it means to be a practicing member of the religions covered.

Gooch is a scholar, an English professor actually, so he does bring a signicant amount of intellectual weight to this project. He also maintains a generally objective approach. But, truthfully, I would have appreciated a little more editorializing on his part. Personally, I find the wacky outer space based theology of the Urantians to have less validity than the centuries old practices of the Trappist monks, for example. But Gooch typically sticks to providing an overview of the sects and their leaders without many opinions being offered along the way.

Still Gooch has a readable enough style of writing and, for the person interested in American religious movements, this is a worthwhile book
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Barbara G. Cox on June 29, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Brad Gooch is certainly a skillful writer. He researched his subjects meticulously. However, the title and blurbs on the dustjacket of his book are totally misleading. The book is more about a few spiritual outposts in America than it is about the spectrum of spirituality across the country. There are only five chapters: one about an arcane revelatory path called the Urantia Movement, the second about the life and times of Deepak Chopra (mostly in other countries), the third about Trappist monks, the fourth a collection of miscellany about the Cathedral of Hope, Soulforce, and Jerry Falwell (mostly in Texas and California), and the fifth about Islam in New York.

A blurb on the back of the dustjacket says, "It's hard to imagine a more important subject than religion in America, or a more compassionate, accessible guide than Brad Gooch. Godtalk is a necessary book."

Another says, "In this period of self-searching, Brad Gooch guides us through spiritual America with intelligence, wit, and sensitivity."

I gave Gooch's book only two stars because I feel swindled.
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