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Sweet Heaven When I Die: Faith, Faithlessness, and the Country In Between Hardcover – August 15, 2011
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Sharp and intimate.
Sharp and intimate. "
Superb Compelling Stunning A fine book, by a deeply thoughtful writer. --Steve Yarbrough"
A Must-Read . Brilliant portraits of the religious fringe fleshed out in lush three-dimensional detail a lifetime in a dozen pages, a biography distilled to its purest elements . Sharlet impresses with his ability to mine the common humanity that lingers in even the most radically minded thinkers. "
The characters in Sweet Heaven When I Die are rough, unfulfilled, often doomed. But that s what makes this collection so strong, so human. We always suspect that by the end, they will be betrayed by their beliefs, will be disillusioned or destroyed. But failure doesn t make belief meaningless. It may be the only thing that gives faith meaning at all. "
For Sharlet, the story of American religion is not a polarized one of fundamentalists vs. secularists. It s a vast landscape, and each essay in his remarkable new collection of literary journalism explores a different crag or cranny of it . There s no better guide to this country in between. --Brook Wilensky-Lanford"
The book belongs to the tradition of long-form, narrative journalism best exemplified by writers such as Joan Didion, John McPhee, Norman Mailer and Sharlet s contemporary David Samuels. Sharlet deserves a place alongside such masters, for he has emerged as a master investigative stylist and one of the shrewdest commentators on religion s underexplored realms. --Michael Washburn"
[A] collection of beautifully written narratives.... Sharlet's previous works have incisively critiqued fundamentalism and American power; Sweet Heaven is equally thoughtful, but tender, acknowledging that between the extremes of snake handlers and nihilists, most of us wander through life groping for meaning, with consolation that in the act of finding, we too, may be found. "
Part reporter, part prophet, Jeff Sharlet is an American visionary in the lineage that runs from Twain to Robinson Jeffers to Sam Shepard and Joan Didion. In Sweet Heaven When I Die, he scours the desert margins of our culture, politics, and religion, training his eye on outlaws, anarchists, fanatics, and saints. In this way, he reveals the unexpected shape of our nation s center, which is to say, our heart. --Peter Trachtenberg, author of 7 Tattoos and The Book of Calamities"
About the Author
Jeff Sharlet is the author of The Family, C Street, and Sweet Heaven When I Die, and a contributing editor to Rolling Stone and Harper's. He teaches creative nonfiction at Dartmouth College and lives in New Hampshire.
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But this book. I cannot put it down. He is such a beautiful writer. I would read his description of a rock if he wrote one.
He studied literary nonfiction at our college and at the time, I thought, what the hell is that? But it's this book - a collection of his essays previously published in Harper's & Rolling Stone. It's every sentence he writes. You feel richer for having read each one.
Even if you don't care about religion and politics, buy this book and read it. Even on your iPhone, like I've been doing.
Yes, it's that good.
"She thought she might study religion. She bought herself a concordance. She would sit cross-legged on the floor, the concordance's giant pages spread on her lap like the wings of a gull, a cup of wine or a bottle of whiskey in one hand and a Marlboro in the other. Her back curved like calligraphy--she had worn a brace as a girl, and her legs were a bit crooked, and her toes wrapped onto one another because when she was little she'd refused to abandon a pair of shoes that she'd loved--and she would parse scripture."
Read Sweet Heaven because you love words and stories. Read because you long and love. Read Sweet Heaven because you believe, or wish you did.
Buy the book, for yourself and a friend.
For the non-observer of American religion, however, "Sweet Heaven" is even better, because you won't be clouded by all the dumb hang-ups. This is, above all, a book of stories, and a book about people--mainly extraordinary "ordinary" people whom the author encounters by accident or intention. Each story holds its own, and where there are points to be made, they're made only by implication, through the lives of those we meet. It's about radical aspirations, and the creep of big money into small communities, and it's about music, frustration, land, and desire. Two chapter titles include the same expletive.
This book reminds me why, when I discovered Sharlet's first book, "Killing the Buddha," I was almost afraid to read it. He exposes us to ourselves in a way that's uncomfortably dead-on, yet also so pleasurable, and funny, that you'll want it never to end.
For this reason, Sweet Heaven is also a timely and important collection of essays. With another election cycle upon us, and one that has brought conversation about religion to bear on every aspect of democracy, Sharlet's given us a way to examine how faith works, for good, bad and nought, in our public and personal lives. Don't just read Sweet Heaven because it's beautiful. Read it to remember the diversity of thought (and practice) in America--about individual conscience, desire, hope, despair, and faith.