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44 of 45 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Easy to Grab, but Hard to Let Go
I found Dennis Covingtons book Salvation on Sand Mountain to be compelling reading for a number of reasons. First, I was born and raised on Sand Mountain and had heard stories of the snake handlers all of my life, but never had the desire or the inclination to attend one of these churches. Second, having grown up on Sand Mountain I was fascinated to read about the...
Published on February 27, 2000 by Mark S. Milwee

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17 of 20 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars an unsatisfying attempt to combine journalism and memoir
Before I start being critical, I guess I should say that I've read and reread this book, so it must on some level be compelling. However, I wonder if I'm not rereading it looking for something that I want to be there that isn't.
Covington's project as a journalist was to cover the trial for attempted murder of a snake-handling preacher. From there, he moved on to...
Published on December 5, 2000


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44 of 45 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Easy to Grab, but Hard to Let Go, February 27, 2000
By 
Mark S. Milwee (Gilroy, California) - See all my reviews
I found Dennis Covingtons book Salvation on Sand Mountain to be compelling reading for a number of reasons. First, I was born and raised on Sand Mountain and had heard stories of the snake handlers all of my life, but never had the desire or the inclination to attend one of these churches. Second, having grown up on Sand Mountain I was fascinated to read about the depth of the spiritual commitment of these people. Whether you agree with them or not you have to admit that it either takes a lot of faith, or lack of sense to stick your hand down into a box of rattle snakes! Third, I found this book compelling because as a Baptist pastor and son of a Baptist pastor that has preached all over Sand Mountain, I have to ask myself the question, "How could these people take such a hardline stance on a passage in the book of Mark that scholars argue over whether it was even meant to be included in the original manuscripts of the New Testament?" Of course, I know what the snake handlers would say, "All of his seminary training has ruined a good preacher!" Maybe so, but I'm not going to be sticking my hand into a box of rattlesnakes anytime soon to prove the validity of a questionable passage of Scripture. Finally, I found the book to be fascinating reading and although I question their theology, I admire someone that can believe in something so strongly that they are willing to risk their lives for that belief. Buy the book! You will find it hard to put down, or as I heard someone say once about rattlesnakes, "They are easy to grab, but hard to let go!"
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Religiously hypnotic look into the world of snake handling., January 25, 2000
By 
Christian Engler (Woburn, Massachusetts) - See all my reviews
Salvation on Sand Mountain was a book that truly awed me to feel things that I never felt before when it came to faith and being closer with the Spirit. Covington's book will take readers to parts of Southern Appalachia that is so little understood and appreciated, the world of the snake handling, strychchnine drinking, tongue rattling Southerner who has carried this exotic tradition from generation down to generation. The intense faith and passion which these people believe and handle their serpants, is, in a crazy way, admirable and moving. Covington really does have an ear for the core message of what these handlers want to convey: handling snakes (however deadly some of them might be) is to be closer to God. The author writes with a compassionate, freakish warmth, a sacred reverence not just for the people involved but for an act that nobody would fathom themselves participating in. The prose is lush and stimulating and will draw many readers -- however sarcastic or doubtful they may be -- into this unique fire and brimstone subculture before they can sum an opinion of the people who handle snakes in the name of God. Salvation on Sand Mountain is indeed a book that has some of the best writing about the South.
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20 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars IT WILL RATTLE YOUR SOUL!, January 13, 1999
By 
I first read this book while in College. I found it so interesting that I found myself re-reading it over and over. It it an extrodinary look at Southern Apalachia, the culture and lives of it's Mountain people. The prologue is as a fine peice of southern literature as I have ever had the priveledge to read. Portions of the book are chilling, even more so, when you realize that it is all true. Little did I know that 2 years after first reading the book I would live directly in the middle of the area Covington wrote about. I have had the oportunity to meet and know some of the people he described. When my job forced my wife and I to move to Scottsboro, we used the book as a literal road map when we arrived. I have loaned it out several times. I would encourage anyone, in particular Southerners, to read this fascinating book. The recent and much publicised death of one of the book's characters (John Wayne "Punkin" Brown, who was bitten by a rattle snake and died at a recent church service) led me to re-read the it again. I still could not put it down. It is unlike anything I have ever read. When this book wraps itself around you and sinks in it's fangs, there is no letting go.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Taking Up Serpents, May 20, 2004
When I first read this book about five years ago, I was completely absorbed by the whole 'snake-handling' thing. Everything else Covington was trying to say was fine, but in essence I smiled and nodded while transfixed by the ecstasies and agonies of the handlers. When I returned to it a year or so later, I began to understand a little of the personal journey Covington was trying to describe, in which the snakes and their handlers played a central but certainly not exclusive role. I also knew he was trying to make some point about poverty and powerlessness and being from the South, but... whatever.

Having rediscovered it recently and finished it for the third time, I've come to relish it far more completely than before. Covington tackles snake-handling, spiritual warfare, Southern culture, and self-analysis--weaving them together in a narrative tapestry that doesn't begin to exhaust any single element but dips into each thoughtfully. Don't look for extensive theology, or a sociological overview of Southern history, or (thank God) anything resembling an altar call when it's all over. Look instead for a moving portrayal of some very real people (who in this case happen to have a spiritual fetish for drinking poison and playing with rattlers) and what they end up meaning to Covington. It's bizarre, to be sure, but it's honest and enlightening in the most unexpected ways.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Finding roots and religion, August 13, 2002
By 
H. Gale "snowwish" (Tarpon Springs, FL United States) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
The flow of the story grabs you stronger knowing that it's true. It's a striking picture, a shocking picture, of a culture usually made fun of and overlooked, but also of a journalist who became his own story. Covington goes off on tangents describing childhood stories or newspaper articles to catch you up on why certain events in the story are relevant to him, and makes them relevant to the reader as well. There were times when I was disgusted (the Glenn Summerford case) yet trying my hardest to keep an open mind. There were also times when Covington says something just rght, so that you can feel the punch of it in your heart and have to set the book down for a few moments to think. The last line of the book says of his father - whether he means his biological father or God seems irrelevant to me - "This is how he got me to come home. He always came to the place where I was before he called my name."
If that doesn't warrant a moment of reflection, Christian or not, I don't know what does.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Striking, November 3, 2003
By 
Oddsfish (United States) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)   
Salvation on Sand Mountain really hit me. In many ways, Dennis Covington and I are similar. Our ancestors come from the same place, and in some ways, Covington's search for home paralleled my own. He really gives these people that the outside world looks on as strange and idiotic some humanity. This complete examination of a different, and authentic, world really intrigued me and allowed me to see a vision of life from the snake-handlers' lives.
That said, it is Covington's personal spiritual search that makes this book compelling. Covington feels lost, and in an attempt to put his life on track, he's looking for a place to start. The simplicity and passion of the Snake Handlers attracts him, and he sets out to see what this is. He really encounters the Snake Handling way of life, and in the process, he begins to learn a little bit about himself.
Covington writes, "Knowing where you come from is one thing, but it's suicide to stay there." That's probably the salient message of the book. Even if we find where we come from, we have to move on to create our own home, our own place in the world. Covington's journey goes toward and away from the snake handlers on sand mountain, and by encountering them, God helps him to find his own way.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Made me want to shout!, September 5, 2003
I loved this book and I have reread it many times. In fact, reading this book back in 1995 caused me to want to go to church and get right with God.

The best thing about this book is the attitude of respect and compassion that Dennis Covington gives the handlers. This book could have been written differently, as a scathing indictment of these people, their culture and religious beliefs, but Covington maintains his respect to the end. I would guess that he could write about any people and find good in them.

I have a cousin who lived next door to the Punkin Brown family in Parrotville, TN. She grew up with his kids and knows one of his sons. Once Malinda Brown and then Punkin both died of snakebite, the children were the center of a custody battle between the grandparents. This could be fuel for a hatred of this type of religious practice, but like Covington, even in the face of tragedy, I cannot help but to still love them.

The state of Tennessee and other states have enacted laws to ban the practice, but it is not widely enforced which is a good thing, since we do have religious freedom in this country.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A different universe in the Appalachian hills, December 7, 2004
By 
s. nicholas "skim" (Seattle, WA United States) - See all my reviews
Having grown up in a highly religious family with memories of church services full of fiery preaching, church politics, and hypocrisy, I've always been intrigued about the extreme faith some people have. It doesn't get much more extreme than the small circle of Southern churches that handle venomous snakes to get closer to God. The subject matter could come across in some ways comical, like those muscular "Power Team" christians who pray for strength and break 2x4s in football arenas. But the author presents a unique subject in a unique way--he grew up in the Appalachian hills and in the course of the story, even finds out his relatives have played a part in the snake handling history. He even buys into the experience given his spiritual needs of the moment and describes first-hand the fear and loss of fear through faith when handling the snakes in moments of religious ecstasy. This is a thoroughly fascinating book like few others. In a lot of ways, this book is similar to another fantastic book, "Violent Faith" by Jon Krakauer who wrote about the Mormon Fundamentalists and their bloody history and disfunction. Only in this book, Covington becomes the center of the story, not just the reporter. I can understand how this fine book was considered for the National Book Award.
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17 of 20 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars an unsatisfying attempt to combine journalism and memoir, December 5, 2000
By A Customer
Before I start being critical, I guess I should say that I've read and reread this book, so it must on some level be compelling. However, I wonder if I'm not rereading it looking for something that I want to be there that isn't.
Covington's project as a journalist was to cover the trial for attempted murder of a snake-handling preacher. From there, he moved on to snake-handlers more generally, and from there, to an exploration of his own southern roots. It's this last part that I think gets annoying -- I think snake handlers are a lot more interesting than Covington's midlife crisis.
I'd have loved to hear more about the larger culture that his subjects are a part of, or about these particular people in their daily lives. But I feel like these things become a little stereotyped as the book focuses in on Covington. It's like they start out as his topic but eventually they just become the framework for him talking about himself (not that I don't think memoir isn't a legitimate form, but that's not what I was looking for here).
He tends to refer to things like the "lean, kept look" of southern Appalachian women. Now, I know a fair number of women from Sand Mountain and I don't think I'd characterize them as looking generally lean and kept. It feels like a literary flourish that kind of condescends to the people it intends to describe. If it were only one, fine, but that sort of thing is peppered through the book and the accumulation of such phrases is ultimately annoying. To me, anyway.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A compelling look at today's South, April 11, 1999
As a native Southerner and a life long resident of one of the most colorful areas of our country, I was most impressed with the loving care Mr. Covington treated our culture. The South has always had it's own culture and until recently many of us felt that it was never treated with the same amount of respect and diginity given to those from other parts of the United States. Snake handling is by all means a small part of our culture but an important part none the less. Mr. Covington offers some compelling insight into why it may have come about and why it still remains. The vast majority of Southerners feel has the rest of Americans do towards this group of people. That they are misguided in their faith and perhaps a little lost in the word of God. But Mr. Covington treats them as they deserve to be treated. As you would treat anyone who stands by their beliefs in the face of ridicule. With dignity and respect. He offers us an insight into his own personal past and history which he carefully weaves into the history of the area. He has proved once again that only a Southern writer can address and begin explain the mystery of the culture of the South.
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Salvation on Sand Mountain: Snake Handling and Redemption in Southern Appalachia
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